ORANGE PARK, Fla. - The National Hurricane Center met with emergency leaders in Clay County for a post-Hurricane Matthew forum.
The director of the National Hurricane Center, Dr. Rick Knabb, worries that people in Northeast Florida will think the worst is behind us.
The Storm Surge Unit team lead for the National Hurricane Center, Dr. Jamie Rhome, shares that concern.
“While in no way do I wish to dismiss the impacts you received, you got very, very, very lucky,” said Rhome.
Dozens of local emergency managers, law enforcement officials and community leaders attended the forum Tuesday at the Thrasher-Horne Center for the Arts.
The National Hurricane Center made it clear that Hurricane Matthew could have been much worse.
“You take the Matthew track and make it a little bit stronger and you've got the core of a major hurricane coming right over northeastern Florida,” said Knabb.
The important of planning took center stage at the meeting.
“Your coastline here is not special, your coastline here does not protect you. Preparation is what protects you,” said Rhome.
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According to Knabb, the hurricane center is already working on new tools to help communities prepare.
“Brand-new for 2017 is the option for the hurricane center to issue our forecast and our warnings for systems that aren't yet even a depression or a storm but are trying to form right on our doorstep,” said Knabb.
Evacuation efforts are also key. Clay County Emergency Management director John Ward said local counties are working together to develop a plan.
“We are trying to re-evaluate our evacuation zones locally and then take that information and move it more to a regional plan,” said Ward.
While many in our area are still recovering from the effects of Matthew, nothing indicates that northeast Florida will be spared the next time.
“Matthew was not the big one, not the worst-case scenario for northeastern Florida,” said Knabb.
The National Hurricane Center is also working to better predict when tropical storm force winds arrive. That information will help local emergency management leaders in evacuation planning.
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