Slow hurricane season used as preparation time


Published: Monday, January 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, December 31, 2006 at 9:30 p.m.
Locally, the 2006 hurricane season amounted to little more than downed power lines, a sinkhole and a few toppled trees at the hands of Tropical Storm Alberto in June - marking one of the mildest seasons since 1997.
Forecasters predict this year's hurricane season won't be quite so kind, but area officials say the downtime during 2006 gave them the opportunity to make sure they will be ready if a hurricane happens to swing our way this year.
"It's been great to have the quiet time to be able to put some stuff together," said Danny Hinson, an emergency management planner with the Alachua County Emergency Management Office.
According to researchers Philip Klotzbach and William Gray at Colorado State University - a well-publicized duo when it comes to hurricane predictions - 2007 will bring an estimated 14 named storms to the Atlantic basin. Seven of those storms are predicted to become hurricanes, and three of the seven hurricanes are predicted to be intense hurricanes ranging from Category 3 to 5.
Klotzbach and Gray released their 2007 predictions on Dec. 8. They also estimated a 40 percent chance that the East Coast, including the Florida Panhandle west to Texas, will have an intense hurricane make landfall.
Florida residents had a late-season El Niņo to thank for the mild hurricane season last year, but the Colorado State University researchers expect no such luck this year. In the 2007 prediction report, they write that the "2007 Atlantic hurricane season will be more active than the average 1950-2000 season."
"We expect El Niņo conditions to dissipate by the active part of the 2007 Atlantic basin hurricane season," the report states.
But Hinson at the local emergency management office said the staff at his office has nearly doubled in the past year thanks to additional funding from the county. He said his office has not wasted time during the slow season and has used reports from other natural disasters as learning tools.
"You learn more from other people, and just because we don't have a storm doesn't mean we can't learn from what we call 'after-action reports,' " Hinson said. "We're doing changes and amendments, updates and revisions all the time so we can better serve the county."
Along with intensive training and planning, Hinson said the emergency management office has also created several more emergency shelters in the area by bringing schools up to shelter standards. They have also been in contact with local roofers to make plans in case of an emergency.
"Alachua County is a largely tree-canopied community," Hinson said. "So we've been working with some roofing associations to see what kind of contact we can make during a storm to secure assistance."
At Perry Roofing Contractors in Gainesville, President Keith Perry said his company has not started stocking up for hurricane season, but they are keeping it in mind.
"One thing we do in the preplanning phases is to figure out what kind of teams, who is responsible for what, that way we can dispatch the right kind of professional crew and materials and management staff for where we need to go," Perry said.
And although last year was a slower year for roofers than a couple previous years, Perry said it was a sorely needed respite.
"You work a little off of an adrenaline rush (when a hurricane hits), but after months of doing that, it starts taking a toll on employees, and you can't keep that up forever," Perry said. "It's nice to have a little normalcy."
Alice Wallace can be reached at 374-5036 or alice.wallace@gvillesun.com

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