Response to a Gulf Coast hurricane in Levy, Taylor and Dixie counties would be little different from what happens in Alachua County, with one significant exception -- how to deal with the storm surge that would blanket the coast.
``The biggest thing -- and the only thing that's different -- is the storm surge,'' said Arthur Bellot, Dixie County's emergency manager. ``Most of the deaths from a storm are from drowning. People underestimate the ability of the storm surge.''
The storm surge is the giant wave that comes ashore as the hurricane makes landfall. In a worst-case scenario, a storm surge along the Levy, Dixie, Taylor coastline could create a dome of saltwater 30-feet high. That's because the wide, shallow continental shelf in the Gulf of Mexico allows wind to bank the water up.
Based on a survey recently completed by the Army Corps of Engineers, a Category 4 or 5 hurricane can bring water as far inland as U.S. 19. A Category 1 or 2 storm would cut Cedar Key off from the mainland.
Insurance companies that fled Florida after 1992's Hurricane Andrew could start to return if there's another hurricane season without a big storm.
That's the prediction of Brian May, deputy chief of staff for Insurance Commissioner Bill Nelson. If the insurance companies do come back, they will be greeted by changes in a system that suffered severely from Andrew and other natural disasters.
Starting sometime next year, homeowners' insurance rates will be based partially on how the state grades local building codes and how vigorously they are enforced. May said a private company is now rating building departments in cities and counties across Florida.
Those ratings should be submitted to Tallahassee early next year. Once they are reviewed and the report accepted, companies will have to factor in those ratings when determining premiums.
Check your watch -- when it's summer in Florida, you can just about measure time by the arrival of thunderstorms.
But don't let the frequency of the summer storms lull you, says Craig Fugate, Alachua County's emergency manager. These storms, he says, can pack a wallop in the form of tornadoes -- often with disastrous results.
"We are getting to that time of year where you can set your watch by the thunderstorms,'' Fugate said. "People get used to that type of weather phenomenon and do not associate it with tornadoes or damage.''
Large tornadoes stir up the fastest winds ever found on the surface of the earth, believed to be as high as 300 mph in rare cases. The smallest tornado might last only a few seconds, travel only a few yards and create winds no stronger than 50 mph. Rare, monster twisters have lasted for hours, have been a half-mile wide and traveled more than 200 miles.