Whether it’s your first time or you’ve weathered the worst of them, hurricanes stir a reaction from residents, but that reaction varies widely depending on experience.
“There’s something of a tendency for newcomers to overreact, compared to long-term residents who tend to underreact,” said Michael Lindell, a professor at the University of Washington, in April during a risk-perception presentation at the National Hurricane Conference in Orlando.
Lindell’s research shows both ends of the spectrum’s reactions have the potential to do harm, especially veterans underreacting to a current storm based on previous storms. Lindell pointed to the residents living north of Homestead in 1992 who were told Hurricane Andrew, a major storm, would devastate South Florida. Homestead was mostly devastated by Andrew’s winds but damage in Fort Lauderdale was significantly less.
“So you’ve got these residents who say, ‘I’ve been through a Category 4 or 5 hurricane, and my house didn’t experience any damage at all,’ but that’s an inaccurate perception because they didn’t go through Category 5 winds. They went through tropical-storm-force winds,” Lindell said. “It creates a false experience.”
That false perception is potentially dangerous for veteran storm survivors who might be less inclined to evacuate ahead of a major storm, which could leave them in a compromising position, Lindell said.
Newcomer overreactions could create problems as well, said Don Walker, Brevard County’s director of communications, and urges new Florida residents to keep calm if any storms are forecast for landfall.
Over the last couple of years, Florida has gained an explosion of new residents. In 2021, inbound moves to Florida jumped 43%, meaning that for every 100 move-outs, 210 moves were coming into the state, according to the moveBuddha 2021 Migration Report.
New residents of Brevard are urged to evacuate barrier islands if a hurricane is forecast to arrive but they’re asked not to go too far.
“We encourage people to evacuate tens of miles, not hundreds of miles,” he said, saying too many residents on Florida highways can clog traffic and make it difficult for emergency responders to do their job. “The main thing is to get off the barrier island or out of an unsafe structure — such as a mobile or manufactured home — into a concrete, secure structure.”
The following are two lists from Walker and Orange County Fire Rescue Division Chief Lauraleigh Avery, provided to the Orlando Sentinel, for storm veterans and newcomers.
- Do not panic! Make a plan now so you’re ready to face a hurricane in a calm, rational manner if one is due to impact our area. Visit your county government websites for planning tools like building a kit, finding out if you are in a flood or evacuation area and other helpful information regarding preparedness.
- Buy things like water and nonperishable foods (and a hand-held can opener) now so you can be prepared in case of a storm instead of braving the stores and roads during a storm.
- Only evacuate if necessary (flood-prone areas or mobile homes). Keep the road clear for other evacuees.
- The time for trimming trees is not when a hurricane is heading our way. Yard debris can block storm drains which increases flooding chances, or the wind can pick it up and turn it into projectiles. Wind (sustained or gusts) and storm surges are our biggest concerns. It is not that the wind is blowing, it’s what the wind is blowing. And it is not how much rain we are expected to get, it’s about how much rain we’ve already gotten and how quickly the rain will fall without giving natural or engineered systems a chance to keep water levels low.
- Gasoline has a short shelf life. When preparing and gathering things, do not buy multiple cans of gasoline to store in your garage for the entire hurricane season.
- Storms develop faster and more intensely than in years past. We don’t have the lead time we used to. Hurricane Michael went from an unnamed system to landfall as a Category 5 hurricane in less than three days.
- Don’t dwell on the Saffir-Simpson Scale (that assigns storms to categories). It only measures wind. Heavy rains can cause dangerous flooding even with a “minor” hurricane.
- Check on your kit. Need to restock anything? Are the batteries old? Have you added a new member to the family? Has food expired? If so, what needs to be added/updated in your materials and plans?
- Prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Just as we have seen hurricanes downgrade on their way to us, they can also intensify or quickly change direction. Sometimes we’re lucky, sometimes we’re not.
- Check on your neighbors. Maybe they’re new to Florida and hurricanes, elderly or otherwise unable to prepare appropriately. The community is stronger and rebuilds quicker when we work together!
Anyone looking for more information can get advice by visiting www.ocfl.net/storm.