Hurricane Season Active at Record Pace; Islanders Should Remain Prepared

by SC Reporter Teresa Vazquez

In May, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted an ‘above-normal’ hurricane season. And the 2020 season has been active at record pace with the most recorded storms since the beginning of the satellite era in 1966, according to NOAA’s website.

Sanibel felt the intensity of the season with Tropical Storm Sally in September, the peak month for storm activity. Outer bands of Sally hit the island with 30 mph wind gusts and intense rain that ensued flooding around the island. The most intense rains were felt on Sept. 13, culminating in 12.11 inches of rain.

“The rain volume unofficially qualifies as a 24-hour storm, 100-year rain event and may be the largest 24-hour rain event on record for Sanibel Island,” stated a memo prepared by Community Services Director Keith Williams.

The rainfall combined with Sanibel’s previously elevated groundwater level and unusually high tides following Sally resulted in elevated surface water levels – activating City operations. The community services staff managed Sanibel River’s interior water levels by opening and closing the two water control structures at Tarpon Bay and Beach Road Canal, per the memo.

The Jordan Marsh Water Quality Treatment Park, part of the city’s water management system, treated more water over a short period of time in September than it has since opening in March 2019. It reached its highest level on Sept. 14, about 24 hours after most of the rain from Sally had stopped.

“At that point, the marsh was discharging at a rate of about 2,000 gallons each minute, which is about twice the normal target flow,” said SCCF Research Associate Mark Thompson. He added that although the flowrate was double, the water levels were still well within the design criteria of the constructed wetland and there was no risk of overflow.

After Sally, Hurricane Delta brewed in the Atlantic for several days and initially threatened to hit Florida. Instead, it made landfall as a Category 2 in Louisiana as the record-tying fourth named storm of 2020 to hit the state. After a lull in tropical development since Delta, WINK News Meteorologist Brittany Voorhees reports a hint of the late October secondary peak of activity.

“Right now, the regions we are watching, especially close is the southwestern Caribbean Sea,” she said on Friday, Oct. 16. “The National Hurricane Center is expecting an area of low pressure in this area next week and gives it a 30 percent chance of 5-day formation.”

The National Hurricane Center is giving another broad, non-tropical low located about 600 miles east-southeast of Bermuda a 40 percent chance of formation. Slow tropical or subtropical development is possible through the middle of next week as the disturbance meanders over the central Atlantic Ocean, the NHC reports.

SC photo by Chuck Larsen

Florida’s hurricane season typically lasts from June 1 to Nov. 30, and nature is uncertain. Thus, residents of the island must remain prepared. Along with the typical hurricane preparations – water, shelter, and food – residents should be aware of city evacuation plans and the validity of their hurricane passes.

Hurricane reentry passes are used to identify who and when people are authorized to return to the island after an evacuation, facilitating the reentry process. The 2016 purple residential pass and tan commercial passes remain valid.

Those without a pass must apply for one through the city’s website. A step-by-step guide for navigating hurricane season can also be found at the city’s website.

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