Greetings from Florida

The Atlantic Hurricane Season runs from June 1 to November 30. To date, two named storms – Alberto and Beryl – have already formed off the U.S. east coast.

My family has lived along the Gulf Coast of Florida since 1995. Our late summer arrival was neatly tucked between Hurricane Erin and Hurricane Opal, both of which made landfall in the small harbor town near where we live.

Opal, which at its peak grew to a Category 5 Storm (maximum sustained winds >156 mph), is now a retired name. She wiped out a two-mile stretch of Highway 98 along the gulf coast between Fort Walton Beach and Destin. It took more than two months before the road reopened.

In our home less than three weeks, we were on the road and evacuating the area within five hours of pending landfall reports. Our kids and I wouldn’t return for two weeks – how long it took to restore electricity. When the Mister got back a few days after evacuating, laden with three coolers filled with bagged ice, our neighbors greeted him with offers of $10 for a bag. He gladly parceled it out free to any who needed it.

In the intervening years, we have evacuated for at least three other storms, and rode out maybe another three. Our neighborhood has been designated a mandatory evacuation zone. Meaning if a Category 3 Storm – or higher – is expected to make landfall near us, we are required to leave. Typically with less than 12 hours notice.

We have it all planned out. I start thinning out the freezer and fridge – in case we lose power. I stock up on canned goods and make sure I know where our manual opener is. We have at least two propane tanks filled and ready for cooking, and lay in supplies of fresh water.

Numbered plywood boards, cut to fit our back windows that face the bay, are waiting to be nailed in place. I have sedatives on hand for the pets to make their evacuation stress-free – for them and us.

Packing is down to a science. We even have our escape routes mapped out and family notified of our pending arrival. The worst part is we’re never sure what we’ll return to, and often don’t know until we get home.

During the past 17 years we have been exceptionally lucky. In all that time we have never been flooded, and only had minimal property damage.

Every year, I’m still anxious over what could happen. Predictors are no use. I don’t think they have ever been close to being right. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) 2012 Hurricane predictions call for a normal storm season, with a 70% possibility of nine to 15 named storms, with four to eight reaching hurricane status. Of those hurricanes, one to three are expected to become major storms – Category 3, 4 or 5.

So… your guess is as good as theirs.

If you’re keeping track, the 2012 storm names are:

Alberto Beryl Chris
Debby Ernesto Florence
Gordon Helene Isaac
Joyce Kirk Leslie
Michael Nadine Oscar
Patty Rafael Sandy
Tony Valerie William

The Saffir-Simpson Scale ranks tropical storms based on maximum sustained winds:

Tropical Depression – 38 mph or less
Tropical Storm (named) – 39-73 mph
Category 1 – 74-95 mph
Category 2 – 96-110 mph
Major Hurricanes – Catastrophic damage expected
Category 3 – 111-129 mph
Category 4 – 130-156 mph
Category 5 – 157 mph or higher

To all my Atlantic and Gulf Coast peeps – stay safe this hurricane season.