Sunday, June 2, 2019

The Season

From 2017:

June First is a rite of passage in Florida and other states on the Eastern Seaboard too for all I know, as the date marks the start of hurricane season, as though the weather lives by the Gregorian Calendar. That the weather is not circumscribed by calendar dates became very clear this year when  a tropical type of storm developed in the Atlantic weeks before the "official" start of hurricane season. Nevertheless we were inundated with chatter about the hurricane season promptly on June First as we are every year. News outlets tend to ignore weather forecasters whose caution tends to blunt the nice crisp news stories that don't handle nuance very well. June First is hurricane season so Get Ready, is the message.
So now we sit and anxiously await November 30th which marks the end of the hurricane season, though weather forecasters do also try to point out that a hurricane in December is rare but not unknown. And despite the fact we live in a  climate change state of official denial we all know storms are getting nastier and more brutish as wind and heat patterns change around the planet. If you live in Florida your friends and relatives who live elsewhere delight in pointing out that soon - date uncertain - our delightful year round summer in a sub tropical climate will be drowned by rising oceans. Then we'll be sorry.
 Undoubtedly it is now a race between me (I take this all rather personally you might be surprised to learn) dying and Florida drowning, and hopefully I shall not outlive the Sunshine State. In point of fact we have all sorts of other more pressing challenges here than worrying about invasive tides which have already made themselves felt. Salt water intrusion is one delicious and invisible (thus not news worthy) effect of rising oceans and melting ice caps. The pressure from seawater along the Atlantic Coast is forcing saltwater into the porous rock that separates the south Florida Aquifer, the water supply of five million people including the Keys (Me! Again!!) which means we could all soon be stuck drinking seawater which will kill us or drive us out long before the state officially drowns. 
 But take heart, your favorite vacation destination isn't the worst hit place in the US. Tornadoes killed dozens of people recently in the Mid West. Tornadoes spawned by hurricanes wreak havoc but  because we have evacuation procedures ahead of the storm you don't tend to see many human deaths from hurricanes. California forest fires killed 130 people last year I believe and the state's response is to require the utility company to shut off electricity to communities when fire risk is high. Just like that: they will pull the plug to prevent arc-ing wires starting more wildfires in the future. What struck me about that piece of news is how hard Keys Energy works to keep the lights on right up to the last minute before the storms hit the Keys.
Oh and then there's flooding. I've seen the pictures of swollen muddy rivers all over the middle of the country with communities under water, homes cut off and farm animals drowning piteously as river waters rise. Yet the notion that Florida will be the first state to go under water is the image that seems to persist in the minds of people who think hurricanes are the worst possible effect of the weather. Villages on Alaska's tundra are being rebuilt inland to avoid the encroaching Bering Sea, seasons are haywire in the Far North yet Florida and hurricanes seem to grip the popular imagination.
How will you cope they ask breathlessly, with hurricanes? Rather as though they are asking how the village will fend off Frankenstein's Monster - an impossible task for peasants with pitchforks. I've lived through far too many storms to feel complacent about their ability to cause destruction. I saw plenty of that most recently in Wilma in 2005 and Irma in 2017. Yet I appreciate the fact that rebuilding in the Keys has been steady and effective for the most part.  The Panhandle has been and still is devastated while Puerto Rico is a mess that is off the news radar by now. Hurricanes are annoying but in the aftermath one doesn't freeze to death, nor is the destruction as comprehensive as that caused by a wildfire.
But the notion that hurricanes are proof that Florida residents are reckless is a story line that persists. And these days Congress is reluctant to spend emergency relief funds to help rebuild. Communities around Pensacola wrecked by Hurricane Maria aren't getting emergency federal help. That's scary. I fear for our future if we get hit again, and we will, if the Feds aren't going to be there to help recovery efforts. 
Insurance rates are high for Florida real estate and that's because insurance companies know how to figure out actuarial tables.  They know the odds are against them and we will suffer more damage and so they charge money in proportion to expected losses.  I rent and have no desire to own quite frankly. The stress of worrying about your home is awful, and I've been through that. Fixing up your home after a storm is a nightmare if you have to hire help because there is none and permits and red tape are headaches you just don't need when standing knee deep in rubble.
This year owing to my injuries and my long term sick status I am working dispatch part time. So if we do have an evacuation order I will leave with wife and dog for the first time in 15 years. However hurricane season peaks in September by which time I hope I will be restored to 100 percent healthy so I am not getting my hopes up that I will in fact evacuate. My wife the teacher evacuates the minute the schools are ordered closed for the emergency and she takes Rusty with her. We reserve a hotel room in Fort Myers as soon as a hurricane is on the horizon and she drives there as soon as she is released from work.
 If the storm veers or dissipates she drives  six hours back home, if not she heads north to safety. This plan works very well as most people dicker around and evacuate at the last minute which causes traffic jams and fuel shortages. Before Hurricane Irma she and Rusty were snug in Pensacola with a friend  well before South Florida highways turned into fuel- free parking lots. 
I suppose in the end every place on Earth is subject to the whims of Nature and all we humans can do is select which way we'd prefer to be destroyed. Earthquakes, tornadoes, fires, floods, landslides, volcanoes... you name it, this country has it. The best part about a hurricane strike is that when its all over and one is picking up the pieces of one's life you look around and this is where you live, under a deep blue sky and a bright yellow sun surrounded by turquoise waters. As you wander around surveying the wreckage, the inner consolation is a mantra that goes "It could be worse, it could be threatening to snow now." That works for me as I would rather be eaten by mosquitoes than be cold.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami is forecasting the usual vaguely disturbing prediction of worse than normal storm activity this year, whatever that means.
NOAA's outlook for the 2019 Atlantic Hurricane Season indicates that a near-normal season has the highest chance of occurring (40%), followed by equal chances (30%) of an above-normal season and a below-normal season. See NOAA definitions of above-, near-, and below-normal seasons. The Atlantic hurricane region includes the North Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico.
The 2019 outlook calls for a 70% probability for each of the following ranges of activity:
  • 9-15 Named Storms
  • 4-8 Hurricanes
  • 2-4 Major Hurricanes
  • Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) range of 65%-140% of the median
The seasonal activity is expected to fall within these ranges in 70% of seasons with similar climate conditions and uncertainties to those expected this year. These ranges do not represent the total possible ranges of activity seen in past similar years. These expected ranges are centered on the 1981-2010 seasonal averages of 12 named storms, 6 hurricanes, and 3 major hurricanes. Most of the predicted activity is likely to occur during the peak months (August-October, ASO) of the hurricane season.
The Atlantic hurricane season officially runs from June 1st through November 30th. This outlook will be updated in early August to coincide with the onset of the peak months of the hurricane season.

Hurricane Irma aftermath: