The property damage, destruction and flooding caused by the E-1 tornado and torrential downpour that hit the Sun ‘n Fun grounds on March 31, 2011, will likely be on the minds of many as the 38th Annual Sun ‘n Fun International Fly-in & Expo approaches. Though the odds of a repeat performance happening again at this year’s Spring Break for Pilots (March 27 through April 1) seem unlikely, show organizers took the lessons from the storm to heart. As of last month, SNF is a National Weather Service StormReady certified event.
SNF President John Leenhouts announced the designation to a crowd of more than 200 attending last Saturday’s volunteer meeting held in the FAA Safety Center located at Lakeland Linder Regional. “Not only is Sun ‘n Fun StormReady, but it’s also the first-ever aviation event to earn the NWS certification.”
According to NWS Meteorologist Daniel Noah, who oversees the Polk County region, Florida’s winter and spring seasons don’t typically generate a lot of tornadic activity, but when such storms do pop up, they can be violent — “as evidenced by the March 31 event that generated nine tornadoes across the Tampa Bay and Lakeland area.”
To be certified as NWS StormReady, the community, or in this case, event, must establish a 24-hour warning point and emergency operations center; have more than one way to receive severe weather forecasts and warnings and to alert the public; create a system that monitors local weather conditions; promote the importance of public readiness through community seminars; and, develop a formal hazardous weather plan, which includes training severe weather spotters and holding emergency exercises.
And according to Noah, "The NWS will staff the Polk County Emergency Management mobile Emergency Operations Center to aid in life and safety decisions if hazardous weather moves toward this year's event.”
Though not as life threatening or damaging as the tornado that ripped through the show grounds, the muddy/submerged parking lots that resulted from the storm’s deluge created a traffic and parking nightmare for guests and show organizers alike for the remainder of the fly-in. As a result, Leenhouts reported that several of the main parking areas have been improved to help prevent a repeat scenario.
Leenhouts was quick to point out that even in the face of the storm, the six-day show generated $60 million in economic impact for the Central Florida region. Saturday’s meeting was the first of three volunteer meetings being held to arm the thousands of volunteers with the necessary information to make the show a safe and positive guest experience.
“Our number one priority this year is to show our guests a good time by providing them the best in southern hospitality in the safest environment possible,” said Leenhouts.