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~State officials urge Floridians to be prepared year-round~

TALLAHASSEE - The 2007 Atlantic hurricane season may have ended quietly today but Lt. Governor Jeff Kottkamp and state emergency officials are urging Floridians to remain on alert as drought conditions and wildfire threats grow statewide. State officials were voicing their relief and concern during the seasonal “sine-die” ceremony at the State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee.

“We were blessed with another quiet hurricane season that gave Floridians a well-deserved break from seasons past,” said Lt. Governor Jeff Kottkamp. “While this allowed our State Team time to continue recovery and mitigation activities from the 2004-2005 storms, as well as to develop new resources and partnerships, we are very concerned that the ongoing drought in the region will lead to a repeat of last year’s wildfire threat, with even less water and available resources in the region to fight it.”

To underscore his concerns on shrinking water-supplies and the potential for wildfires, Lt. Governor Kottkamp announced that Florida will convene a Drought / Wildfire Summit in January to bring together local, state and federal officials to plan ahead for future events that may impact the state before the next hurricane season. State Meteorologist Ben Nelson provided some historical perspective on the pending threats.

“The current conditions remind me of the late 1990s, which is the last time that a significant La Nina episode occurred in the equatorial Pacific” warned Nelson. “La Nina is forecast to continue through at least early 2008 and drought conditions are likely to worsen as we head into wildfire season. The same high pressure center that intensified the drought in the southeastern states this summer and fall steered this year’s hurricanes to our south and west.”

2007 Season: More fire, less rain and wind

Florida was spared any land-falling major storms this year even though the Atlantic Basin was active with 14 named storms and 6 hurricanes. Tropical cyclones Barry and Noel provided mostly beneficial rains to the Sunshine State but water levels in Lake Okeechobee remain five feet below average heading into Florida’s dry season.

Emergency managers want residents to remain prepared as a La Nina weather pattern may also signal a replay of 2007, where deadly tornadoes formed on the leading edge of several cold fronts during the winter months last year. Ongoing drought conditions may increase local water restrictions and all residents are being asked to do their part and conserve this vital resource.

“Floridians should remember that disasters happen, 365-days-a-year,” said DEM Deputy Director Ruben D. Almaguer. “Preparedness does not end with hurricane season. Because of our current threats, now is an excellent time to review, update your plans, take inventory of disaster supply-lists, and recycle goods and batteries.”

With the holidays fast approaching, Lt. Governor Kottkamp offered a few tips for residents who are recycling their disaster-supplies.

“Consider making a holiday gift basket of preparedness items for the less fortunate and donate non-expired goods to your local food bank, charitable community or faith-based groups,” added Lt. Gov. Kottkamp. “A NOAA alert radio can become a lifesaving stocking stuffer.”

Florida officials handed out over 5400 NOAA all-hazards alert radios to local emergency management agencies and the Florida National Guard this season. 100 radios went to survivors in the Pensacola area following the September tornado event. As officials gathered around the podium and dropped twin flags to officially “sine-die” the 2007 hurricane season, the Lt. Governor offered one last thought for the day.

“Hurricanes will always remain a fact of life in this paradise we call home,” said Lt. Governor Kottkamp. “Florida has the finest Emergency Response Team in the nation. But it is equally important that each person do their part to be prepared for next natural disaster. By working together, we can all recover more quickly.”

The 2008 Atlantic hurricane season begins on June 1, 2008. For more information on the Florida Division of Emergency Management and the State Emergency Response Team please visit:

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