It's 10 p.m. and I'm safe at home with power and water. The weather outside is calm and quiet. We escaped hurricane warnings and watches this time. Meanwhile, Hurricane Irene is battering family and friends in New Jersey and then running up to New York all the way to Massachusetts. It feels so strange to monitor the television coverage, the forecast and tracking maps and feel such concern for everyone up home.
As one friend posted a couple of days ago on Facebook, there's something wrong when they're in the cone (the cone of death as we only half-jokingly refer to it down here) and I'm not.
This time last week, it looked like Irene would head straight for us here in the Florida Keys. By Thursday (a couple of days ago.), I would either have been hunkered down at home or have evacuated the day before for safer shelter on the mainland. My hurricane supplies of bottled water and food that needs no refrigeration are stored in the spare bedroom. I know my plan an dhow to prepare. Then with each forecast update, the track of the storm moved further east and, eventually, the storm traveled past with just a brush of gusty wind and some rain from its outermost circle.
The television news and weather teams turned their focus to the Outer Banks of North Carolina and the track that would take Irene right up the coast. Evacuations for coastal areas of several states were planned. The governor of New Jersey told people still on the beaches that they should get their asses off the beach and go. New York City shut down their subway system. The president returned from Martha's Vineyard.
I talked to some friends who shared what they were doing to prepare. "Don't forget to gas up your car and get cash from the bank. If your power goes out, the gas pumps and ATMS won't work." They hadn't thought of that, they said.
"Fill up your tub with water, too. Then if your city water gets shut off, you can use the water from your tub to flush your toilets."
Something else they hadn't thought of. Of course they hadn't. Flashlights, batteries, bottled water, non-perishable food, move things indoors, board up big windows -- those things almost instinctively come to mind. Not being able to flush your toilets isn't something that springs readily to the front of your brain when you live in the Northeast.
Here in the Florida Keys, we know these things like we know that the sun will burn you if you stay out in it unprotected.
I watched some interviews with people in vulnerable coastal areas who insisted that they would "ride out the storm". One guy was insistent that nothing would hurt his house. He could be right, but he's on the coast in a flood zone and sure to get hit by big-time storm surge. I wonder if he thought about his car(s). Back in 2005 when Hurricane Wilma hit Florida, the Keys didn't get as much of a wind event, but the storm surge was big -- 7 to 10 feet in some places. At work, we had ground level buildings that were so flooded they needed to be gutted, including the interior walls ripped out, and new wiring and walls installed. That happened to plenty of homes as well. But even those people whose homes are on stilts found out that while they were safe, their cars were ruined by the flooding of salt water. Hard lessons, but we learned.
The family members and friends who are on islands in Jersey have evacuated to friends' homes further inland. I'm glad they didn't take risks and try to "ride out" Irene in their homes. I hope when they return, they'll find their homes free of damage. Thankfully, the hurricane is not the Cat 3 that it was before, but make no mistake, there's no such thing as "just" a Category 1.
Some of the people up north are bitching that government officials panicked and that the evacuation and preparation decrees were excessive. I hope it turns out that they were, but officials were still right to make these plans. Although forecasting technology improves every year, it is still impossible to know for sure exactly how strong a storm will be when it hits or know precisely where it will come ashore. Storms expected to remain a Cat 1 have exploded to Cat 3 or higher. Others that showed every sign of being monumental in strength suddenly ripped up or veered away.
Until the day that we can know without a shadow of a doubt at least 36 hours before a storm hits, it makes more sense to plan for what it appears will happen rather than ignore the danger and act as if the storm will perform like you hope.
People have already died in this particular storm. Everybody, please stay safe.