I have survived two hurricanes in less than a month, as have many other Floridians. We have a third one on the way, which nobody wants to talk about. This experience has traumatized most of us in one way or another. I want to share some of my feelings with my vast readership (both of you).
It has been over 10 years since Florida bore the brunt of a major hurricane—Andrew, in 1992. Andrew, although powerful, wreaked its devastation over a small area. Thus, Floridians in parts of the state that were not affected by Andrew—which means all but Miami-Dade, Broward, Collier, and Monroe Counties in the very southern tip of Florida—have not seen a major hurricane in a long, long time. Couple this with the great influx of new people to Florida and you have a collective citizenry that doesn’t understand the implications of a major hurricane.
So, as it became clear that Hurricane Charley would hit Florida, the typical reaction was complacency. This was confirmed by man on the street interviews on radio and TV. Those people just didn’t understand what they were dealing with. People like that stay at home, even if they live in a mobile home that could not possibly stay together in a minimal hurricane, let alone a Category 4 with 145 mph winds.
Alas, people who did understand the implications of a Category 4 storm bearing down on Florida learned about the inherent inaccuracy of weather forecasts. Forecasters had Charley aimed at Tampa Bay. Scads of residents of low-lying areas around Tampa headed for Orlando, an inland destination with lots of hotel rooms. Charley wound up missing Tampa; he scored a direct hit on Orlando. So much for forecasting.
One Orlando TV station’s chief meteorologist made the correct call on the day Charley hit Florida, saying that the big storm would hit Ft. Myers, considerably south of Tampa, and then cut a diagonal across the state through Orlando and Daytona Beach. The National Hurricane Center discounted his analysis. Needless to say, that TV station used its I-told-you-so for self-promotion. This Turkey feels that natural disasters should inspire teamwork and generosity, not pissing contests and commercialism.
Speaking of commercialism, tee shirts bearing the legends “I survived Charley,’ “I survived Frances,” and various combinations of those incriptions are selling for $19.95 on the Internet. That’s a bit much! I finally found another company—a Florida company—that was selling shirts for less, and also donating $2 per shirt to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. If I were in the market for a tee shirt, I would deal with this company.
Charley hit hard, crashing into the southwest coast of Florida at Port Charlotte and proceeding inland on a northeast trajectory that took it through Orlando and Daytona Beach. You’ve probably seen pictures of the devastation in Port Charlotte and environs. I cannot speak personally for that area. All I know is that when Charley barreled through Orlando, with winds up to 105 mph, it was 45 minutes of violence, the likes of which I had never experienced. Charley was here and gone. What he left be hind was a vast trail of destruction. Orlando is a place of many large oaks: live oaks, laurel oaks, water oaks, and turkey oaks. Orlando lost thousands of huge oak trees. I lost one myself. In the aftermath of Charley, I even saw one concrete utility pole snapped in half. The power of that storm was unimaginable.
So, Charley was a wake-up call. Unfortunately, the fact that Charley was a Category 4 while Frances was down to a Category 2 when it hit the coast led many people be complacent once again. To be sure, there was a mass exodus—people actually listened to evacuation orders. However, that happened while Frances was still a Category 4. When people saw it drop to a 2, they felt more comfortable with the notion of staying around.
Frances was a much larger storm than Charley. Frances was as large as the entire state of Florida. Its hurricane force winds extended 85 miles in all directions from the center when it hit the coast. Those winds were in the 110 mph range when it hit Stuart, Ft. Pierce, and Vero Beach. It remained stationary for hours, punishing the east coast, then slowly making its way west by northwest across the state. Once again, Orlando was involved. Winds were down to 75 mph by that time, but the slow movement of this beast caused it to dump a lot of rain on central Florida. We won’t know the extent of the flooding that will create until sometime tomorrow. Also, trees not knocked down but weakened by Charley were finished off by Frances.
Charley was the more destructive of the two in Orlando. Many people were without power, water, air conditioning, and basic comforts for weeks. With Frances, the repairs seem to be going faster. My personal observation is that Frances went easier on us than Charley, but there’s that nagging issue of how extensive the flooding will be. Time will tell.
While Charley had downed one tree on my property (which was fortunately prevented from falling on my house by another tree), Frances caused large branches from another to fall on my roof. A 30′ cherry laurel behind my house fell on my neighbor’s fence, destroying a large section of it. The same neighbor had had a weeping elm fall on his garage during Charley. The good news is that nobody was injured and the spirit of community prevailed. Neighbors cleaned debris from other neighbors’ properties and helped each other in any way possible. We were all weary but felt good about the community spirit.
Each one of these storms takes a lot out of us physically and emotionally. After two major hurricanes, no one wants to hear about Hurricane Ivan, which forecasters say might come this way. We don’t need another. It is my great hope that Ivan takes a turn into open seas an peters out there. Right now, Ivan is aimed at Jamaica. It has taken a more southerly course than was originally anticipated. We’ll know on Sunday, or perhaps sooner. A lot of Floridians, cowed by the cumulative effect of Charley and Frances, cannot even say the name “Ivan.” It is denial of some sort. Superstition, maybe. It somewhat reminds me of how some people deal with cancer by never pronouncing the name of the disease. Ivan the Terrible: too horrible to even mention his name. In fact, Governor Jeb Bush has jokingly prescribed a $10 fine for anybody mentioning the possibility of a third hurricane hitting Florida this year.
Another behavioral change I have noticed in people is a sudden distrust of trees. Want a parking space in Central Florida? Find one close to a tree. These used to be the desirable spaces, to keep the hot, Florida sun off one’s car. Now, people look warily at trees, not trusting them. Trees fell on a lot of automotive hardware around Florida.
Oh, and it is a lot brighter around Orlando without all the trees. You have to look at the positive side of these catastrophes. Those places where the grass would never grow because they didn’t receive enough sunlight are getting full sun now.
The most common greeting around Orlando these days is, “How did you make out?” It’s not a vacuous greeting—people by and large really do care.
To see pictures I took after Charley and Frances, please see My Photo Gallery.