Thursday, September 1, 2011

Cat 1? Cat 2?

September. We are deep into Hurricane Season 2011. Ominously, I heard someone say that 9/11 is the apex for yearly hurricane activity. Last weekend, you may have heard, Hurricane Irene headed North and caused a lot of water damage. Parts of New England especially were saturated with more rain and subsequent flooding than they've seen in decades. Overall, the storm was less devastating than predicted, but tell that to the families of the 40 who perished or those who've lost their homes or or suffered structural damage. Or thought they were in the clear only to see rivers overflow a few days later. Will your insurance company jack the rates or drop you altogether, you in the Carolinas? Jersey?

Florida was in the "cone" for Irene a good part of the previous week, but we avoided yet another one. In fact, South Florida seemed to have an invisible hand (not of the Adam Smith variety), or at least a pressure system, that kept them away for many years. About 25 of them.

I was 10 in 1979. Hurricane David plowed through West Palm Beach leaving strewn palms and our TV antenna in the backyard. I remember sitting by the front door with my tape recorder, trying to get cool wind sounds. The tape was mostly my cheesy narration ala In Search Of or something...

After David, we lost power for a few days. I went to my grandma's house (who lived even closer to the water) to do my homework as her electricity was still on. Doing Roman numerals by candlelight would've sucked. David was a Category One (74-95 MPH).

In 1992 it appeared that Hurricane Andrew was targeting WPB. That was scary. I was living one block from the Intracoastal waterway and police cars came through with loudspeakers, telling us to evacuate. I helped my friends in Lake Clarke Shores, a few miles inland, to board up and tape those windows. I hung with them overnight, playing board games. The storm decided, literally in the eleventh hour, to turn SW and proceeded to obliterate Homestead, south of Miami. Leveled the city. Boats were piled upon each other like discarded toys. Much the same for all the jets at Homestead Air Force Base. We dodged the bullet.

We dodged many other bullets as the years went on. Oh, we got some nasty tropical storms, a few of which wreaked havoc on the roofs of my workplaces. My years in retail pharmacy were denoted by lots of clean-ups, either from storm flooding or overnight robberies. Hurricane Katrina even went through Ft. Lauderdale in 2005 but was to get much more powerful once it hit the Gulf of Mexico. You know the rest.

In 2004, South Florida's seeming luck ran out. Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne were back-to-back storms that did not destroy us but were significant enough to make a big mess and knock the power out for as much as 2 weeks in some areas. I stayed with my grandmother (91 at the time) during and after the hurricanes. I remember hearing the wind sounding like a locomotive outside the bedroom window. No real damage to her unit, though, other than some minor screen tearing and porch flooding.

The worst of it was in the days after. Humid August days and nights. The lack of power was a bit more than a nuisance. The novelty of "old school"-style life before electricty, sorry, wore thin quickly. I thought I would appreciate it, but I was wrong, esepcially as I worried about my grandmother during this time of going to the grocery stores, barely running on their generators. Things were eerie there in the days prior to the storm, with ransacked shelves and folks flailing around more than they normally would. Gas station lines into the street. Reminded me of the 70s, sitting with my dad waiting for fuel during one of those phony shortages. I was in grad school during Frances and Jeanne, driving to Davie for night classes, wondering if I would get home in time for curfew.

A year later, we got another storm. Powerful Hurricane Wilma again caused some destruction, though she did not hover around for hours like Frances. Moved fairly quickly. She was huge, though. The eye wall stretched over most of SoFL. I remember walking in it, the calm before the next wind and rain pounding. Again, it took a week before the power returned during a triumphant pre-dawn. Beforehand, I kept seeing convoys of utility vehicles, not just Florida Power and Light but also from even Canada! Wondering when all this manpower would come our way. Things got ugly as powerless days raged on. Oh, that fine line. I heard people even threw things at the utility guys when they came around! Good times? Not so much, but thank God we all lived to talk about it. We did not experience the widespread horror seen in New Orleans and Mississippi.

We laugh as we see meterologists on TV, bending 45 degrees on location as they report. You wonder of their sanity. Does it really add anything to see them pelted with the elements? I don't think so. The coverage these days hilariously stretches for hours and days. We watch and listen to newspeople show us cars buried in floods, downed branches, large puddles. Some idiot invariably will walk back and forth in the background, even in treacherous conditions, hoping to get on television. That always happens when a news crew is around, regardless of the weather. It can also backfire, like when my grounded friend's parents spotted him at Oktoberfest on the 11 O'Clock News. He never lived that down.

I have mixed feelings overall on hurricane coverage; better to get the word out than not, make folks aware. Maybe with just a wee bit less hysteria. But what if a Katrina is coming? Would the hysteria be appropriate?
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