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Get ready for hurricane season | Column

Thursday, May 28, 2020

The era of COVID-19 brings new concerns to hurricane season and preparation.

Experts from Colorado State University, the nation’s top seasonal hurricane forecasters, have announced severe predictions for the 2020 hurricane season, citing “above-normal” activity and potential for storms to make landfall on the continental United States. Specifically, “16 named tropical storms will form, eight of which will become hurricanes.” AccuWeather is projecting 14 to 18 tropical storms, with seven to nine becoming hurricanes, and two to four becoming major hurricanes.

As our world continues to struggle to meet the demands and fall out of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must not forget that the hurricane season is now upon us and we must do what is necessary to prepare. The era of COVID-19 brings new concerns to hurricane season and preparation, such as how to enforce social distancing and prevent the spread of the coronavirus while offering those who may need to evacuate their homes access to shelters.

As a state uniquely vulnerable to hurricanes, we have no choice but to continue to consider and prepare for broader consequences that arise when storms make impact. We should also be considering the financial and environmental impacts severe storms have on Florida. Thought should be given as to how we can innovatively work to protect our shorelines and natural areas while also reducing the damage these storms bring to our built environment.

Enforcing resilient and consistent construction standards and building designs is one way to accomplish this. South Florida currently holds the highest standards for building codes whereas those in North Florida are less stringent. We saw what happened when Hurricane Michael made landfall in the Panhandle – severe and widespread damage.

We need a preparation strategy that looks closely at the physical landscape and any vulnerabilities that may exist to severe storm impacts. Why would we not analyze those kinds of factors before serious consideration of building in certain areas? Asking these questions would let us all understand the underlying risks and possible costs involved following storm recovery.

Parts of our state are not suited for large building developments, meaning sensitive environmental areas are likely to collapse when faced with severe storm impact. This situation results in financial burdens for property owners and our state. Instead of continuing to build in vulnerable areas and then face costly rebuilds, these areas could be preserved for natural recreation, parks or wildlife habitat. While it is a luxury to live in Florida, we need to make sure we are caring for what makes our state so special – its natural attributes. At a minimum, more resilient structures need to be our focus, with possibly more enhanced and uniform building codes across our state.

For the safety of Florida’s residents, we must consider climate, increased storms and our fragile ecosystems as part of development policies in the Sunshine State. It’s also in our state’s financial interest.

For now, we encourage Florida residents to continue preparing for the hurricane season while making thoughtful decisions about our land and its needs.

Preston Robertson is president and CEO of the Florida Wildlife Federation, a non-partisan, non-profit citizens’ conservation organization dedicated to the ethical use and sustainability of Florida’s wildlife, fisheries and natural lands and waters.

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