Hey Siesta, things could be stormy

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New emergency management chief warns
that active hurricane season is likely

By Jane Bartnett

Siesta Key residents should prepare for “a much more active hurricane season this year.”

Those were the words of Sarasota County’s new emergency management chief, Sandra Tapfumaneyi, who addressed the Siesta Key Association at its April 5 meeting and spoke about the upcoming 2024 hurricane season and the importance of preparation and awareness.

June 1 is the official start date for the 2024 season. It will conclude on Nov. 30.

Tapfumaneyi joined Sarasota County in late January and brings extensive knowledge and more than 21 years of experience in crisis and emergency management to her new role.

In her presentation, Tapfumaneyi reported that the 2024 hurricane forecast had just been released by Colorado State University.

“It is the most active forecast that Colorado has ever put out,” she reported. CSU’s prediction includes 23
named storms, 115 named storm days, 11 hurricanes, and five major hurricanes.

“We are transitioning into a La Niña weather pattern that is more conducive for storms and warmer water,” Tapfumaneyi explained. El Niño and La Niña patterns impact weather here and around the world and warmer waters are a key factor in increasing hurricane activity. CSU and the National Oceanographic and Atmosphere Association are the leading resources for hurricane forecasting.

According to CSU, “A warmer-than-normal tropical Atlantic provides a more conducive dynamic and thermodynamic environment for hurricane formation and intensification. We anticipate a well-above-average probability for major hurricanes making landfall along the continental United States coastline and in the Caribbean. Coastal residents are reminded that it only takes one hurricane making landfall to make it an active season.”

Said Tapfumaneyi, “All of Siesta Key is in Zone A” – emphasizing the potential danger.

Zone A, according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management, “is the most vulnerable and the most likely to evacuate first.”

The Sarasota County official urged Siesta Key residents to be aware and to prepare in advance of the opening of hurricane season.

“For low lying areas and islands such as Siesta Key, storm surge is a huge issue,” she advised.

Recalling Fort Myers Beach and the impact that Hurricane Ian had on that barrier island, she encouraged Siesta Key residents to learn from the past.

“Fort Myers Beach residents didn’t believe that the storm surge would happen,” Tapfumaneyi said. “Yet it did. Even a Category 1 can have a lot of storm surge and first responders can’t come to help when the winds are high.

“Every storm is different. It’s important not to judge a storm simply by its category.”

With only weeks remaining before the start of the hurricane season, now is the time to create a plan, build a kit and stay informed, Tapfumaneyi said.

Should there be an evacuation, deciding in advance on a place to go is foremost, she said. Staying with family or friends should be the first option. Moving to a hotel is second and going to an emergency shelter should always be considered a last resort where each person is allowed approximately only 20 square feet of space.

Pets, she said, will be allowed in Sarasota County shelters and pre-registration will not be required. In an emergency, medically dependent shelters will also be opened, and pre-registration will be required. At all medically dependent shelters, each medically dependent individual must be accompanied by a caretaker.

When preparing an emergency hurricane kit, she urged SKA members to make sure that it is easy to carry, easily accessible, and stored in a conveniently located container.

Contents should include:

• A five-day supply of water for each person and each pet

• Non-perishable food for five days for each person and each pet

• Clothing and bedding

• A can opener

• Paper items

• Medical first aid kit

• Flashlight and extra batteries

• Puzzles, games, and books

• Cash

“We are so fortunate to have Sandra leading Sarasota County’s emergency preparedness,” said Siesta Key Association president Catherine Luckner.

Tapfumaneyi came to Sarasota County from Lee County, one of Sarasota County’s neighbors to the south, where since 2021 she served as the director of Domestic Animal Services and operations chief of Emergency Management.

When Hurricane Ian devastated the Fort Myers region, she served as incident commander of the Lee County Emergency Operations Center.

In 2018 when Hurricane Michael — an unprecedented Category 5 — made landfall, Tapfumaneyi deployed to the Florida Panhandle and served as the Bay County Emergency Operations Center Human Services branch director.

In 2023, she was honored by the Florida Emergency Preparedness Association and received the Chad Reed Emergency Management Professional of the Year award.

Sarasota County’s website offers important information on how to prepare for a hurricane and what to do when one strikes. A printable Disaster Preparedness Guide is also available online on this page, in English and Spanish, at scgov.net/beprepared.

Jane Bartnett
Author: Jane Bartnett

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