Thursday, August 25, 2016

Reasoning With Hurricanes

The last major hurricane to strike the Keys was Wilma in 2005 and it was pretty awful. It resembled the devastation of Katrina earlier that year (K comes before W) in New Orleans with drowned cars and evacuations of people and pets but without the violence. The storm left its mark on those of us who lived through it, just as Georges did a few years earlier in 1998, with flooding albeit on a much smaller scale. 
Hurricanes are idiosyncratic, inasmuch as they all develop and move in their own ways following some general meteorological rules and people responding to storms tend to develop their own rules, superstitions and attitudes. I think the best way to approach hurricanes is to work out a plan and then stick to it, which is hard to do if you don't have experience of dealing with these storms. I also advise against taking advice as in the end you will either evacuate for no reason which is expensive and annoying or you will sit out a storm that frightens the bejeesus out of you and in either case you only want to blame yourself not some innocent opinionated barfly who just happened to spout uninformed opinions in your hearing.
I have sat through a dozen  hurricanes over the past two decades of varying intensity from near misses to direct awful hits and because I work in the 911 center I obviously don't evacuate. I also get to observe them from the safety of the armored glass (they tell us) atop the police station. I will say that compared to other natural disasters hurricanes seem to cause a lot less loss of life than you might expect from all the hype. Property damage is usually caused by flooding or localised tornado winds embedded in the main body of the hurricane but with minimal common sense you should be able to survive a hurricane unscathed. Your home or vehicles may not be so lucky. As I recall one person died in Wilma and that was from a cardiac condition brought on by stress. I always recommend evacuation, early and with decisiveness. Load your car your pets and your spouse (and the children if you are fond of them) and bug out. Enjoy a vacation in a hotel a decent distance away and let the chips fall where they may. You will have plenty of warning and lots of time to get out if you have a mind to leave. My wife takes the dog and drives north to see friends when schools are closed as she is a teacher and she likes to get out before the highway gets jammed with traffic.
Judging how severe a storm might be is extremely difficult for the professionals in the National Hurricane Center in Miami so if you choose to stay assuming it will only be a Category One (explained further down this page) you be surprised when it gets upgraded to a Category Three and things get quite scary. Below we see a picture from NOAA of flooding caused by Wilma in 2005. North Roosevelt Boulevard is marked by the line of coconut palms:
The first warning you get comes in the form of a map with symbols to show a tropical wave that may start swirling and become a depression and then a storm and then a hurricane. The NHC offers a five day "cone" in the form of a white balloon to show roughly where they think it will go, but it's not an exact science. I show an example below taken from a few years ago on this page: National Hurricane Center If you click on the link you will see whatever is actually happening now. I also have this link in my list of sites to the left of this essay on my webpage.

One other thing that irritates the shit out of me is the assignation of gender to storms. Just because it's called Irene doesn't mean it is  a sentient being. A storm is a collection of wind and humidity and that's all. The hurricane people decided to start naming the storm for simplicity's sake and that got them into trouble. They choose names from A to Z (and double AA etc in the event there are lots, as there have been in a  few years). The names come from their families or friends and lately they have been trying to acknowledge the existence of other cultures in hurricane affected zones so you will see Spanish and French names crop up alongside Polynesian names as well. They alternate between male and female and if a storm produces death or damage the name is never used again. But a hurricane is an "it" not a he or a she. Excessive familiarity will taste pretty  dry if you watch your home get knocked down by your new girlfriend. Rant over.

Hurricanes are measured on this international scale: 

Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale

Climatology | Names | Wind Scale | Extremes | Models | Breakpoints

The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale is a 1 to 5 rating based on a hurricane's sustained wind speed. This scale estimates potential property damage. Hurricanes reaching Category 3 and higher are considered major hurricanes because of their potential for significant loss of life and damage. Category 1 and 2 storms are still dangerous, however, and require preventative measures. In the western North Pacific, the term "super typhoon" is used for tropical cyclones with sustained winds exceeding 150 mph.
CategorySustained WindsTypes of Damage Due to Hurricane Winds
174-95 mph
64-82 kt
119-153 km/h
Very dangerous winds will produce some damage: Well-constructed frame homes could have damage to roof, shingles, vinyl siding and gutters. Large branches of trees will snap and shallowly rooted trees may be toppled. Extensive damage to power lines and poles likely will result in power outages that could last a few to several days.
296-110 mph
83-95 kt
154-177 km/h
Extremely dangerous winds will cause extensive damage:Well-constructed frame homes could sustain major roof and siding damage. Many shallowly rooted trees will be snapped or uprooted and block numerous roads. Near-total power loss is expected with outages that could last from several days to weeks.
111-129 mph
96-112 kt
178-208 km/h
Devastating damage will occur: Well-built framed homes may incur major damage or removal of roof decking and gable ends. Many trees will be snapped or uprooted, blocking numerous roads. Electricity and water will be unavailable for several days to weeks after the storm passes.
130-156 mph
113-136 kt
209-251 km/h
Catastrophic damage will occur: Well-built framed homes can sustain severe damage with loss of most of the roof structure and/or some exterior walls. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted and power poles downed. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.
157 mph or higher
137 kt or higher
252 km/h or higher
Catastrophic damage will occur: A high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.
Hurricanes' sustained winds do not reflect the force of tornado strength winds embedded in the swirling mass of vapor and this tornadoes can wreck your home and leave a neighbor almost unmolested. To prepare for the arrival of a hurricane you need to remove anything that could be uprooted and flung about like a missile in stronger winds than you have ever experienced in your life. 
So the question becomes what do you do? Well, you could choose to be hard core and throw a hurricane party and get drunk with friends as the winds build and act like you are the devil-may-care pirate of tourist myth. Or you could be like me, wondering if now is time to pull in the garden furniture and prepare for Disturbance 1  or whatever it's called, a system currently bringing rain and wind to the Northern Caribbean and Southern Bahamas. You may listen to the "never evacuate " crowd on their bar stools or you may prefer to stay and figure nowhere near as many will die as died in the recent Italian earthquake (nearly 200) nor will as many homes be destroyed as were burned in recent California wildfires and Louisiana floods (hundreds). 
We are now getting into the height of hurricane season when waters are hottest and winds are lightest giving swirling hurricanes the best chance to form and build. From now till the end of October is high season for hurricanes. I will say this: it's easy to be brave until you get up close to these things. As winds rise and seas start crashing you will realize you are losing all control over your life. When highway one is closed to inbound traffic evacuation picks up speed. When a mandatory evacuation is ordered the authorities are telling you that if you need help you won't get any. You are free to stay home but when winds reach 35 mph sustained police fire and rescue won't be dispatched to help you. Take that as your warning. Then they will announce Highway One bridges are too windy for safe travel and you are stuck. Planes have long since stopped flying, last minute evacuees have left it too late. Then you sit and wait and hope you have cut down all coconuts to prevent them becoming cannonballs. You have put up your hurricane shutters. You have food and water and pet food. 
You look around and hope all is secure. You got to stay with friends and you pass empty streets and houses barricaded as though abandoned.

A last dash for gas, and then the hunkering begins. Hunker down they say, and you do and then you learn what the sound of 135 mph winds do to your eardrums and rain pushed at windows like bullets. 

The weather reports as you hunker look like this, taken from a hurricane report a FEW YEARS AGO as an example:

And as I write we have a possible hurricane forming in the northern Caribbean quite likely bringing heavy rain this weekend and possibly even a hurricane though the odds at this point seem to indicate just a period of wind and rain for a couple of days. 

Let us presume that Disturbance 1 does take the 50% chance and decides to develop into a Category One hurricane. What to do? I dare say one will assume it will not develop into a major barn storming hurricane, say a Category Three and one stays put. This will be interesting. Most people in the Keys have never lived through a hurricane. Lots to think about suddenly.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Old Town Villas

It's on the corner of Simonton and Greene Streets and the address is the mid 100 block of Simonton. It's growing like a mushroom. It's going to be luxury living. 
 From the prospectus:
Old Town Villas at Key West is a Caribbean inspired community in the heart of Key West. These luxurious townhomes are designed to blend the classic Key West Old Town style with a modern upscale atmosphere. Attractively located at the epicenter of Key West living, the Old Town district is recognized as the tourist,entertainment, and shopping center of Key West, with sporting and other recreational water activities merely steps away.
They are listed at prices between $1.5  and $1.75 million so even in Key West these do not rate as affordable housing for worker ants.
On the other side of the coin I am tempted to wonder what someone who plunks down effectively two million dollars for a 2600 square foot townhouse is going to demand in terms of privacy serenity versus the nonchalant scruffiness that is a hallmark of this "epicenter of Key West living.
I mean these millionaires will be safely gated but outside they will face  bums and spilled beer which is the essence of the epicenter of lower Duval Street a couple of blocks away. Come Fantasy Fest they will have some eye popping views of Key West living in the buff too.
Location location location gets a different meaning in Key West. I have found that people who love Key West  from a distance, on vacation get a bit testy when they choose to live here even part time on extended vacations and discover their high price of entry doesn't guarantee them respite from the daily aggravations of a community that tries, in the face of nationwide conformity, to live and let live.
Tourists in Key West are mostly to be seen wandering the streets in beach clothes and intoxicated to one level or another. This isn't  yet Naples on the west coast of Florida where fashion, good taste and boredom greet visitors to that beach town.
I fear the consequences of more luxury homes in a town that makes almost no effort to provide for the people who not only work here but give the town color and flavor. There used to be no Starbucks and now there are...I've lost count....four with another on the way. Cuban coffee shops  still do well here happily but chain stores of every description supplant local shops. 
Mine is a useless lament. Money talks and the chicken walks, for now.
Do you suppose our twenty new millionaire neighbors want chickens and raggedy eccentrics frightening them? I have my doubts. Even though this parking lot attendant exhibits about as much personality to me as  a stalagmite he has  his place in town. I hope I don't irritate him walking by and saying good morning. I hope this scruffy expensive parking lot survives the transformation and with it his job.
I'm not hopeful. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Key West City Hall

The new City Hall is arising slowly from the wreckage that was the old Glynn Archer School on White Street. And, as you can see they have had some trouble naming the building.
Glynn Archer was a former school administrator and Josephine Parker was a city clerk of some repute. So much so they also named a street after her. I'm thinking that after a couple of years it will just be "city hall." That will be  after all the various controversies die down. This shot was a panorama down United Street and you can see it's a big chunk of land with lots of parking at the future city hall.
 One controversy relates to the old  tiger that used to roar in front of the school:
The sculpture  was welded by George Carey, a high school instructor and  recently got refurbished and despite  city officials promising it will return some people have been making noises about it. So far there's no sign but construction work is underway still!
There was a wave of opposition to building the city hall here. Some people protested the cost, twenty to twenty five million depending on who is talking. Some people think the location is bad which seems a ludicrous objection to me as right here city hall offers brilliant access to all parts of the city, isn't too far from the police department in the event of a crisis (think hurricane) and the lot is big enough to offer lots of parking. Anyway Mayor Cates got the job done and now we have the city hall that actually looks like a proper city hall. Amazing.
 Then there is the storm in a  teacup over solar panels. Imagine that! Apparently sticking them on the roof was an architecturally poor choice of location. So they stuck the array in the parking lot as part of a car port roof:
Naturally that didn't go over too well and the latest pointless argument brigade has been fixing bayonets over this issue. I'm just glad they are modern enough to include one modest solar array with this project.  Very forward thinking for Key West.
And the work goes on. Some pictures of the old school, just for nostalgia's sake:
I am glad the old school is becoming the new city hall. I think its a good choice all round.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Stock Island Hotel

This was then, at Oceanside Marina:
In 2013 local developer Pritam Singh bought Oceanside Marina from the bank after a local company called Cortex blew up taking several notable quasi-developments with it. Singh told the paper he paid five million for the marina and in 2013 had plans to spend 25 million upgrading the docks.
From the Key West Citizen, June 13, 2013, an interview Pritam Singh gave:
Rows of boat slips will remain untouched, as the slips were sold to individual owners. Singh said he purchased 8 acres of upland and 4 acres of bay bottom.
He has been working with Monroe County planning staff for the past several months to determine how much development can occur there. But he added that he plans to keep it a sportfishing marina.
"The saying is, 'The legend is back,'" Singh said. "It's beautiful. It's an extraordinary site."
Singh called Stock Island an up-and-coming community with a lot of potential. He cited the success of restaurateur Bobby Mongelli, who owns Hogfish Bar Grill and Roostica on Stock Island.
He also referenced the changes being made on Shrimp Road, on the other side of Safe Harbor, by the owners of Stock Island Marina Village, who have built a dog park and community garden on their property, extended their piers and are looking at building a hotel on Safe Harbor.
"Stock Island is great," Singh said. "It is fabulous."   
That was in 2013 according to the Citizen newspaper. This is now, fabulous or not here comes development:
The old Hickory House restaurant, sold in a  sweetheart deal to Monroe County for several times its true worth is gone. Singh bought it from the county for its true value and the county lost millions. 
Like they say, paradise paved over and a parking lot built:
 Perhaps it wasn't exactly paradise but it had a funky air that somehow appealed, even after the county fenced off the docks as being too dangerous for human consumption:
Now  we are told a hotel in the inimitable "Key West style" is starting to appear where the engine shops at Oceanside marina used to be:
One can only suppose it will end up looking like an extension of Truman Annex. Yesterday:
And today:
 The marina is still functioning behind the construction. Today:
As has been pointed out to me anyone who rents an expensive resort hotel room here, a couple of miles away from the city of Key West, has a pretty gnarly drive to get through Stock Island. There is not much that's quaint here unless run down trailers and actual commercial fishing rates as "quaint."
There is a lot of light industry on Stock Island including of course all the services that maintain fishing and recreational boats. There are the services that keep the city going, plumbing, iron works, plumbers and so on. None it could be considered scenic or tourist friendly. 
The main road to US Highway One is Maloney Avenue  and its pretty working class.
I just don't know how long this worker housing, old trailers, can last as the development juggernaut finally gets into high gear. It's where housekeepers, waiters, shop clerks and boat captains can afford to live. I envision a future where workers will be imported and housed in dormitories. 
Maloney could use a smooth coat of pavement to get rid of the absurd dips and weaves in the surface currently. And if the plan to draw tourists works that is sure to happen after years of neglect.
The construction at the end of Maloney Avenue is making real the plans and warnings issued repeatedly over the past few years.
Development isn't coming to Stock Island; it's here.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Summer Keys

A few pictures to alleviate the global warming stress or whatever ails you...
 Beware of a dog, either inside or outside...
 The ever entrancing Key West roof line...
 Seen around town for quite a few months, a Vespa 300 registered in France. Hmm...
 The State of Florida has finally moved the traffic lights at the Triangle to where they can be seen...
 The always lovely Seven Mile Bridge...