Katrina and her waves

Holidaying, hanging out and living in and around Florida and the islands in 97/98/99 I lived through a few hurricanes, sometimes 5 in a year. I watched Floyd, probably the largest since Andrew arrive at the shores of Fort Lauderdale before veering sharp right, avoiding Florida and smacking into the Carolinas and other states further North. On that day, they closed the parks in Orlando for the first time in history, everyone in th city moved West to escape the storm and, the next day, before anyone came back, the parks opened and I was able to tour each of them in less than half a day, riding every rollercoaster ten times or more.

In the Keys, storms were marked by a few days without power, a lot of boats lost under the waves forever and beer parties, making use of what little ice remained in the fridges until it melted. In the islands – the Bahamas – hurricanes flooded the hotels, ripped the roofs off apartments, sped off with anything that wasn’t tied down and caused general havoc.

The season runs from July to about November and, if you’re there when there’s no storm during that period, you’ll have great weather just like any other time of the year. And that, I imagine, is why people stick it out. Most of the time, the weather is great, the sunshine radiant and life relaxed.

A storm comes along every so often, sometimes it hits you, sometimes it doesn’t – but it moves on and everything gets back to normal in a few short hours or a few days. They’re so practiced at it, it’s like the first snow falls in Vienna – the sweepers come out, the path clearers do their thing and everyone gets on with it. This one feels pretty different though – more like Andrew in 1992 than anything since. One that’s going to take time to recover from.

Despite the practiced approach, the regular evacuation procedures and the far in advance warning systems available, people die in the storms – indeed 50+ are already dead and I wouldn’t be surprised if the final total is 5 times that or more – especially in the more exposed areas with less shelter and less infrastructure (or poorly constructed homes, such as caravan-style houses in the lowlands). They shouldn’t be underestimated – when I watched Floyd come in, I had no idea what I was doing, standing on the beach with 12′ waves heading my way; In the Keys most people don’t evacuate when a storm comes, they figure they’ll be lucky – they’ve seen it before, sometimes for decades and made it through. Katrina teaches the lesson that, every so often, we’ll be unlucky – it’s all a question of how unlucky and how often.

If you’re holidaying in Florida in the back half of the year, take your rain gear. There’s still at least 2 months, maybe 3, of the season left. Three to five majors were predicted this season – and I haven’t counted more than a couple so far (two to three is normal, so this is around double the average). And, Katrina is not done yet, it will head on North East and throw a lot of strong winds and rain at whatever is in the way. For those who lost loved ones, my condolences.

You can get RSS feeds with storm updates at the National Hurricane Centre site. And a pile of great links here.

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