Hurricanes and Florida 

By: Philip Kelly Jackman. Weather Site Inc. Miami, FL. 

Hurricanes have long been a concern for tourist visiting the state of Florida. Some people may think, tempting tourist to visit Disney World and other vacation attractions, in a state likely to be blown off the map, is a sadistic trick. Still millions of people take that risk every summer. 

Unlike the modern day vacationer, many of the first tourists to visit Florida did so as a result of hurricanes, not in spite of them. For example back in 1715, a flotilla of 5 ships under the command of Captain Don Juan Esteban de Ubilla, set sail from Havana Cuba to sail north along the coast of Florida, in route to Spain. The five ships carried silver coins, gold coins, gold bars, silver bars, jewelry, emeralds, pearls, and Chinese porcelain. The total value of cargo carried aboard the ships would be worth about 90 million dollars today, give or take a Doubloon.  

The weather was sunny and mild when the flotilla left Havana Harbor, but just a few hundred miles north the ships were overtaken by a hurricane. It turned out not to be a good day for a boat trip.   

When the storm passed 2,500 seaman had perished. Those sailors, who had miraculously survived, washed up on the beaches of what is now Cape Canaveral Florida. This is less than 60 miles from present day Orlando, the home of Mickey Mouse, Sea World and scores of other attractions.  

In 1715, the whole idea of making Florida a tourist destination was still in the very early planning stages. Instead of basking by the pool-watching thong clad beauties, the sailors found themselves in an inhospitable land, infested with disease-carrying mosquitoes, rattle snakes, wild animals, and hostile Indians.  

Today the whole place is better organized and more hospitable. There are still mosquitoes, rattle snakes, alligators, poisonous insects, and other wild animals, but they mainly confine themselves to the swamps of the Florida Everglades. Many Indians also still live in modern day Florida, but if they scalp you today, it will be in modern gambling casinos operated on some Florida Indian reservations. Since 1715 there have been a number of improvements made for the tourist visiting Florida. There is however still the possibility of hurricanes.  

In fact, the hurricanes can be as unfriendly now as they were in 1715. So, what do you need to know about hurricanes before you visit Florida? If you want to spend time in the sunshine state with almost no possibility of encountering a hurricane, come between December 1st, and May 31st. Hurricanes are only spawned when the waters of the Atlantic or The Gulf of Mexico are sufficiently warmed under the spring and summer sun. The official hurricane season is June 1st through November 30th.  

If you decide to visit Florida during hurricane season, what kind of risk are you taking?

After all hurricanes are among the most powerful climatic events to occur on our planet, should you be concerned about bringing you family to such a treacherous place?  

The answer is no. If you are planning to visit Florida for a fun in the sun vacation, make your reservations, pack your bathing suit and come on over. As a visitor, you have nothing to fear. If a hurricane should threaten some part of Florida, you will have plenty of notice from The National Hurricane Center. There will be ample time to get out of harms way and visit some other parts of Florida or maybe another State. Radio and television news will report the position of any active storm during every broadcast. If you bring your laptop computer you can log onto real time hurricane updates, including easy to read maps that display the hurricanes current position and the forecast path for the next 3 days. One of the best Internet sites is Hurricanes 2001.Com. (  

When you look at a map of the United States, it would be easy to think the state of Florida should be hit by every storm moving west across the Atlantic, or by all storms trapped in the Gulf Of Mexico looking for a way out. In fact compared to the amount of storms, which form each year, Florida is struck relatively few times. If you would like to find out just how often Florida  (or any; country, state or city) is hit by a hurricane log onto  

Myths and things you should know about hurricanes. It is widely believed that when a hurricane hits Florida, all of Florida is affected. This is not true! Florida is a large state. It is very possible for a major storm to severely impact one part of the state and have little or no adverse consequences for the rest of the state. Hurricane Andrew (1992) is an example of this. Andrew was the most costly natural disaster in the history of The United States (over 21 billion dollars), but it was confined to a very small area across the southern tip of Florida. Theme parks in central Florida continued operating as usual. It is possible for a hurricane to travel up the entire coastline of Florida, but even then, cities and towns in the middle of the state and on the opposite coast would not necessarily experience dangerous weather conditions. As a vacationer all you need to know is, hurricanes are dangerous but you need not fear vacationing in Florida because of them.  

Where do hurricanes come from? Hurricanes begin as a large area of thunderstorms. These thunderstorms start on the West Coast of Africa, the South Central Atlantic, the Caribbean Sea, or the Gulf of Mexico. Of course, not all thunderstorms in these areas become hurricanes. Most thunderstorms over these waters usually run out of energy and die with out fanfare.  

Tropical storms (the first stage to a hurricane) develop when the conditions are just right. A tropical storm starts when the heat from the water is  pulled up into a strong area of thunderstorms then cools and falls back to the surface around the circumference of the storms. This action can intensify until, warm air is pulled up into the storms so quickly the surface pressure begins to drop. As the surface pressure continues to drop, an area of thunderstorms may consolidate into one large storm mass and begin a counter clockwise rotation. Over a period of a few days, this cycle may cause surface wind speeds that exceed 35 knots. When this happens, the storm is officially designated a tropical storm and given a name. 

Each year about a dozen areas of disturbed weather, build into tropical storms. Of that number, a few achieve a minimum sustained wind speed of 64 mph and are then officially designated as hurricanes.

So far this article has addressed the threat of hurricanes to tourist visiting Florida. What if you are not a tourist? What if you live Florida? Have you ever wondered what it would be like to like to face the possibility of a being in a major hurricane?  

Here is a hypothetical (but not unlikely storm scenario). It is mid September. Satellite images show a large area of thunderstorms moving west off the coast of Africa into the Atlantic. The National Hurricane Center in Miami Florida includes this information in their daily hurricane summary of the Atlantic, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico. This is a common occurrence during hurricane season so no one in Florida is concerned at the report.  

Four days pass, as the area of disturbed weather approaches the middle of the South Atlantic, 2500 miles east southeast of Florida. Satellite images show the area is starting to intensify and there are indications of some circulation. Still few residents of Florida pay a lot of attention to the storm, however The National Hurricane Center in Miami is calculating the possibility of the storm becoming a Hurricane. Hurricane forecasters look at all of the weather data available and determine conditions are favorable for rapid strengthening of this system. Marine forecast, alert mariners to the disturbance as it moves west across the Atlantic.  

It has been 5 days since the band of thunderstorms formed over the African Coast and began moving westward. The storm has begun to intensify and circulation is easily visible from satellite photos (these satellite photos can be seen in real time on  

On the 6th day The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) sends a hurricane hunter aircraft into the area of disturbed weather. The hurricane hunter aircraft takes measurements and verifies a developing area of low pressure is forming in the center of the storm. With the storm more than a 1,700 miles from land, few people are concerned with the news of its development. Two more days pass and another hurricane hunter aircraft is sent to take measurements. It is determined the storms surface winds exceed 35 knots. The disturbance is now a tropical storm. The National Hurricane Center names the new storm Martin. 

On day 10 Martin is still intensifying, Winds are now 76 knots, Martin is now a Hurricane. It is September, and the waters are warm after a hot summer. Hurricane models (computer software designed to forecast the future path of a hurricane) show a high probability Martin will strike the northern most Virgin Islands and then pass just North of Puerto Rico. If you look at a map it appears as if the hurricane is on a straight course for Southeast Florida, still no one in Florida is overly concerned.  

At the beginning of each hurricane season, All Florida residents are encouraged to buy hurricane supplies. These supplies should include a good portable radio and possibly, a battery operated TV. It is also important to buy plenty of canned food, which can be eaten without being cooked.  Bottled water is a necessity after a hurricane, it may be weeks before water is safe to drink. Every household should have enough bottled water for each person in the family to have 1 gallon per day for up to three weeks. When a storm is imminent, panic shopping may make it impossible to buy the necessary supplies. Unfortunately too many people hope for the best and do not stock up on hurricane supplies while they are plentiful. 

Martin now has winds of 125 mph and has made a slight turn to the west northwest. It appears as if the hurricane will pass north of the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. The computer models are uncertain about the path over the next 5 days. If the path of the storm does not change, Martin might hit central Florida around Cape Canaveral. Hurricane forecasters are looking at a high-pressure system moving east-southeast across the middle of the United States. If the high-pressure system moves fast, enough it may cause Martin to turn north and maybe Northeast, out to sea.  For now, there is nothing to do but wait and follow the progress of Martin. Viewers logging onto start to increase in numbers as residents along the East Coast of Florida become more interested in the up to date reports on Hurricane Martin.  

It is Monday morning, Martin now has top sustained winds of 150 mph with gust up to 175 mph. A major hurricane capable of massive destruction is now less than 3 days from the U.S. coastline. This is the most critical of times for the forecasters at the National Hurricane Center. If the models are correct a high-pressure system moving east across the country will intercept Martin before it reaches shore and turn the hurricane northwest, towards the Carolinas or northeast away from land and out to sea.  

The National Hurricane center uses a variety of computer models to analyze all of the variables that may influence a hurricane. When things go right all or most of the models will project a similar forecast for the future size and course of a hurricane. When this occurs it gives hurricane forecasters a higher level of confidence in projecting possible target areas.  

This time the models are not all in agreement. Three models show a good probability the hurricane will turn north-northwest toward the Carolinas and then make a turn northeast turn out to sea, without making landfall. Another model shows the high pressure system stalling in its forward momentum, allowing Martin to continue on towards central Florida. The National Hurricane Center advises all persons living on the East Coast of the United States from Key West to Virginia to monitor the progress of Martin and be prepared to take action if necessary.

 The National Hurricane Center must issue Hurricane Warnings when a storm is within 24 hours of possibly striking land. This is because a shorter warning time would not permit people to take actions necessary to protect their homes and seek safe shelter. Forecasters do not want to issue a warning for a particular area and then be wrong. False alerts lessen the credibility of the National Hurricane Center and cause communities to take costly mandatory emergency measures that may not be needed.  

When a Hurricane Warning is issued, many coastal communities must begin mandatory evacuation from homes, offices, hotels, and motels. Businesses close, school is canceled, previously designated emergency shelters are opened for those whom leave there homes and have nowhere else to go. These shelters are sometimes schools, hospitals, airports, or even shopping malls.   

The situation for the hurricane forecasters is not good. Hurricane Martin has the potential to strike land anywhere from Florida to New York or turn out to sea without hitting land at all. Martin is now just 380 miles east-southeast of Cape Canaveral and still moving west-northwest at 10 miles per hour. On this course, Martin will strike the central Florida Coast in 36 hours.  

The National hurricane Center issues a Hurricane Watch from Miami Florida northward to Savannah Georgia. This means a hurricane may strike within 36 hours. All residents in a Hurricane Watch area should make any last minute purchases of items necessary to protect themselves and their property in the event a hurricane warning is issued.  

People are funny, everyone knows you can lose your home, possessions and even your life if you find yourself in the path of a major hurricane. Still many people seem to feel a sense of excitement when a hurricane watch is issued for their area. Very few adults will admit to this but quite often, there is a feeling of disappointment when a storm turns away from your doorstep and moves in another direction. Of course no rational person wants to see his home destroyed or his family placed in danger, but the possible impact of a hurricane does raise adrenaline levels and can cause a high that is difficult to explain or understand.   

With a Hurricane Watch now issued, food stores in the Hurricane Watch areas are now overrun with customers. Hundreds of thousands of people are trying to stock up on provisions they should have purchased months earlier. Water and canned goods are swept into shopping carts by panicky shoppers. Bread, soft drinks, potato chips, cookies and candy, disappear from shelves. Now people start filling their carts with frozen foods, and other perishables like milk, meat, and even Ice Cream. Shoppers are now buying anything available without thought. If Martin does strike, there will not be any electricity to run freezers, or electric stoves; there will not be gas to cook with.  

One of the very first products to be sold out, are batteries. People grab batteries by the hand full. Many people do not take time (before coming to the store) to find out what kind of batteries they need for their flashlight, radio, or portable TV. As a result, they buy any battery they can find.

Cars in line to buy fuel begin backing up onto streets causing traffic jams. Tempers are getting short and drivers are beginning to disregard traffic signals. Small automobile accidents are increasing as drivers try to rush to destinations. This is also the time when rumors start. It is very important to only listen to official information or log onto dependable hurricane sites like  

Local news is now completely devoted to tracking Hurricane Martin; announcers have long list of last minute suggestions. Take in your outdoor lawn furniture so it does not fly around; clean your bathtub with bleach so you can fill it with clean water, to use after the storm. Place your family photos and valuable papers in a waterproof container and then put it somewhere safe like the trunk of your car, make sure your pets are inside your home. If you leave your home and go to a shelter, your pets are not allowed to come with you. Be sure to go to the bank or ATM and get plenty of cash (after the storm, banks will be closed and ATMs will not work without electricity). Get plenty of diapers and baby food. Find your insurance papers and have them in a safe place so you can call your insurance company after the storm. If you stay at home, don't cook inside with portable stoves or barbecues, you can set your home on fire or be overcome buy carbon monoxide. The list of things to do and not to do goes on and on. 

It is now Tuesday evening the models at the National Hurricane Center are still in disagreement, the storm is now 24 hours from Central Florida and still tracking for Cape Canaveral. If a landfall is to be averted the projected turn North-northwest needs to happen soon. As Martin continues westward, the National Hurricane Center issues a Hurricane Warning for Palm Beach FL to Jacksonville FL. This means all residents should take immediate final actions to secure their property and protect themselves. The Hurricane Watch is extended north to Savannah Georgia. The Hurricane watch is also extended across Florida including Orlando in the middle of the state and Tampa to Tallahassee on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Tourist are now advised to leave the Hurricane Warning area as quickly as possible and to be ready to move from Hurricane Watch areas. 

As night falls, homeowners work in the darkness putting up hurricane shutters. Many residents decide they are not going to stay and ride out the storm. Roads and highways begin to fill with cars heading north out of the path of Martin. As the highways fill with cars traffic jams begin. You don't want to be caught in a major hurricane in your car on an open highway.  Accidents begin to slow traffic to a near standstill. As traffic slows some divers realize the storm could overtake them. Hotel lobbies and roadside restaurants begin to overflow with people looking for any place to wait out the storm.  

It is 3AM Wednesday morning, a few light showers sweep across parts of central Florida but the main winds from Martin are at least 12 hours away. Already hospital emergency rooms have seen an increased number of patients. Some people have injured themselves trying to use power saws in the darkness. Some people have been cut buy the sharp edges of steel or aluminum hurricane panels used to protect windows. Many food stores and lumber stores have been open for the past 30 hours and the shelves are empty.  

As the sun comes up the situation does not seem as urgent as it did overnight. The sky is blue and there is just a light breeze. At 6am. The National Hurricane Center reports Martins forward speed has stopped. It appears the high-pressure system to the west is taking hold and the future course of Martin is now uncertain.  

All residents from Key West to New York should continue to monitor the path of this major hurricane.


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