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The South Florida Roundup

It's peak hurricane season in South Florida, five years since Hurricane Irma

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MARK HEDDEN / MARKHEDDEN.COM
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Key West houseboats damaged by Hurricane Irma.

It's peak hurricane season in South Florida... but where are all the storms?

On this week's South Florida Roundup, we marked the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Irma's landfall and got an update on the storms currently swirling in the Atlantic.

The Atlantic has been brewing with activity, but only recently. By Saturday, Florida will have five named storms - that's three less than last year during the same time period. Meteorologist Megan Borowski with the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network does not expect any direct or immediate impacts to Florida at this time.

But the season is not yet over, Borowski said. Forecasters still expect an above average season even though storm activity has been lagging this season.

Hurricane season ends in November and Florida still has all of the ingredients in place to support tropical cyclone activities, Borowski said.

Not only has there been a lack of hurricanes, but there’s been a lack of the usual afternoon storms that drench South Florida during this time of year.

"It's kind of a tale of two sides of the peninsula in South Florida because the east side — the immediate coast from Brevard all the way down to Miami-Dade County — that's under a moderate drought," Borowski said.

READ MORE: South Florida and the Treasure Coast experiencing abnormally dry conditions as Lake Okeechobee levels stay low

A drought-stricken region means a drier ground. While it may seem counterintuitive, a drier ground can become hydrophobic, creating intense runoff and exacerbated rainfall and flooding.

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Carl Juste
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Miami Herald

Local government leaders across South Florida have been trying to implement plans that could mitigate the effects of worsening storm surge.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has agreed to revise a controversial plan to build walls and flood gates that would fortify parts of Miami against storm surge, using more natural solutions.

"We have some of our best defenses that are natural, like coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass banks," said WLRN's environmental reporter Jenny Staletovich. "They can protect us from that surge. And if we restore and protect those, it's good for the environment, too."

Looking back at Hurricane Irma

Five years ago on Sept. 9, Hurricane Irma made landfall. The Category 4 storm hurled toward the Keys at 130 miles per hour.

Hurricane Irma ranks number six on the all-time costliest hurricane list at $52.1 billion dollars, even surpassing the costs of Hurricane Andrew, according to the National Hurricane Center.

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Miami Herald Archive

"The thing is, in the Keys, you were already fragile - we are kind of out here and without, really, any real protection. But it had been about 12 years since the Florida Keys had a significant hurricane. It's almost like Irma made up for that," said Miami Herald Keys reporter Gwen Filosa.

READ MORE: A Year After Irma, Keys Schools Still Feeling The Effects Of The Storm

Irma left the city of Key West relatively unscathed, but the rest of the Keys did not share the same fate. Big Pine Key, for instance, suffered some of the worst property damage from the storm.

Filosa was one of the record 6.5 million Floridians who evacuated the Keys. Some residents chose to ride it out. Others drove across the state, just trying to escape the storm's path. But escaping a hurricane does not come cheap and sometimes not everyone can make it out.

"If you run out of time [or] luck or you just don't have the money," Filosa said. "A lot of times it's not a choice."

As far as evacuations go, Monroe County offers bus services to help residents leave the Keys to shelter in safety elsewhere. Otherwise, the county will open up public shelters, but Filosa said it's important to check to see if those locations have changed.

"Irma was absolutely no joke and reminded a lot of us that we need to be prepared and be ready," she said.

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Natu Tweh is producer of The Florida Roundup and The South Florida Roundup at WLRN.
Alyssa Ramos is a multimedia producer for WLRN’s Morning Edition.