This week marks 10 years since Hurricane Frances hit South Florida and changed the way we look at storms. Before 2004, severe hurricanes were a once-in-a-long-while phenomenon. While someplace in the Atlantic basin got bruised every year, it was rare that the same place got hit twice in one season. All that changed in storm-weary 2004.
In August 2004, Hurricane Charley brought devastation to the Gulf Coast, but avoided us completely. However, just three weeks later, Frances took aim and our luck ran out. While the storm reached Category 4 over the open water, it had luckily lost strength before reaching our shores, making landfall in the Treasure Coast. While areas to our north got a harder hit, the storm itself was huge, lumbering giant, tearing down trees, power lines and homes across the region.
What followed were weeks of blackouts in some areas, lines for food and water at emergency locations such as the South Florida Fairgrounds, a nighttime curfew and a new respect for the forces of nature. Unfortunately, Frances was not the end of the 2004 devastation. Just three weeks later, Hurricane Jeanne followed almost the exact same track across the Florida peninsula, plunging us back into darkness and setting back recovery efforts. Jeanne was the first Category 3 storm to hit the Palm Beaches in more than 100 years.
When Hurricane Wilma hit the western communities from the west barely a year later as part of the devastating 2005 season that saw utter destruction in Louisiana and Texas, we were all sure that a new era had emerged — one where bad storms came on an annual basis. Many people who had never done so before put together hurricane kits and made recovery plans. Generator sales soared. People kept their eyes glued on the meteorologist from August through October.
Then, things calmed down again. Yes, Tropical Storm Isaac brought the water without the wind, but massive, killer storms returned to the few-and-far-between category. This is certainly a blessing, but in some ways, it can be considered a curse as well. While we all know the drill, far too many South Florida residents have gone back to their normal routines, not worrying about the storm that never seems to come, ignoring the annual preparation warnings and scoffing when the meteorologists urge us to “keep an eye on the tropics.”
September marks National Preparedness Month, and this week’s anniversary of Hurricane Frances is a great time to plan how you will prepare should a major storm take aim, and how you will keep in touch with loved ones and survive the aftermath. Develop plans, including knowing your evacuation zone and routes. Information to help you make a family emergency plan can be found at www.ready.gov. Don’t let you and your family be caught unprepared when the next Hurricane Frances arrives.