My wife and I are spending our first hurricane season in Florida. It’s been an action packed season with six or seven named storms that had to be watched and one storm that just popped up out of a small depression to our west. The locals have a whole preparation process that they go through to get ready for hurricane season. The news has a recommended hurricane kit that each household needs to ensure survival for the season. Each tropical depression is tracked on a “spaghetti chart” showing the various potential paths the storms could take. Sarasota County is neatly divided into 5 separate evacuation zones depending on the expected storm surge. The buildings are inspected and rated for their wind remediation ability. Preparedness teams from local neighborhoods up to the state level stand at the ready waiting for the one that will hit us. This area takes hurricane season seriously and preparation is a very well publicized process.
Having lived in the North East for my entire life, dealing with adverse weather is not something new. In fact the 126 inches of snow that we got during the winter of 2015 was a big reason that we are here. We didn’t have checklists and teams standing by waiting for the snow. When a storm was in the forecast we made sure that we had gas for the snow blower and went to the market for bread, milk and eggs. Lots of snow, cold and a few power outages were just part of a New England winter.
Hurricane season in Florida has a more frantic feel. With the images of category 5 storms slamming the Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico it’s understandable why people are scared. Florida is a flat low lying state and a storm surge of 20 feet would devastate a lot of the population centers in the state. Irma wasn’t even a category 1 storm when it hit Sarasota and we had lots of wind damage and low land flooding. But the scariest part of the storm was the buildup to the event. It was potentially going to hit us as a category 4 storm. People had their bathtubs filled with water, safe rooms established and some had marked the front doors to show the number of occupants so that FEMA rescuers would know what who look for. We got last minute items like batteries and soup just in case the weeks supply ran out. We helped friends get last minutes items that they couldn’t find and shared what we had. As the storm approached, we sat glued to the weather reports to see where the storm would make landfall and where Sarasota was in the “cone of uncertainty”.
The storm came and went with lots of wind and rain. We lost power for 36 hours and suffered a little in the heat without our AC. The area had trees down, flooding and damage to buildings. The low lying areas along the shore and rivers were the hardest hit. Those areas were evacuated and shelters were readily available. There were two police officers killed in an accident during the preparation for the storm, but I don’t think there were any deaths as a direct result of the storm. People that fled to Atlanta, Orlando and other far off points had trouble getting home. Gas and other items that were put up in preparation for the storm were in short supply after the event. Piles of vegetation blown down during the storm may lay along the roads for a couple of months. But at the end of the day, the fear of the storm was far worse than the storm itself.
It’s hard to predict just how destructive a storm will be or where it’s going to focus the brunt of its anger. It’s certainly better to be over prepared than under prepared. But does all the focus on preparation create more damage with the fear that results than the safety it provides? I don’t have the answer, but next year I’ll be better prepared because a storm is a storm. It doesn’t matter if its two feet of snow or 6 inches of rain.