New evacuation plan forthcoming for Lake Okeechobee communities

May 4, 2006

From the Palm Beach Post – Bush: Storm could force Glades evacuation

Tens of thousands of Glades residents will have to flee, and schools throughout Palm Beach County might have to close even earlier than usual, the next time a hurricane threatens.

That was the message Wednesday as state and local emergency managers pondered how to respond to Gov. Jeb Bush's calls for a mandatory evacuation of communities around Lake Okeechobee before any storm that jeopardizes the leaky Herbert Hoover Dike.

The planners were still working on a host of details — in particular, what combination of wind speeds, lake levels, storm direction or other factors would be enough to trigger an evacuation. But they said they expect a cascade of complications that could strain the county's buses, schools, roads and communications as they try to move a largely impoverished population out of harm's way, including thousands of people who don't speak English or own their own vehicles

Such an evacuation would involve not just the elderly or infirm, but "everyone who's going to drown," said Craig Fugate, Florida's director of emergency management.

Fugate acknowledged the hassles, along with the reality that often the predicted storm might not even hit the lake. But said his top priority is to avoid a repeat of the 1926 and 1928 hurricanes that killed a total of more than 3,000 people around the lake, along with the deaths that occurred along the Gulf Coast from Hurricane Katrina…

For those unfamiliar with the storms referenced in that last paragraph, the National Weather Service Office in Melbourne has a good page on the 1928 Okeechobee hurricane.

It is going to be interesting to how the parameters for mandatory evacuation get defined and how they relate to forecasting realities. 

For example the article states" … the county might have to evacuate Glades residents as much as two days ahead of the coastal communities." Now let's say that is pessimistic by a factor of two and only one day in front of coastal evacuations is required. And let's be conservative and say that a 24 hour lead is required for the coast, meaning that a 48 hour lead is required for the lake residents. 

A 48 hour lead sounds reasonable, but history shows it can be quite difficult.  Consider that 48 hours before landfall as a category five Hurricane Andrew was just a tropical storm. Because of the rapid intensification that the past has shown is possible, a scheme reliant upon conditions 48 hours or further out is going to have a probability of catastrophic failure. It seems that the scheme will have to have at least some dependence on forecast conditions, which of course opens the door for embarrassing false alarms.  It's going to be a challenge to strike a workable balance.

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To my frustration and chagrin, I've discovered that the majority of the reference material that I thought I had on portable media is instead on the hard drive of my dead laptop. This material is integral to the posts I have had in mind for the weekday posting I had planned on doing this month. Because of that, a few posts are in a 'delayed' status. I should be back on track by Monday.     

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