a satellite image of a hurricane in the ocean
The Atlantic-basin hurricane season formally begins June 1 and continues through Nov. 30.

The director of the National Hurricane Center (NHC) will kick off an annual storm conference for the Keys tourism industry that focuses on the importance of paying close attention to storm watches and warnings, no matter whether they are for a tropical storm, a hurricane or storm surge.

The Monroe County Tourist Development Council, in partnership with the Lodging Association of the Florida Keys and Key West, is organizing the free three-hour Zoom virtual event on Thursday, May 30, at 1 p.m. 

Director Mike Brennan is scheduled to be the keynote presenter. His remarks will delve into several new programs that the NHC is introducing this year, and heighten public awareness of potential storm impacts, especially storm surge, that can affect areas outside the track forecast cone.

Brennan and others will also emphasize the importance of basing individual and business protective actions on official information from the NHC, National Weather Service forecasters and local emergency management officials.

Presenters will also include Cory Schwisow, Monroe County deputy emergency management director, who will discuss local plans and procedures and preview the county’s new emergency operations center, which should be operating in June.

Chip Kasper, the meteorologist in charge of the Florida Keys National Weather Service Office, will explain how the local office works with the NHC and supports decisions related to storm preparation, response and recovery.

Also on the agenda is Elaine Cooke of Two Oceans Digital, the TDC’s website contractor, who will focus on an emergency accommodations module that will be enacted during a storm emergency to provide lodging for recovery workers and displaced residents. Andy Newman, the TDC’s media relations director, will discuss how the TDC works with emergency management and the weather service to protect visitors’ safety as well as the Keys’ tourism-based economy.

The conference will conclude with a panel discussion about storm watches and warnings and the importance of making preparations even when there is no hurricane warning. The panel will feature Brennan; Shannon Weiner, Monroe County emergency management director; and Jon Rizzo, the Keys weather office’s warning coordination meteorologist. 

“We’re trying to help people understand that impacts can and do occur outside the cone, and just because we may not be under a hurricane warning does not mean that you can let your guard down,” Kasper said. “In fact, even just a storm surge watch indicates a level of risk for flooding, which should be a call to action for many.”

Weiner said her office is concerned because the last serious hurricane that affected the Keys was Irma in 2017, and there has been a sizable shift in population since then.

“Many people who were affected by Irma have left the Keys and many more have come with little or no experience in dealing with a hurricane,” Weiner said. “We are not here to scare residents and business owners, but we do want to make sure they understand the need to take the threat of tropical cyclones seriously and to be prepared to enact a hurricane plan.”