Devastation hit South Florida on September 28 when Hurricane Ian made landfall. Hurricane Ian strengthened to a Category 4 hurricane just before touching down in Fort Myers, Florida. The winds reached a maximum reported speed of approximately 150 miles per hour, heavy rainfall ensued, and an unprecedented storm surge blanketed the coast.
According to The Weather Channel, there have been six Category 4 and Category 5 Gulf landfalls since 2017, and according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Category 4 sustained winds cause catastrophic damage. ABC News states that “the economic damage brought by Hurricane Ian could reach up to $75 billion.” The storm surge caused flooding 12 to 18 feet above ground level along the coast, and the city of Fort Myers itself was hit particularly hard with a 7.26-foot wave. To make matters worse, rainfall during the storm reached the level of a 1,000-year, 24-hour design storm event. Some areas received more than 15 inches in 12 hours, and Lake Wales, in central Florida, reported nearly 17 inches of rain within 24 hours.
Hurricane Ian affected more than just Florida. The storm weakened as it traveled across Florida before strengthening again to a Category 1 hurricane, making a second landfall near Georgetown, South Carolina. The increasing rate at which we are experiencing extreme weather events raises the question, is this our new normal?
Future Hurricane Preparation
Moving forward, how can we prepare for future events? Resiliency and hardening are on the minds of many utility owners in Florida and across the United States. Considerations for utility owners moving forward include elevating utilities, preparing proper inflow and infiltration (I&I), thinking ahead on development, and maintaining backup energy supplies.
What specific actions can utility owners and communities take now? Control panels and electrical ground boxes are typically located near at-grade elevations and are, therefore, vulnerable in these rare events. Utility owners can prepare for I&I by consistently repairing and replacing utility lines. Newly constructed or redeveloped sites should plan to accommodate storm events with increased intensity, longer duration, and greater frequency. Lastly, communities should identify and arrange backup electrical generation in highly elevated areas, with fuel reservoirs on standby at vulnerable locations and critical facilities.
Seeing the aftermath on television is one thing, but it is another to live through it. As a Tampa resident, I saw a lot of the precipitation and weather effects firsthand. Along with our fellow Floridians, several of our Mead & Hunt team members and clients were affected by this hurricane. Our team members in the Florida region came together to gather a trailer full of essential supplies, including canned goods, cases of water, toothpaste/toothbrushes, etc. Many of our team members nationwide also donated to this cause. I was proud to see how everyone came together to help a community and show the true Mead & Hunt culture.