It's been nearly 12 years since a major tropical cyclone hit Southtwest Florida, nearly 12 years since locals had to gear up and get out. During those years, it's been quiet. Blessedly quiet. After back-to-back years with hurricanes coming ashore locally, residents were relieved.
We had become accustomed to keeping our cars gassed up, our cupboards stocked, our generators checked. We knew what it was like to be without power for days, to spend hours waiting to fill up a gas can, to spend even more time on highways trying to evacuate ahead of a threatening storm.
Everyone who lived here when the last hurricanes struck has stories of Dennis, which made landfall July 10, 2005, and Hurricane Ivan, which rolled in less than a year before. Damage was widespread, forcing the closure of U.S. Highway 98 and the bridge to Navarre Beach.
We were warned and we were ready.
And then, nothing happened. For years, storms have brushed by us to the east or the west, leaving us with nothing more than rain and rip currents.
We didn't need the generators we'd queued up to buy. We weren't invited to the big dance and we were thrilled.
It's impossible to predict whether our lucky streak will continue. Every season, meteorologists with the National Weather Service make predictions and either they come true, or they don't. Either way, an average resident of Northwest Florida doesn't pay attention to the forecast unless we are in the dreaded cone of probability.
Hurricane season officially starts June 1 and ends Nov. 30.
That means we have about two weeks to decide how seriously we will take the potential threat and what we want to do about it.
Officials are gearing up, holding hurricane exercises and working through the process that is launched when a storm comes our way. It would be irresponsible for them to do any less. When there is an emergency, we expect them to be there, whether we've done our homework to prepare or not.
Hurricanes cause chaos, even when the best plans are in place.
So this is a reminder for everyone who has become complacent, who is sure that a storm won't hit Southwest Florida this season, that we hope you're right.
But we encourage everyone to take basic preparations in case you're wrong.
Here are some of the basics:
-Familiarize yourself with evacuation routes and have a plan for where you'll stay.
-Put together a disaster supply kit that includes flashlights, batteries, cash, first aid supplies and copies of critical paperwork.
-Check your house to make sure your roof and gutters are secure. Trim or remove damaged trees and limbs in your yard.
-Keep your cars filled with gasoline and your pantry filled with food that doesn't require a working stove or refrigerator.
We might get lucky. We certainly have before.But if we don't, it's better to be prepared than to wish we had been.