Assessing Ian: Why were evacuations so difficult?

In the wake of Ian’s wrath, questions are being asked about why evacuations from barrier islands and vulnerable areas were so late and seemingly poorly executed compared to past storms.

Let’s asses the potential reasons why:

Uncertainty in track

Ian’s center was forecast at various times to hit the Bahamas, Miami, Naples, St Petersburg, Cedar Key, Alligator Point, Apalachicola, Homosassa, St Pete again, Venice and finally Port Charlotte. With all these shifts in the path, and the National Hurricane Center (NHC) indicating in its public discussion (which I concede I am one of the few people who read this) the forecast track had greater uncertainty than usual, unfortunately things were always in flux.


The slow issuing of Hurricane Warnings was a HUGE error

Just for posterity’s sake, I want to remind everyone I had expressed concern about Collier and Lee BEFORE they were in the warning area, based both on modeling and the visible movement of the storm once it was within range of Key West radar.

The bottom line is this – in the past, the NHC took a very broad approach to issuing Hurricane Warnings – with a more certain track in Irma, the NHC issued warnings 48 hours before an expected landfall (ended up being closer to 72 as it turned out) for the entire east coast south of Jupiter and west coast south of Englewood as well as the Keys. This included the entire Miami/Fort Lauderdale, Naples and Fort Myers metro areas.

With a less certain path in Ian, the NHC’s initial Hurricane Warnings issued as it turns out less than 48 hours before landfall was limited to the Tampa Bay and Sarasota/Bradenton areas. Four counties. That’s really not acceptable and my assumption is a full audit of this decision will be made this winter.

Collier was not put under a Hurricane Warning until less than 18 hours before the first serious impacts. In fact, perhaps even more baffling is that Miami-Dade and Broward were not put under a Tropical Storm Warning until an hour before the first outer bands containing Tornadoes hit the area.

The lack of prep time for Collier meant evacuations were always going to be rushed and in fact, there are stories circulating that some who did evacuate got caught driving in those outer bands in Broward County.

As for Lee County, the Hurricane Warning came 30 hours before landfall, technically by-the-book, but not enough time to create an orderly evacuation plan.

Getting out of Southwest Florida isn’t easy, and it was complicated by the number of Tampa Bay area residents who evacuated south to Naples and Fort Myers among other places, thinking it was safer and quicker than going north.

Rick Scott vs Ron DeSantis

I’ll admit, despite being a critic of Ron DeSantis on most scores, I have found his geeky references to past storms and other “Florida stuff,” during Hurricane preparations quite endearing, since I say so many of the same things during storms. I find it especially reassuring when compared to the Navy hat, inarticulate hyperbolic shtick we were exposed to under Rick Scott. HOWEVER…

Both GOPers and Democrats have pointed out to me in the last 48 hours, that in Matthew, Irma and Michael, Governor Scott was ahead of the curb, pushing people to leave areas that weren’t in the storm’s projected path but could be while proactively working with local authorities to achieve this. I personally felt it was over-the-top and sometimes even a waste of taxpayer money, and have previously lauded DeSantis for being more measured both rhetorically and fiscally during tropical weather (in retrospect, DeSantis may have just gotten lucky – Florida has been impacted by five hurricanes prior to Ian since he took office, but none of the five actually made landfall in Florida as a Hurricane- two weakened to Tropical Storms, Sally made an Alabama landfall while Dorian and Isias both just narrowly missed making landfalls in Palm Beach County and never directly hit the state ).

In hindsight, I now believe Scott’s panicky rhetoric saved lives during Irma and Matthew (though of course in the former, his failure to answer requests or a generator from a Broward nursing home cost 14 lives), while DeSantis calmness expressed insufficient haste as to the need to evacuate.

But then again, shouldn’t anyone in Florida already have a Hurricane Plan for the season on June 1? At least that’s what I was always told and have always done.

What is clear is mistakes were made, and in the future particularly on the NHC end, Ian must be a teaching moment so this process isn’t repeated.

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