Monday, September 08, 2008

Comments on Tropical Floater Four

A few days ago, as Hurricane Ike was meandering across the Central Atlantic as a category 4, with his ominous eye staring our way, I got into an interesting conversation with a lively group at Books and Books on Lincoln Road.

We were taking a vote on our favorite hurricane word or expression that we here in Florida must listen to over and over again from our local stations during the stretch of hurricane season that picks up around the middle of August and runs through late October. To get technical, the hurricane season begins on June 1st, but we really don't think about it much until we are couple of weeks to the 16 year anniversary of Hurricane Andrew. Nobody will ever forget that monster. It was Miami's 9/11 except it was late August and the terror was the wind that took the house down.

The first time I studied the satellite of Ike on the NOAA website, I was astounded to see that the center line of the "cone" was aimed right at Hollywood Beach.

The cone as we here all know, is the stretch of white sketched out on a weather map which takes in all parts of a land mass which have a possibility of a direct hit. The cone shifts inch by inch as the hurricane gets closer and reconnaissance aircraft is able to explore it better. Then, the geniuses at the Hurricane Center, using their various models(which often come up with totally different projections!) attempt to figure out how the cold fronts, high pressure areas, troughs, etc. are going to interact with this storm and its eventual direction.

Well, I'm a genius too! After co-writing a series of articles about hurricanes in the 1980's and 90's for the Miami Herald, World Photo Press in Tokyo, Geomundo and none other than NOAA in Sea Frontiers, Harry Lebelson and I were invariably asked, "Where is that hurricane going?" To this day, I'm still harassed if I'm wrong-but they keep on asking!

It's all complicated stuff, and the folks here who just want to know-Is this damn thing going to hit us?- have to suffer through it all, ad nauseum, until that moment when the storm makes its final landfall and its entry into the Hurricane Center archives.

Well, the night the line in the center of the cone was directed at Hollywood Beach, I was filled with an anxiety that is known only to those who have lived through a hurricane. We have. There was Andrew, of course. But more recently there was Frances and Jeanne and Katrina and Charley and Ivan and Wilma and Rita, and each of them caused unbelievable destruction somewhere in our beautiful State. Wilma left us here in Miami without gas or electricity for a long, long time and those ubiquitous "blue roofs", the tarps that FEMA provided to cover up damaged homes with blown off rooftops.

The next morning, I turned on my laptop first thing to see if we needed to start prepping for the storm. The list always includes the basics.Do we have enough batteries, canned goods? Do we put up the aluminum shutters? Do we have enough bottles of water? Then, there it was, right in front of my face. The line inside the cone, was no longer pointing to Hollywood Beach, but right at me! It was aimed directly at Miami Beach!

The excitement raced and I immediately turned to the loop called Tropical Floater Four, so I could see that colorful racing satellite video of Ike churning out there, heading right at me! It was at that moment that I knew we were out of danger. The storm, which was north of us last night, would be heading south into the Caribbean.

We are relieved and yet we feel a measure of guilt when it passes us because we know that it will have to land somewhere, which means suffering for someone else. In this case it was Haitians and Cubans and Bahamians-They live in areas that are clobbered by many more hurricanes than Floridians, and those to the southeast of us in the deforested islands and peninsulas, suffer in ways that we cannot fathom.

So what were some the words we tossed around at Books and Books, and which one finally came out on top? There were those very old tried and true expressions like "batten down the hatches" and "hunker down" and, yes, every hurricane season they still say them even on The Weather Channel. Then, you cannot listen to even one hurricane report without hearing about the "outflow", the "subtropical ridge" or that dreaded "storm surge". The consensus, however, was for those "feeder bands", the outer rings of the storm that bring nasty squalls of tropical rain and wind, and you get them, even when the storm makes landfall more than a hundred miles away.

The photo you see at the top is Hurricane Ike as it looked at about 10 PM tonight. It is making its way over Cuba and then into the Gulf. It is a category 1 right now, weakened somewhat by land masses, but as it makes its way back into those warm waters it likes to feed upon, the hurricane geniuses predict something more ominous. We pray they are wrong.