ORLANDO, Fla. – After a brutal one-two punch last year, Central Florida is hoping for the best as the 2023 hurricane season gets underway.
From catastrophic flooding to severe beach erosion, people are still dealing with the impacts and damage caused by hurricanes Ian and Nicole.
News 6 Chief Meteorologist Tom Sorrells joined anchor Justin Warmoth on “The Weekly” to reflect on the lessons learned from last season and what an El Niño weather pattern could mean for potential hurricanes over the next six months.
“Any time we get the El Niño going in the Pacific, the wind shear across the Gulf and across North America slows down development,” Sorrells said. “That’s because it rips off the tops of the storms and keeps them from developing. That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t stop every storm.”
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One storm that El Niño didn’t stop was Hurricane Andrew in 1992 — a hurricane season that had just seven named storms.
That’s why, even though it’s a cliché, we often use the phrase “it only takes one” during hurricane season.
“It’s a cliché because it’s true,” Sorrells said.
As Sorrells embarks on his 23rd hurricane season in Central Florida, he says messaging will be a major focus. While important tools in forecasting a storm’s projected path, viewers — and journalists alike — often get too caught up with the forecast cone and spaghetti models.
“Just because the cone doesn’t take you in, doesn’t mean you’re not going to have impacts,” Sorrells said. “And just because the black line goes north of you, doesn’t guarantee your roof isn’t going to be damaged or come off.”
The category of a hurricane is also a popular barometer for how seriously someone takes a storm and whether they plan to evacuate or take the necessary precautions, but Sorrells wants to stress wind speeds don’t reveal the full scope of what a storm will bring.
“Almost always, and this was driven home last season, it’s the water — not the wind — that takes you away,” he said. “If you get a foot of water moving at 3 to 5 mph, it has the impact of, like, an F5 tornado. It’ll rip your house right off the foundation and carry it away. It’ll take your car away. It’ll take you away. Flowing water is the scary thing.”
Whether it’s an active season or a slow one, Sorrells says the bottom line in keeping yourself safe is preparation.
“Prepare for the worst and you ought to be able to make it,” he said. “It’s not like an earthquake that hits out of the blue. It’s not like a tornado that strikes, and you don’t get enough warning. You will know a couple of days or three or five days out that you’re at risk. Get your water ready. Get your medicines ready. Have your plan set.”
Watch the full interview in the video player above.
You can listen to every episode of Florida’s Fourth Estate in the media player below: