TAMPA — Stuff that hurricane kit full of batteries, pen that emergency plan and get as many gallons of water stored in that garage while the skies are blue and clouds are fluffy white.
That was the message Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and other city officials had Wednesday for the upcoming Atlantic Ocean hurricane season, which officially kicks off June 1.
"If you don’t prepare, there’s a possibility that we’re going to come for you in a body bag," said Buckhorn. "Let’s not do that. Let’s make sure that everyone takes care of the appropriate precautions."
That means know your evacuation zones and where you’ll go. That means know where your shelters are and have a plan for pets, senior or special needs family members. That means enough food, water, batteries and other supplies for at least five days.
Last year’s deadly Atlantic hurricane season brought flooding and power outages across the Tampa Bay area, but and this year’s may offer no reprieve, Buckhorn said.
That’s because Colorado State University’s latest predictions, issued April 5, calls for 14 named storms, seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes that may see winds of at least 111 mph. A typical season sees 12 named storms, 6.5 hurricanes and two majors.
"We dodged a bullet last year and that really was a drill for us to see what potentially could happen if a storm hit the Tampa Bay area," Brian LaMarre, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the Wednesday news conference. "But it’s not a matter if a storm hits, it’s when."
The city of Tampa is bracing for the worst. As part of an ongoing effort, the city has invested nearly $10 million into the stormwater system and cleared 600,000 tons of debris from the miles of swales and ditches in and around Tampa.
In addition to clearing tree limbs away from powerlines, the city and TECO have also added additional generators to stormwater pump stations, which lost power during the storm.
"If we do get heavy rains, it will certainly be test of those improvements," Buckhorn said. "Clearly we have more work to do."
Buckhorn said last year’s storms provided one especially valuable lesson: Improve communication between the city and Hillsborough County.
As Hurricane Irma approached in early September, Buckhorn ordered a Level A a mandatory evacuation of low-lying areas of the city before an order was issued by Hillsborough County — the designated lead agency in responding to hurricanes. At the time, Hillsborough County had only issued a voluntary evacuation for special-needs residents of that zone.
The announcement directed people to the county’s shelters before the county opened them to the general public.
"I don’t regret at all calling for the evacuation when we did, but at the same time I recognize that the communication needs to be better," Buckhorn said Wednesday.
"But we are going to do our best to communicate with the county in a more efficient way."
Contact Tim Fanning at [email protected] Follow @timothyjfanning