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Trying To Reason With Hurricane Season

The forecasts are all out, and every indication points to an “above normal” hurricane season in 2010. NOAA has a whole host of charts and graphs with circles and arrows and a paragraph at the bottom of each one describing what each one is to be used as evidence against us (with apologies to Arlo Guthrie). And as we have seen time and time again, it doesn’t require a landfalling hurricane on the First Coast to have widespread effects in our region. With the oil spill in the gulf, it’s a pretty fair bet that any threat to that region is going to cause spikes in gasoline prices, because that happened in years past even without the underwater gusher. 

Even with no hurricane activity in the state since 2005, insurance companies are still claiming that they’re losing money and a major storm making landfall in Florida could be devastating. Not to mention that the State of Florida holds more homeowners insurance than any other policy writer … and we all know how much money the state has at the moment.

But hurricane prediction is an inexact science. While meteorologists have gotten much better at predicting a storm’s track with greater accuracy, intensity continues to be difficult to determine or predict. NASA recently announced the funding of a study that will fly Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s) for as many as 30 hours at a time over developing and fully developed storms during the 2012-2014 season specifically to study the development of intensity. At some point they’ll eventually determine what causes a category 2 storm to jump to category 4 or 5 intensity with very little warning, and then be able to give us a little warning. However all that is still years in the future.

So, as the NWS calls for as many as 23 named storms between now and November 30th, with as many as 14 becoming hurricanes and up to 7 crossing that Category 3 “Major Hurricane” threshold, the time to consider what to do is now.

Living as I do on what amounts to a barrier island, I tend to take such things seriously. The hurricane kit is pretty sparse right now, but over the next few weeks, we’ll start buying things like an extra gallon of water or two at the grocery store, just to tuck away in the garage. It doesn’t take too many of those before you’ve got an ample water supply laid in to get you through a storm, and you don’t have to fight for the last flat of over-priced bottled water when the store shelves are picked clean after a storm is forecast. Same with batteries. Grabbing a big package of batteries when you’re already at the warehouse store of your choice doesn’t add a lot to your bill, and then the batteries are already there should the lights go out. Soups and other canned goods the same thing, and might as well check to be sure the Coleman stove is operating. I think if there is one thing my hurricane kit is usually lacking, it’s pre-ground coffee and a percolator. I’ll have to fix that this year. I know pre-ground coffee usually loses its flavor over time, but it’d certainly be better than no coffee at all.

We have Kevlar shutters for the house. Lightweight, flexible, rated to Miami-Dade standards, and easy to put up for the entire house in about an hour.

My homeowner’s and flood insurance are paid up and current. If you live on a barrier island, and don’t have federal flood insurance, you’re just asking for problems. I’m sure you’re aware that once a storm is in the offing, there’s no getting insurance.

Tropical storms are simply a fact of life where we live. We’re very lucky in that the steering currents, most notably the Bermuda High, help curve storms away from the First Coast, though that’s certainly no guarantee that something won’t come straight in off the ocean, like Dora in 1964, or over the peninsula from the Gulf like Charlie back in 2004. But like earthquakes or wildfires in California, or tornadoes in the Midwest, they’re a function of where we live, and we get a lot more warning. I lived nearly 25 years in the Midwest, and never saw a tornado, though I saw a lot of tornado damage. I lived in California for a year, and experienced one minor temblor. I was driving in the car up PCH to work at the time, and the only reason I knew what had happened was because the newscaster on the radio stopped in mid sentence, paused, and said “we’ve just had an earthquake.” I’ve come close to three hurricanes. Gloria in 1985, Fran in 1996, and Charlie in 2004.

All that to say I hope I can live a long time in Florida and never experience the full brunt of a hurricane, even a Category 1 storm which is (theoretically) not enough to chase me from my house east of the Intercoastal Waterway. But knowing it could happen is enough to make me plan for its eventuality. Because really, if there is no storm, the worst I’ve done is make a modest investment in a few gallons of water, some canned food, and batteries which I probably needed anyway.

Not such a bad deal. Here’s to the forecasters being wrong, and a quiet season for everyone.

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