Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Reasoning With Hurricane Season

Traditionally September is the busiest month for hurricanes in the Atlantic basin, with August not far  behind, though hurricanes can arrive before the start of the season in June (very rare) and well after the end of the season November 30th (not so rare at all), This year we looked to be lucky because there is an El Nino weather inversion taking place in the Pacific and that is supposed to suck the energy out of Atlantic Hurricanes. That said we have already seen Bertha chasing it's tail around the western Atlantic. Hurricane Georges in 1998 did a bit of no good to the Lower Keys:
The hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005 were really tiring. It seemed like every weekend there was a fresh storm to deal with and some wag created a bumper sticker that read "Another Weekend, Another Hurricane" which felt less like a witticism and more like an eternal truth. The worst of the lot was Hurricane Wilma which wiped out Key West a few weeks after New Orleans got devastated.
Hurricane Wilma was the last straw for a lot of people and  the stream of still functioning cars went off up the Keys to get away from endless storms. I worked through the storm and went to bed in the morning with the police station surrounded by flood waters, my car survived by inches through sheer good luck and no planning (I parked it away from trees worrying about a limb falling on it, not about waters filling it). In the event you do what you have to do to cope.
The city was in s shambolic state for weeks, torn up roads, immobilized cars parked as they landed after being drowned and shifted by flood waters, garbage hanging in fences and bushes, landscaping wrecked, plants dead, it seemed like normal life would never come back. New Town got badly flooded and there were so many temporary RVs on Fogarty Avenue some people renamed it FEMA Avenue. South Roosevelt was torn up and covered in sand:
I remember standing in the parking lot at work a couple of weeks after the storm talking with some colleagues. Suddenly one of their cars started to pour smoke from under the hood. A fireman came running for the neighboring fire station and put it out. Another car wrecked by Wilma! That happened a lot as salt water intrusion ate the wiring of cars that seemed to have survived the storm and all the flooding. 
These pictures of  Wilma's effects came from the National Weather Service  site which also has an extensive discussion of the storm. I do know that the old timers in Key West warn, as a matter of course, that storms from the west, from Mexico tend to produce flooding. So that is one thing I look for during hurricane season.
I thought this modest article  from The Weather Channel was worth a read, not so much for the statistics  but more for the idea that somehow with the rest of the country burning up, flooding, sliding or drying out we are in some manner owed a natural disaster, and it seems we also have a bunch of residents not used to dealing with hurricane season...
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"Heading in to the heart of the 2014 Atlantic hurricane season, it is interesting to note that it has been 8 years, 9 months and 1 week, since a hurricane has made landfall in Florida.
This is the longest stretch of consecutive years since 1851 that no hurricanes have hit the state. The longest hurricane-free streak prior to this one was between  1980 and 1984.
This is impressive, considering the coastline of Florida is 1260  miles long from the Gulf Coast to the Atlantic Ocean, and an an average of 8 hurricanes have formed each year since 2005.
Equally impressive is the barrage of storms that pummeled the state before the hurricane drought.
Hurricane Wilma
NOAA

Hurricane Wilma (2005)

Wilma made landfall just south of Naples, Florida, as a Category 3 hurricane, producing widespread wind damage in southern Florida.
CharleyFrancesJeanne and Ivan pounded Florida in 2004, followed by DennisKatrina and Wilma in the historic 2005 hurricane season. Rita passed south of the Florida Keys that year, but did produce significant storm surge flooding in Key West.
Wilma capped off the hurricane onslaught when it became the last hurricane to make landfall in Florida on Oct. 24, 2005.

Living On Borrowed Time?

With such a long period of time - nearly 9 years - since Florida's last landfalling hurricane, a number of factors have developed to leave Florida vulnerable for "the next one."
The first is a changing population. As reported by USA Today, U.S. Census population data indicates that as many as 1 million people have moved to Florida since Wilma's landfall in 2005. That's potentially 1 million people who are inexperienced with the impacts of hurricanes and tropical storms and lack the experience boarding up a home, cleaning out a flooded home or battling mandatory evacuation traffic.
But even long-time residents of Florida may be susceptible to a different threat: the threat of complacency.
"Complacency is just a dumb excuse people use to say I'm not worried, I'm not going to get ready," Craig Fugate, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told the Sun Sentinel in 2013. "The price of living in paradise is to get prepared and quit using excuses."
After nearly a decade hurricane-free, it is easy for Florida's residents to forget the importance, as well as the time and financial resources it takes, of being prepared for a hurricane making landfall. But just because a hurricane hasn't affected Florida in years doesn't mean a hurricane will never image the state again.
The reality is that all Florida residents should continue to prepare for the next one, no matter if it shows up in this year or in 10 years. Florida's lucky hurricane-free streak will certainly end. It's just a matter of time."
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I hope its not going to be this year when we get our next storm, but I've lived through earthquakes, forest fires and landslides and of them all hurricanes seem the least worst on the whole. You get plenty of warning these days and they strike during the warmest time of the year so at least hypothermia is not usually a problem among all the other discomforts and stresses of storm damage. We are lucky too inasmuch as hurricanes do sometimes kill people but in the US a  little common sense will keep you alive in a country with building codes and evacuation plans. Residents of hovels and shacks in Mexico, Haiti or the Dominican Republic aren't so lucky. Cuban citizens, ground under the oppressive heel of godless communism have well planned and executed civil defense evacuations for them and their livestock. But in the end hurricanes, by their nature are stressful and fear inducing no matter where you live. Better if they keep giving the Sunshine State a miss, thank you.