The cone of uncertainty is the strange shape you see in the graphic above. It’s one of those terms with which most people in South Florida are familiar. It means the predicted path of a hurricane becomes less certain the farther out in time you go and if you fall within the cone, you need a keep an eye on the news and check in regularly with the National Hurricane Center. You’re not supposed to focus solely on the broken black line that is the predicted path of the hurricane. This hurricane, by the way, is actually Tropical Storm Isaac, which as of 11 PM on August 23, is not yet a hurricane.
But today, August 24, marks the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew, a category 5 hurricane that slammed into Homestead, Florida, in 1992, with recorded wind gusts as high as 177 miles an hour. – 282 km/h. Andrew was a small, compact storm that intensified rapidly.
I remember that I was in a drug store, picking up a prescription, when I saw a special weather alert about the storm on a TV behind the pharmacist’s counter. I saw the words Category 5 and that our area, just 70 miles north of Miami, fell within the cone of uncertainty. I rushed home and Rob and I started putting up our hurricane shutters – aluminum panels that took hours to install.
In those days, we had the Internet, but it was mostly message boards and bore little resemblance to the Internet in the 21st century. I don’t think the National Hurricane Center was even online back then. Hardly anything was online. Our daughter was just three at the time, so that night we all slept in one room, with the cats positioned in their usual spots. I heard wind and rain during the night, but nothing extraordinary. We woke up the next morning, still had electrical power, and our only damage was a downed papaya tree.
There wasn’t any news out of Miami until Dan Rather got down there a few days after the storm hit, then the full horror of the storm’s damage became apparent. At that time, it was the costliest hurricane ever and remains as one of the strongest to ever hit the U.S.
Now and then, in a grocery store, a coffee shop, restaurant, the gym, we meet someone who made it through Andrew by hiding in a bathtub, beneath a staircase, under a mattress. Someone who lost everything. After Andrew, people left the area in droves and moved farther north.
The hurricane seasons runs from June 1 to November 30, with a peak in late August and early September. So why would anyone, with any sense of weather history, schedule a convention on any coast in Florida during the peak? If Isaac, as a tropical storm or a Cat 1 hurricane, comes anywhere near Tampa during the Republican convention, as its predicted path indicates, any evacuations will be disastrous.
The locale of the convention is prone to flooding. With more than 70,000 delegates, protestors and media in attendance, where would that many people be evacuated to? Highways will be congested, hotels will be booked solid, it takes hours just to get out of Florida and that’s if you have any gas in your car.
Andrew changed a lot of the construction laws in Florida, particularly in terms of roofs and windows. After all, if your roof goes, so does the rest of your home. If your windows shatter, you’re screwed. Now, if you don’t have Andrew compliant roofs and windows, if your home isn’t constructed of concrete, your homeowners’ insurance is prohibitively expensive. After Andrew, more than a dozen insurance companies went bankrupt and many more fled the state.
After the 2004 hurricane season, when we were besieged by storms that seemed to crop up every two weeks, we bought a generator. It powered the fridge and a small TV and could charge cell phones, laptops. But we spent 10 days without electricity, in temps that reached the mid-90s during the day and not much better than that at night. I did a laundry by hand and put the clothes on the bushes to dry in the sun. When the heat became too much, we opened the fridge and just stood in front it, letting the cold air waft over us.
We live on a sentient planet. I first realized this when I saw Hurricane Andrew on a satellite photo and suddenly understood it possessed a kind of consciousness, that it, like all natural phenomena, spoke to us through signs and symbols. Right now the Republican party is in chaos, struggling to redefine itself, and how fitting that Isaac, whether it’s a tropical storm or a hurricane, will probably impact the convention in some way.
Like attracts like.
It’s going to be interesting. Stay tuned.