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STORMY WEATHER: Meteorologist recalls Hurricane Charley

May 16, 2012
By BOB PETCHER, , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Hurricane season is just two weeks away, and business members of the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce were reminded that storm events shouldn't be taken lightly.

"Florida, and especially this side of Florida, is very susceptible to some serious problems with hurricanes, mainly with storm surge," said NBC2 Meteorologist Robert Van Winkle, the guest speaker of the FMB Chamber luncheon at Beach Theater. 'The predictions for this year are that the season will be quieter than normal. However, 1992 had the exact same prediction, and the very first storm of that season was Hurricane Andrew."

The U.S. Navy veteran, who was awarded one of the top five Medals of Honor from the military unit for excellence in weather forecasting during the Iranian hostage crisis, referenced Hurricane Charley in 2004 in describing what could have happened on Fort Myers Beach had the storm made landfall on the seven-mile barrier island.

Article Photos

NBC2 Meteorologist Robert Van Winkle shows a graphic on what could have happened if Hurricane Charley in 2004 came directly towards Fort Myers Beach.

Van Winkle, whose NBC2 news department was the first to detect the change in Hurricane Charley's path, giving residents and visitors a few extra hours of notice, reviewed slides showing Charley's path and what could have been the hurricane's path. He showed the track of its maximum 140 MPH winds and called it merely a "wind event" that occurred north of this area on Aug, 13.

"Charley was our storm. But, Charley was not a typical Category 4 hurricane," he said. "Charley actually was nothing more than a big, fat tornado. It had enough wind with it and storm surge to cut North Captiva in two and plenty of wind over Punta Gorda and even maintained enough wind energy up to Arcadia to cause significant problems up there as well.

"But, because Charley was relatively a small storm, it was confined to the center and no more than a couple of miles around the center of that storm. A real true Category 4 storm is much, much bigger."

Van Winkle referenced larger hurricanes, such as Hurricane Katrina, and the damage that could have been done to Estero Island had Hurricane Charley's path was larger in diameter.

"If Charley would have been one of those kind of storms, the storm surge would have been 17 feet. We would have had serious problems, and I think we still probably could have been picking up the pieces today had that happened," he said.

Van Winkle described storm surge in our area as a water displacement in the Gulf relative to the size and the power of the storm.

"If Charley would have been bigger and had more displacement options, it would have put out a lot more. Each cubic yard of water weighs 1,700 pounds," he said. "Imagine that much water 20 miles long and 10 feet deep moving at 20 MPH onto a beachfront community.

With that type of force, pre-storm evacuation is the only way to protect yourself from such an event.

"We can pretty much tell you where it's going to go. If you start seeing guidance that we are under the gun, you might think it's time to pay attention," said Van Winkle. "But what we don't have -and what the hurricane center freely admits- is that we can't tell you how big it's going to be when it gets here. There is no way to predict the intensity of a storm without any real accuracy."

Named the state's best TV weathercaster in 2005 by the Florida Association of Broadcasters, Van Winkle warned that storms have made an impact in this area before, and they will again in the future.

"It only takes one," he said, "and we have to be ready in case that one storm comes."



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