Florida, officially known as the “Sunshine State,” was dubbed the “Plywood State” by media after it was battered by four hurricanes in only six weeks during the 2004 hurricane season. Nearly every square inch of Florida felt the impacts from at least one of those four storms.
NOAA’s 2004 Atlantic Hurricane Outlook called for an active hurricane season, and it was – 15 named storms, with nine becoming hurricanes. Four of those hurricanes – Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne – took aim at Florida in quick succession. Each one was different, yet each served as a reminder of what these storms can bring to those living or vacationing in hurricane-prone areas.
Charley was first. A hurricane warning extended across the entire west coast of the peninsula on the morning of August 13. But many people only paid attention to the center forecast line inside the track forecast error cone. That morning, the line was over the Tampa Bay region. But early that afternoon, Charley strengthened to a Category 4 hurricane and veered a bit to the right, coming ashore at Punta Gorda, about 100 miles south of Tampa.
Remember: Pay attention to the entire forecast cone. Equally as important, the cone doesn’t depict how far the storm’s impacts will be felt. High winds and heavy rain can extend hundreds of miles from the center.
Several weeks later on September 5, Hurricane Frances made landfall as a category 2 at Hutchinson Island on the Florida east coast. The center of the storm was very large, 55 to 80 miles wide at landfall, but as the calm center passed overhead it belied what was to come as Frances moved inland. As the storm cut across the peninsula and moved on to the panhandle it created numerous tornadoes statewide.
Remember: Tropical cyclones often spin-off destructive tornadoes.