LEE COUNTY, FLORIDA — Hurricane Ian’s forecast track wildly shifted between north Florida and Southwest Florida last Monday. In preparation, Governor Ron DeSantis and his staff in Tallahassee began working around the clock to prepare for one of the most powerful hurricanes to threaten the Florida coast in the past decade.
While Floridians are busy working together to help those in desperate need, critics contend that evacuation orders were delayed in Lee and Charlotte counties, causing unnecessary death along the gulf coast.
FOLLOWING THE DATA
Governor DeSantis, speaking in Fort Myers, defended local officials. “They were following the data,” he said, talking about emergency managers in Lee County who ordered evacuations Tuesday morning. The storm track, as everyone waited, shifted multiple times, according to the National Hurricane Center.
When forecasting hurricane tracks, the National Hurricane Center uses a cone to represent the probable track of the center of a tropical cyclone. Based on the previous five years of forecasts, the tropical cyclone track can be expected to remain within the cone roughly 60–70 percent of the time, according to the National Hurricane Center.
EVACUATION TIMING QUESTIONED
DeSantis said that even if the storm “goes to North Florida, if it’s a big storm, you could see the impact in Naples and some of those areas.” When questioned by USA Today, Lee County officials confirmed that the county bases decisions on six different weather models. Only one of those models showed the chance of the storm hitting directly north of Fort Myers.
“Anybody who has lived in Florida a long time understands the nature of a Floridian. Many of us have been through hurricanes before and have never seen something like this, where the storm surge actually happened the way it happened. Many people who heard the mandatory evacuation, which they had, which is still more than 24 hours, still made the choice to stay anyway,” Lee County Commissioner Brian Hamman told a USA Today network reporter.
On Monday, when questioned by CNN during recovery efforts, Governor DeSantis said, “well, where was your industry stationed when the storm hit? Were you guys in Lee County? No. You were in Tampa.” The governor went on to say that Lee County was following the weather track and had to make decisions based on the data.
“DELIVERED THE MESSAGE”
DeSantis also stated that 72 hours before the storm, Lee County wasn’t even in the cone. And 48 hours before Ian made landfall, Lee County was on the periphery. The governor described Tampa Bay as the likely target before the track made an eastward turn closer to the Gulf Coast of Florida. “When we went to bed Monday night, people were saying this is a direct hit on Tampa Bay - worst case scenario for the state,” he said.
“I will say that they [Lee County] delivered the message to people, they had shelters open, and everybody had an adequate opportunity to at least get to a shelter within the county,” DeSantis added. “But a lot of the residents did not want to do that. And I think part of it was that so much attention was paid to Tampa that I think a lot of them thought they wouldn’t get the worst of it. So it’s easy to second guess them. But they were ready for it the whole time.”