I have eight e-mail addresses. One is for tax communiqués, another for my other writing jobs, a third for messages from my family and friends, number four collects sports-related material, a fifth holds birding data, and numbers six and seven …
Well, when I get to know you a bit better, we'll talk.
I was scrolling through the box, the one dedicated to weather topics, when this subject line stopped me cold: TD ONE Forecast/Advisory 1.
The year's first warning that a tropical depression has formed. A possible precursor to full-blown hurricane.
My first reaction: Holy crap! Although we're now well out of hurricane landfall danger, we still have family and friends in Florida.
My next thought: Not again! The 2006 hurricane season cannot be starting this early, not after Katrina and the Greek alphabet last year!
Hesitantly, I opened it and read, "AT 5 PM EDT...2100Z...THE GOVERNMENT OF CUBA HAS ISSUED A TROPICAL STORM WATCH FOR WESTERN CUBA FOR THE PROVINCE OF PINAR DEL RIO AND THE ISLE OF YOUTH. INTERESTS IN THE NORTHWESTERN CARIBBEAN SHOULD CLOSELY MONITOR THE PROGRESS OF THIS SYSTEM. TROPICAL DEPRESSION CENTER LOCATED NEAR 17.2N 84.0W AT 08/2100Z POSITION ACCURATE WITHIN 60 NM. PRESENT MOVEMENT TOWARD THE NORTH OR 360 DEGREES AT 6 KT."
Crap, crap, crap! were reactions three, four and five.
Then I noticed the June 8 date. Yes, although the e-mail was sent at 5:20 p.m. April 28, the National Hurricane Center statement it contained was dated for next month.
OK, I always knew these guys were pretty good at their jobs, but this is a bit too much. Some folks at one of the hurricane message boards I came to know, trust and alternately love and hate when we were in Florida, had the same thought.
One of the forum's long-time storm followers contacted the Center and got this reply:
*** CORRECTION - NO STORM ***
* REPEAT - NO ACTIVE TROPICAL CYCLONE *
Automated Advisory Email Service
In preparation for the start of the 2006 Hurricane Season, an automated email advisory was sent by mistake by the National Hurricane Center. We sincerely regret this event and are taking steps to ensure that it does not happen again.
Despite the brief freak-out, I'm pleased that the NHC is already gearing up for the coming tropical storm season. Surviving in Hurricane Alley from June through November (or, in the case of 2005, December and early January '06) demands your full attention from the get go.
For me, it was an incredibly trying way to live. I really, truly, madly, desperately hated the weeks of worry that began when a low pressure system started organizing. That meant day after day after day of asking, "Is it going to hit us?"
It drove me crazy(ier) and made the antacid companies wealthier. But on the other hand, having that much time means that no one should be caught unaware.
This year, Florida officials are taking extra steps to make sure residents there are prepared. In conjunction with National Hurricane Preparedness Week, the Sunshine State is waiving collection of sales taxes on purchases of many items necessary to weather a storm.
The sales tax holiday begins on Sunday, May 21, and runs through Thursday, June 1, the first day of hurricane season. During these 12 days, no state or local sales tax will be collected on hurricane preparedness items, including:
- Flashlights and portable, self-powered light sources costing $20 or less
- Portable radios, two-way radios and weather-band radios costing $50 or less
- Flexible waterproof sheeting (tarps) costing $50 or less
- Gas or diesel fuel containers costing $25 or less
- Batteries costing $30 or less
- Non-electrical food storage coolers costing $30 or less
- Portable generators costing $1,000 or less
- Carbon monoxide detectors costing $75 or less
- Storm shutter devices costing $200 or less
- Cell phone batteries costing $60 or less
The complete list of tax-free items can be found in this official tip sheet.
I suspect that after the last couple of hurricane seasons, few
Floridians need a tax incentive to stock up for storms, but it's
a nice, although expensive, gesture. The state expects to forgo an
estimated $41 million in sales tax revenue during the holiday.
On the other hand, if people are better prepared, they should be able to recover from any storm more quickly, meaning the state should save money on its aftermath efforts.
Image of Hurricane Floyd, 9-13-99, courtesy of NOAA. This was the first hurricane we encountered after moving to Florida. About a hundred miles off the Florida coast, it turned north and devastated North Carolina.