Doug Ohlemeier, Eastern Editor
Doug Ohlemeier, Eastern Editor

It’s a marvel that for nearly a decade, Florida grower-shippers have escaped damaging hurricanes.

It’s been nine years since Hurricane Wilma destroyed most of south Florida’s fall crops, and this is the 10th fall season I’ve covered Florida production.

On Oct. 24, 2005, Hurricane Wilma made landfall near Naples, Fla., shortly after I arrived in Florida.

Curiously, Wilma was the last Category III hurricane — those with 111 mph to 129 mph winds — to strike the U.S.

I don’t want to jinx things, but is the East Coast due for another storm?

Though technically the East Coast is in the June-November hurricane season, mid-September through late October is traditionally most active for strikes.

It is odd a major storm hasn’t threatened Florida, and state climatologist David Zierden at Florida State University agrees.

Zierden says we are in the Atlantic multidecadal oscillation period, a theory that cooler Atlantic waters produce fewer hurricanes while warmer waters typically form more storms.

Since 1995, the Atlantic has been warmer and despite the absence of storms, people shouldn’t relax.

“It’s been a very much unprecedented streak (without a hurricane),” Zierden said. “Another way of looking at it is we are due. It will happen again with certainty that we will be struck by a hurricane or even a major hurricane. A lull in hurricane strikes isn’t a reason to be unprepared.”

Perry Yance, vegetable farm manager for Oviedo, Fla.-based A. Duda & Sons Inc., worked for Duda when Hurricane Andrew destroyed much of south Florida in 1992.

He’s Duda’s point man when tropical storms threaten and a procedural checklist covers a variety of operational areas including securing generators and fuel.

When shelters open, Duda evacuates workers from trailers and part of its emergency response plan includes giving employees time to evacuate or install hurricane shutters on their homes.

Unlike freezes, where growers try to protect their crops, there is little they can do to prevent hurricane damage.

Growers release plastic from greenhouses to prevent winds from twisting the structures, and, to stop their fields from being flooded, will absorb the water infusion by lowering canal levels through pumps.

This past year, a small grower financially recovered from Wilma, which destroyed fertilizer and pesticide plant bed investments of up to $10,000 an acre, said regional vegetable and horticultural extension agent Gene McAvoy.

Though a grower may not completely recover, it’s sometimes worth babying plants that lost foliage but retained fruit so growers can experience the high markets before the inevitable glut occurs after other growers replant, he said.

South Florida remembers the lessons learned from hurricanes Andrew and Wilma.

Though it seems odd there haven’t been any big storms since 2005, growers know it’s a matter of the cycle returning.

Doug Ohlemeier is The Packer’s eastern editor.

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