Cantore’s live reports from a UF/IFAS building delivered powerful lesson on storm surge danger

It was University of Florida IFAS Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences Professor Mike Allen who handed a key to veteran Weather Channel Meteorologist Jim Cantore with the following instructions: Once Cantore and his camera crew entered the building, they could not leave until given the all clear.
That key was to the UF/IFAS North Coast Biological Station (NCBS) in Cedar Key. And that exchange happened two days before Category 3 Hurricane Idalia made landfall 60 miles north in Keaton Beach on August 30, 2023.

Cantore and his film crew would go on to broadcast live feeds from the station and document 10.65 feet of storm surge hour by hour as it took over Cedar Key.
Now, months later, as the island community continues to recover and rebuild, the concept of storm surge is widely understood thanks to Cantore. And that could increase the probability of more coastal area residents in Florida and beyond heeding evacuation orders ahead of future storms.

“Having them in there was completely consistent with our mission of public education on coastal systems and coastal living,” said Allen who serves as director of the three-story tall biological station that opened in 2017 and was built to withstand winds of 150 miles per hour.
The facility houses UF scientists from Sea Grant and UF’s School of Forest, Fisheries, and Geomatics Sciences (SFFGS) and it serves the mission of, “Enhancing conservation through collaborative research and extension.”

According to Allen, the arrangement of televising the surge came about when Cantore was dining along Dock Street and he asked Cedar Key locals where would be the safest place on the island to last out the storm. The biological station was the answer.

“I met them there the day before the storm,” Allen said about Cantore and his crew. “They brought food, water and I went over safety considerations.”
Cantore said that riding out the storm in the NCBS, “Put our team in a perfect situation to cover the storm.”

“I knew we wouldn’t get a Cat 4 storm in Cedar Key, but we would get a decent surge component. That is our job, show it safely.”
He refers to the NCBS as “that bunker.”

“Now there are no beds and showers, so after two nights it got a little gamey, but mission accomplished,” he said.

Cantore’s team was made up of Producer Steve Petyerak, Photographer Brad Reynolds, Kevin Heffner, grip and audio, and according to Cantore “our MacGyver.”
The crew stayed at the NCBS for about 72 hours, Cantore said. “We bought food and water. The key, though, was having other team members like Charles Peek bring us a generator or we couldn’t complete this task the way it was expected from us.”

Allen said UF scientists have spent years developing surge maps in coastal areas of Florida including Cedar Key.
That research helps towns prepare for surges and weather emergencies. As a result of Idalia’s severity and surge predictions, the island was under a mandatory evacuation leading up to the hurricane’s arrival.
Allen, who lives in a home on stilts on the island, said that while no water entered his home, the storm surge maps provided to the community by scientists at the Florida Institute for Built Environment Resilience (FIBER) exactly predicted where surge would enter the back of his property. “It was so precise,” he said.

Cantore’s desire to capture the impact of Hurricane Idalia from the biological stations was, “a win, win situation,” Allen said. Having storm surge maps to plan from is important, Allen said, but seeing the impact play out with Cantore’s commentary reinforced the dangers of flooding from powerful storms and hurricanes.
“Because Jim was there and could show this amazing footage, people seemed to connect with this storm and want to know about it.”

Cantore agrees. “It’s important to show what the water can do within a storm surge situation,” he said, reflecting on the experience two months after the Aug. 30 event. “If you can show it safely, maybe you can save a life or two.  You never want to become the story.”

Cantore joked that if his crew ever films from the NCBS again, they will need to bring more air mattresses next time.
“Thank God we stopped for supplies before Cedar Key as it’s not like you can just run out for a few items at the store as everything was closing in preparation for the storm.”
Learn more about the NCBS here.

Watch segments of The Weather Channel footage of the surge arriving in Cedar Key on Aug. 30, 2023 click here.

The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS brings science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents.


Posted: June 26, 2024

Category: Academics, Coasts & Marine, Disaster Preparation, EVENTS, UF/IFAS, UF/IFAS Extension
Tags: Aquaculture, Cantore, Cedar Key, Hurricane Idalia, Hurricane Preparation, Hurricane Recovery, Hurricane Season, NCBS, School Of Forest Fisheries And Geomatics Sciences, UF/IFAS

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