How Florida uses hurricane simulator programs to prepare for the next storm

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Planning for a hurricane means high-stakes decisions must be made quickly, especially when you’re the person or organization responsible for people’s lives and preparedness.

Storm models tend to vary and storms are difficult to predict. This is why emergency managers use hurricane simulators to weigh thousands of possibilities to make sure evacuations are ordered when needed.

“The aspects of planning for hurricanes, it carries over into so many other hazards,” said Kevin Peters, Leon County’s Emergency Management Director.

The consequences of failing to evacuate -- or of evacuating too late -- can be deadly. Most of the time, the high stakes are also coupled with not being sure of the exact path and intensity of the storm.

“It’s a positive on a negative situation is that we always have a chance to do the things that we need to do during our worst disasters,” Peters said.

A hurricane simulator has the capability of introducing thousands of hurricane scenarios. Each is different and has different complications.

Much like a real storm, the hurricane simulator is unpredictable. The forecasts won’t always be spot on in a simulation, much like an actual forecast, but you can come close.

“We have actually a tool that we can look at past hurricanes, compare with what the current one is, like central pressure, how big it is,” said Alex Lamers, Warning Coordination Meteorologist with the Weather Prediction Center.

This allows the team to explore how storms in the tropics will interact with climate and how our climate may be changing in the future.

Depending on the category of the simulated hurricane, you can decipher what level of damage may occur in a given area should that category hurricane actually hit. How catastrophic will it be? Could it impact cell towers? Will it knock out gas stations?

Typically, you simulate worst-case scenarios, so people can prepare.