Have a Hurricane Plan in Place

Daniel Cooperhurricane

Hurricane Frances in 2004 caused major structural damage to farms across Florida.

Florida citrus growers are all too familiar with the fallout from hurricanes in recent history. In 2017, Hurricane Irma came up the spine of the state causing an estimated $760 million in damage to the citrus industry. Then in 2022, Hurricane Ian took an even more direct path over key citrus-production areas causing another $247 million in losses, according to a study by the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).

Weakened by HLB, groves are taking longer to recover from hurricanes. There is some discussion that without the hurricanes, the new trunk-injection therapies to treat HLB might have shown more dramatic positive results.


With a La Niña weather pattern predicted to take hold this summer, chances are a little greater for hurricane activity to affect Florida. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, La Niña is characterized by less wind shear. The shear helps disrupt approaching storms. The weather pattern also is more conducive to the formation of convection and thunderstorms, which are the building blocks of hurricanes. And the waters in the Atlantic and Caribbean are already very warm, which could add fuel to the storms that do form.

In late March, AccuWeather released its annual hurricane prediction and noted it could be a “super-charged” season with record-breaking potential. AccuWeather meteorologists are forecasting 20 to 25 named storms across the Atlantic basin in 2024, including 8 to 12 hurricanes, four to seven major hurricanes and four to six direct U.S. impacts. This is all above the 30-year historical average of 14 named storms, seven hurricanes, three major hurricanes and four direct U.S. impacts.


While citrus growers certainly can’t control the weather, they can take actions to prepare. UF/IFAS has worked with growers through many hurricanes and has developed some recommendations on best practices when preparing for hurricane season (June–November). Here are some of the key tips:

Personnel assignments: A major part of the hurricane plan is ensuring that all managers know their responsibilities prior to, during and after a hurricane. Make a list of all tasks that will need to be performed so there are no last-minute, unanticipated gaps to plug. Identify and maintain an updated list of the members of a damage-inspection team, which will determine where storm damage occurred and how extensive it is. Make sure each team member knows his or her responsibilities. Specific workers should be assigned to fix ditches, prop up trees, fix roadways and perform other tasks after the storm. Make sure you know how to contact workers at their place of safety, and that they have a way to call in after the storm.

Chris Oswalt, UF/IFAS citrus Extension agent covering Polk and Hillsborough counties, says personnel assignments are particularly important in preparing for a storm.

“I would suggest as a group practicing a hurricane drill to run through the mechanics of the assignments, including safety training,” he says. “Hurricanes are stressful situations, and you don’t want to find deficiencies in your plan while the storm is happening. Plan ahead and don’t wait until the day before. You never realize how much stuff you must attend to until you have a hurricane on your doorstep.”

Safety training: Workers should be trained in the safe operation of unfamiliar equipment that they may have to use if a hurricane hits. For instance, drivers may wind up using chain saws to remove a downed tree that is blocking a road.

Liquid tanks: Tanks containing fuel, fertilizer and other materials should be kept full, so they do not move in the wind and rain and to ensure that sufficient fuel is available for machinery used in recovery efforts after the storm.

Ditches: Ditches should be kept clean and pumped down to help maximize water-removal efforts after the storm.

Cultural practices: Trees should be pruned regularly to reduce broken limbs and minimize toppled or uprooted trees. Windbreaks can also reduce tree damage and the spread of citrus canker.

Emergency equipment: Make sure that all emergency equipment — including generators, chain saws, torches and air compressors — is on hand and in good repair. Emergency generators should be available for use in headquarters and equipment maintenance shops. Large diesel-powered generators with 25-to-60-kilowatt capacity can be rented or leased by the month during the hurricane season.

Communications equipment: Ensure that radios are in good working order. Have handheld portable radios with extra charged battery packs available for workers who will need them in the field after the storm. Direct truck-to-truck radio communication is most reliable when phone lines are down. However, cellular phones with radio capabilities and standard cellular phones can help workers save valuable time during the recovery process, as opposed to communication systems that require messages to be relayed through a base unit.

Hazardous materials: Hazardous materials should be secured prior to a storm, and gasoline pumps should be shut down.

Emergency contacts: Have a list of phone numbers you might need in an emergency, including those for the phone and electric companies, sheriff and medical facilities.


After the storm, job No. 1 is making sure everyone is accounted for and safe, Oswalt says. Then damage assessments and cleanup can begin.

“Going back to the personnel assignments before the storm, here is where you should have addressed your order of priorities and damage surveys,” Oswalt says. “First and foremost, my list would start with people’s safety, then consider those that would be most immediate hazards, mitigation of secondary hazards and then on to cleanup and recovery.” 

Here are a few more recommendations from UF/IFAS:

Activity checklist: An activity checklist will help ensure that all essential damage assessment and recovery operations are carried out. Additionally, a plan that prioritizes the importance of individual blocks makes grove recovery efficient. With a priority plan, managers can quickly determine where to begin recovery operations.

Employee call-in: Maintain a current list of employee locations and phone numbers. As soon as it is safe to do so, call in those who will be needed for damage inspection and grove recovery work.

Damage inspection: If roads are passable, inspection of tree and equipment damage may be conducted from trucks. Since flooding, downed trees and electrical poles may have blocked roads, large growers should consider making prior arrangements for a helicopter or flying service to transport the grove manager to survey grove damage. Aerial surveillance can also determine routes of passage through the grove.

Clear road access: Have crews clear all roads leading to parts of the grove where trees must be reset, or other recovery activities must be conducted. Having a clear path for workers will speed up the recovery effort.

Water removal: Remove excess water from tree root zones as soon as possible. It is essential to accomplish this task within 72 hours to avoid feeder root damage due to insufficient oxygen.

Tree rehabilitation: Resetting of trees to an upright position should be accomplished as soon as possible after the storm. Ensure that employees know how to properly upright toppled trees and that appropriate equipment is available. Such equipment might include pruning saws, chain saws, front-end loaders, backhoes and shovels. Toppled trees should be pruned back to sound wood. Painting exposed trunks and branches with white latex paint helps prevent sunburn.

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Frank Giles


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