June marks the start of the 2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season, and now’s the time to make sure you and your family are prepared to weather any storm that comes our way.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the years as Floridians, it’s that hurricane season is unpredictable. And preparation is key.
In what was otherwise a trying year, we were lucky to have a relatively quiet hurricane season in 2020 here in Pinellas County. The exception was Tropical Storm Eta, which brought wind gusts as high as 58 mph, several inches of rain and significant flooding in many areas. Overall, we weathered the storm well, thanks to a well-prepared and informed community.
But we cannot let our guards down. Let’s not forget the impacts of Hurricane Irma in 2017, which, despite hitting us indirectly, caused $38 million in damages and our largest power outage in decades.
The first step to preparing for hurricane season is to make sure you know your evacuation zone before a major storm approaches. Keep in mind that an evacuation zone is different from a flood zone in that it is based on life-threatening storm surge, while a flood zone is based on the probability of flooding from heavy rain or high tides.
You can find your evacuation zone by entering your address at kyz.pinellascounty.org, or by downloading the Ready Pinellas app on your smartphone. Remember: If you live in a mobile or manufactured home in Pinellas County, any evacuation order applies to you. If you’re required to evacuate, ensure you have a plan for where you can go. It doesn’t need to be far away – just outside the evacuation zone is enough.
Staying informed will help you and your family stay safe during hurricane season. Here’s how:
- Sign up for Alert Pinellas at pinellascounty.org/alertpinellas to receive emergency notifications via voice, text or email.
- Visit our website at pinellascounty.org/emergency for hurricane news and links to evacuation maps, shelter information and more.
- Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Nextdoor for updates throughout the storm.
- Tampa Bay’s trusted media will share reliable weather reporting and updates.
- During a major storm, our County Information Center will activate, and you can call it at (727) 464-4333.
The start of hurricane season is the perfect time to create or update your “go” or “stay” kit based on where you would shelter during a hurricane. This will include necessities such as nonperishable foods, gallons of water, flashlights, batteries, important documents and more. For a full checklist, read our annual Hurricane Preparedness Guide. You can find it at Pinellas County libraries, municipal buildings and other public facilities, and online at www.pinellascounty.org/emergency. In addition to information about building your emergency preparedness kit, this guide provides helpful information about storm surge risks, insurance, shelters, preparing your home or business, caring for pets during a hurricane and more.
Remember that, while the situation is improving, we’re still in a pandemic. We’re grateful to see Pinellas County’s COVID-19 positivity rate decreasing and our vaccination rate increasing. However, with higher positivity rates in surrounding counties and the spread of new COVID-19 variants on the rise, we must still be cautious and look out for one another. That’s why we’re continuing to take COVID-19 health and safety precautions as we move into the hurricane season.
- Our public evacuation shelters will provide space for social distancing. We’ll have increased cleaning of common areas and provide proper hand washing supplies and hand sanitizer. We will also be encouraging the use of masks at our evacuation shelters to keep everyone safer.
- Allowing for increased spacing in shelters has required us to identify additional sheltering space. If your organization has a building that would be safe during a storm, we ask that you consider offering it for sheltering. You can contact Pinellas County Emergency Management at 727-464-3800 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
I hope you will take the time now to make sure you and your family have a plan and preparations in place long before a storm comes our way. As always, if you have questions or comments, feel free to contact me at 727-464-3363 or email@example.com.