It is the news of the weekend, inside Florida and among Florida watchers, the tropical storm that drowned a couple of dozen unfortunates in Dominica (pro: Dom-in-éek-ah)...Don't know where Dominica is? Don't worry, it's an insignificant speck of land in the West Indies where building codes are...locally adapted and where people are poor with a history formed by Europeans; French and British mostly after Spanirds discovered it on a Sunday and he gave it a Latin name, as you do, of course. More importantly this whirling cloud of heavy rain is aimed more or less at Florida, home to beaches, Mickey Mouse, strange people and loved by all as vacationland USA. I exaggerate but not by much. Don't worry, the story ends well, no one dies, the dog sleeps through the storm and next week the sun will be back out.
If you hunt around the web you will find these dramatic images. The less dramatic ones in the second half of this essay first appeared on this very blog, so it should be apparent one can survive a tropical storm with a little luck. I'm not sure if alligators or hurricanes strike the most fear in people who view Florida, bizarrely, as a dangerous place to live. Distracted driving, guns, lightning strikes and falling coconuts could be considered dangers; mosquitoes and sand fleas are irritants and humidity can be off-putting. The weather, however is mostly perfect ALL THE TIME. Hurricanes are an occasional irritation but unlike California earthquakes, fires and mudslides, or Oklahoma tornadoes hardly anyone dies in a hurricane in the first world. As we mark the New Orleans catastrophe we forget, conveniently, that broken levees created the disaster. Katrina was long gone by the time the 9th Ward started killing people. Paying taxes, maintaining public works and pulling together as a single, multi racial nation maintains our civilization. Falling to keep up with the infrastructure kills people. Hurricanes are merely dramatic incidentals. If you stay sober and sensible you will be fine.
Historically speaking hurricanes came out of nowhere, knocked down tar paper homes and swept bodies out to sea: all before morning. That was before government scientists started studying and tracking storms, before taxpayers put satellites into space. Remember every single loud noisy colorful, overly dramatic weather forecaster gets their basic data from the National Hurricane Center in Miami. All the weather.com, weather underground and crown weather services simply interpret the government provided data. You can look at the government page and figure it out for yourself, it really isn't hard. Hurricanes used to be terrible:
As I write this on Friday afternoon it seems to me there is a 50-50 chance Tropical Storm Erika will be a damp squib. Sure, the system may bring rain and maybe even wind, but the path is not conducive to storm development and in those areas where warm waters might feed a cyclone the winds are apparently going to be trying to prevent the storm from reforming, so all in all it looks more like a wet winter weekend ahead rather than a dramatic swath of destruction. I take my cue from the low key NHC predictions at the moment. On the other hand a storm is a thing of Nature and no one really knows what's going to happen so taking a few simple precautions make sense. For me whose job takes over my life when storms approach, for me there is no opportunity for last minute preparations. I may go into work tonight and not come home till the storm has passed. I do get to spend the weather in the safest building in Key West, but I do my job best when I leave home knowing everything is as prepared as it can be. So I cleaned up and even though my wife won't be evacuating I know she will be secure in an organized home, with a support network while I am at work. Evacuation seems silly when the storm is expected to rake the entire state with rain and some wind.
I usually encourage the brash to evacuate. Once a mandatory evacuation is announced it doesn't mean you will be forced to leave, it just means that when the storm arrives emergency services will be shut down and you will be alone. For all the talk of self reliance you would be amazed how scared people get when the house starts to shake incessantly, when the winds are so loud conversation is inaudible, when the internet breaks, the lights and air conditioning go out, when the canal starts to crawl out its bed like a bad science fiction movie...and there is no help to be had. It goes on and on and I suppose it's why people get drunk.
After the storm if things went well life gets easy in a hurry, the weather turns perfect, and life goes back to normal. If not, not. I find the idea of an ice storm to be horrifying and I take solace from the fact that after a storm you might be sweating but you won't freeze to death. Flooding can be horrid but a mudslide such as I have seen in California is infinitely worse. Love Creek in the San Lorenzo Valkey slide in the winter of 1982 drowned 13 people in the mud. Imagine that death, and I think most of those bodies are still lost in the mud. So how bad are hurricanes? Not as bad as earthquakes that routinely kill people and buildings without warning and without mercy.
I like keeping supplies on hand, some cans and packets of food that I like to eat. Mormons require their followers to keep a year's worth of supplies on hand against the unexpected arrival of the Apocalypse, an event that will apparently distract God for long enough that Mormons are expected to be able to survive for a year without help. Ignoring the rather peculiar dogma the result is that you can buy assorted foods that have a shelf life of twenty five years. I like LINK. Preparing ahead of time means hurricanes don't leave you running around like headless chickens when they appear. Put away the garden furniture, which you bought light weight and stackable to make that easy, fill the gas tank, buy water and get some cash from the ATM. Order pizza and wait.
In 1953 the U.S. started giving women's names to storms. 25 years later they mixed in men's names and a few years ago they added -gasp!- foreign names to reflect the various cultures that are affected in the Caribbean as well as in Polynesia and the Far East. Naming storms is helpful in the modern endless news cycles we live in, for those that still watch television. However don't imagine that storms have genders: a storm is an it. Like the ocean, storms don't care about you, they don't care if your life is damaged, storms, brace for it, don't have feelings. I find it odd that humans like to invest storms with personalities but they do. To think of TS Erika as a "she" seems weird to me. But there again I think my dog has feelings and you'd be astonished how many people ignore their yard dogs during hurricanes. Personally I hope bad things happen to them but there again I don't have much truck with karma either...
And like every human experience there's nothing new under the sun. The track shown below looks like TS Erika as "she" approaches Florida. Actually it's Chantal as "she" failed to approach Florida in 2013.
By all means pray for us and remind us to stay safe which I find is a complicated instruction to obey. If you think prayer helps I would suggest praying for Syrian mothers who can't find food for their kids or (black) residents of New Orleans who are still washed out a decade after the event. Keep a couple of extra prayers in reserve if you must in case Erika pulls a fast one and blossoms into a Category Two with embedded tornadoes and strikes just as the incautious are passing out from alcoholic hurricane parties. They say God takes care of fools and drunks but I imagine the Almighty has a few more pressing problems than a first world tropical storm strike. Wish it weren't so but I fear the world outside the Caribbean hasn't stopped being properly chaotic even as we suffer some heavy rain.