While hurricane season is technically over, there could still be storms

Shannon Weiner, director of Emergency Management for Monroe County Management, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about what’s been going on in the county.

With hurricane season officially over, things are a little more relaxed.

Weiner said, “We always take a big, big sigh here in emergency management when November 30 rolls around. So November 30, as we all know, is the official end of hurricane season. This year, NOAA reported that we had 20 named storms, which is makes 2023 the fourth most named storms since 1950, actually. Of those 20 storms, we had seven hurricanes, three major hurricanes with wind speeds of over 111 miles per hour. But fortunately for us in the United States, Hurricane Idalia was the only one that made landfall in the US. We always look at hurricanes and stress the impacts that they have in the area where they’ll be landing, so not to minimize the experience of the residents that that have experienced landfall. Idalia made landfall in the Big Bend area of Florida, which is hundreds and hundreds of miles away from here us in the Keys. But we need to remember that we focus on those areas close to where the storm made landfall. The wind and the water threats can be significant and cause flooding far away from the storm center. So with the Idalia, especially we saw in St. Petersburg and Clearwater, they received significant impacts of flooding. They are also both barrier islands and they received storm surge that caused a lot of damage and displaced hundreds of people from their homes and they were south of the Big Bend area by hundreds of miles. Here in the Keys, we were lucky that Idalia skirted off to the west of us. We did see storm surge impacts of one to two feet in some areas and when we have king tides, that exacerbates that high king tide and you get a higher high tide. We have our localized street flooding. We didn’t have any flooding, there was no flooding reported in any homes, which was good. But it just reminds us that while hurricane season here in Florida is for the majority of our year. We only get a few months break, those storms may make landfall in other parts of the state. We always want to be prepared and be vigilant and pay attention during hurricane season, especially out here on our island chain, because we’re a little bit more vulnerable than the rest of the state.”

It is possible to have storms outside of hurricane season.

Weiner said, “That has occurred. I believe there was one hurricane on record in January. I know that it’s happened. It’s important to be aware that we can just have a lot of severe weather in an El Nino year. That reminds me there was the 1998 Groundhog Day storms that came across the Keys and South Florida. There were a couple of tornadoes that made landfall on the mainland. We had some severe flooding here in the Keys. It’s those warm sea temperatures that get us every time and when you have that combined with the El Nino, it does increase that likelihood of severe weather. That’s something that as we go into, actually, December here and January, we have a webinar with the National Weather Service Key West that they offered to do for our EOC partners, just kind of explaining the effects that that severe weather can have. It can come up rapidly and cause some severe flooding and wind damage, like we saw in Key Largo a couple of weeks ago. That’s kind of an El Nino effect and we want to be really aware of that and prepared for that as we come into the winter season here in the Florida Keys, as short as it may be.”

The new EOC building is coming along nicely.

Weiner said, “It is really exciting to see it come along. They have some of the signage done. They have the generators, the most important thing I think in there. They have been put in place, and are being hooked up. We expect to move in there in April. So we will have a good one to two months before we start rolling into hurricane season. We do our annual hurricane exercise with our partners every year in May or June. So we’re really excited to be able to bring them in this year and make sure that we have all the equipment is tested and in working order and we are prepared for new hurricane season. Hopefully, because we built this beautiful, strong and redundant facility for not only just our use, but our partners use as well, that we don’t have any storms and we don’t have to use it. Wouldn’t that be nice? And it can be used for training and meetings and all those other good things. But we are here in Florida and the Florida Keys and I’m sure it will be exercised and put to good use.”

What are priorities and initiatives for the new year?

Weiner said, “We get a couple of weeks here at the holidays where we take a little breath, and we review all of our plans and our procedures coming into hurricane season. We kind of make notes as we go through of things we need to improve upon or do differently. This is the time of year where we firm up that documentation and put them in place so we can work through them again, test them before hurricane season. But in January, two things happen. We try to start bringing in training for our partners. So whatever the priorities may be, we’re doing a lot of training this year and the coming year on public assistance. So that’s all the FEMA funding and how we can work with FEMA to get that public assistance money out to our residents faster, and meet the FEMA requirements, do the things they require of us to help make it go more smoothly. We do what we call Incident Command System Training, which is just the management structure and the processes of how we all work together, because we bring a lot of people from a lot of different agencies, some paramilitary, some not and we bring them all in the under the same umbrella and we operate the same way each year. So we refresh our incident command system training. Then we also do in January, an exercise with Turkey Point nuclear power plant in Homestead and FP&L and our partners at Miami Dade emergency management. We bring in all our EOC partners for that again, as well. We practice and review our plans and prepare for if there were to be an accident at the power plant, and how we can all respond together and support each other. We do that in January. So, you know, like I said, we take we take a breath for a couple of weeks and slow down, and then we’re back at it again.”