by Holly Tishfield | June 4, 2020

A Look Back At Florida’s Hurricane Seasons

Hurricane season stops for nothing, not even a global pandemic. With the month of June ushering in the start of the season, look back at hurricane stories from years past, and read what weather experts have to say about this year’s forecast.

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Florida Army National Guard Lt. Matt Wagner walks along what is left of Alligator Drive in Alligator Point, one day after Hurricane Michael hit the area. Photo by Tailyr Irvine, Tampa Bay Times

This hurricane season may prove different from all that came before it, and in some ways, it already has. After grappling with a global pandemic for half the year, Floridians stocked up early on bottled water, hand sanitizer and yes, lots and lots of toilet paper. But it seems we’ll need more than a Quilted Northern Ultra Plush fort to make it through this year’s predicted hurricane season. With remnants of Irma and Dorian’s destruction still lingering around the state, weather experts now warn the public to dust off their battery-powered radios yet again and anticipate an above-average hurricane season in 2020. Around 13–19 named storms are estimated to appear in the Atlantic, about half of which will evolve into hurricanes, says NOAA Climate Prediction Center. Experts are expecting up to six major hurricanes, meaning a Category 3 or higher. The turbulent season is thanks to warmer-than-average sea temperatures, weak Atlantic tropical winds and stronger west African monsoons. While you get your storm shutters ready and test-fire your generator (add it to the list if you don’t have one), hunker down with these Flamingo stories of how Floridians have handled formidable forecasts in the past.


Emergency workers Dr. Patricia Cantrell, left, and Ana Kaufmann, with the South Florida Search and Rescue Task Force 2, survey damage at the western edge of town at Mexico Beach. Photo by Douglas R. Clifford, Tampa Bay Times

CIRCLING UNCERTAINTY

In this firsthand account of Hurricane Michael, Tampa Bay Times writer Zachary Sampson and photographer Douglas Clifford hike through the wreckage of Mexico Beach, a small Gulf Coast town that took a direct hit from the category 5 storm. As night rolls in, and downed powerlines plunge the town into total darkness, Sampson and Clifford struggle to find a passable route to Mexico Beach. Following a small path carved into the remains of US-98, Sampson and Clifford make it to the coastal town, where burning buildings and toppled houses greet them. The colorful ‘Welcome’ sign posted at the city’s entrance floats among the mangled leftovers of bedroom furniture and busted car parts. For two days, Sampson and Clifford stay to document the extensive damage and devastation, recognizing as they drive away from the disaster in one piece, many others are not so fortunate. See their photos here.


’CANE ’CANE GO AWAY

Capital Dame columnist Diane Roberts recounts years of her hurricane experience and all the helpful tips she’s picked up along the way. With names like Beryl, Donna and Harvey, it’s no wonder people don’t take the storms too seriously, so Roberts suggests a rebranding of sorts, starting with more intimidating names like Sekhmet or Hades. She also runs through all the various emotional stages of hurricane season, starting with panic buying at Publix, which she likens to the “end of civilization.” Frightened residents—mostly those who come from other states and picture Florida as one endless Spring Break beach party—buy up every battery, candle and case of water in sight. Roberts’ final but most important tip? Don’t lean too close to the fire when reading Nancy Drew by candlelight. You’ll thank her later. Read all her hurricane wisdom here.


Get to know five hurricane heroes. Illustration by Stephen Lomazzo

HURRICANE HEROES          

Get to know five heroes of hurricanes that once blew through the state and how they made an impact during the most uncertain time of year. Key West Chief of Police Donald Lee Jr. urged residents to flee north, even as he stayed behind with fellow officers to provide assistance for those who couldn’t leave. Georgina Mott, an Okeechobee local, brought buckets of hay and feed inside her house to transform it into a horse hotel, ensuring the safety of her two steeds. Vero Beach native and country superstar Jake Owens helped after Hurricane Irma by rallying his Instagram followers to donate to the “Bring Back the Sunshine” relief fund. Owens partnered with iconic singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett and fellow country artist Kenny Chesney to hold a benefit concert in Tallahassee, raising money for the victims of Irma and giving back to his Sunshine roots. Click here to meet all five heroes.


Diane Roberts takes in the destruction of her childhood summertime town. Illustration by Stephen Lomazzo

PARADISE LOST

Diane Roberts shares her own story about the plight of the long-term devastation still remaining in Mexico Beach and along the Forgotten Coast months after Hurricane Michael had destroyed the area. By the time Roberts braves a visit to her childhood summer vacation spot three months after the storm, she still expects to recognize the place she spent so many years visiting, but the only thing that hasn’t changed is the emerald waves of the sea. Hurricane Michael turned paradise into a war zone, levelling buildings to their foundations and ripping trees straight from the earth. Though Congress passed an act to aid the West Florida coast with $1 billion, Roberts says that only scraped the surface. Will the moniker “Forgotten Coast” hold a more literal meaning? Read her full account of the devastation here.


HIT ME LIKE A HURRICANE

When Flamingo founder and Editor in Chief Jamie Rich moves her family back to the First Coast in 2012, she isn’t too worried about hurricanes hitting the area, especially since the last 50 years or so were relatively devoid of major gales on the Northern Florida shores. But within two hurricane seasons, Rich and her family see just how misplaced their confidence was, as hurricanes like Hermine, Matthew, and Irma pummel the state. People from the farthest tip of Key West to the reaches of the Florida-Georgia border—and even some Flamingo team members— lost their homes to the destruction. Though the task of rebuilding schools, homes and businesses seemed daunting, Rich recalls how complete strangers came together in their bleakest moments to bring back the Sunshine State. Read her editor’s note here.

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