Hurricane hot takes, from a Floridian

I grew up in Fort Myers, Florida – directly in the paths of Hurricane Ian (2022), Irma (2017), Wilma (2005), Charley (2004)…you get the point. Hurricane season rolls around each year and the routine of it all is not so different from the winter holiday season. You break out the boxes of [emergency supplies/ugly sweaters], prepare the outside of your home with [shutters/decorations], and all you hear on the radio is [forecast updates/Christmas music]. 

Growing up there, you learn to live with hurricanes – the seasonality and ritual of it all, understanding the nuanced changes of a storm, and knowing the dangers and risks.

Unlike other natural disasters, hurricanes are big, slow, and long. What I mean by that is:

  • You can see them coming from a mile away. Actually, hundreds of miles away. So you have days, sometimes weeks, to prepare.
  • Rather than being an acute moment of destruction, you have to sit through and endure them for hours until they pass.

Triple Threat

The destruction wrought by hurricanes come from three prongs:

🌬️ High winds
I’ve seen trees uprooted, billboards hurled through the air, roofs lifted. I remember seeing our sliding glass doors bowing in from the wind pressure during Hurricane Charley, which was “only” a category 3. It wasn’t hard to imagine how they would’ve blown in and shattered under a more powerful storm. The lesson to stay away from windows and doors was so clear.

🌊 Floods
The downside of being a coastal town is that since we’re at sea level, it doesn’t take much to flood an area. Hurricane Ian caused storm surges of 10-15 ft, enough to lift a home off of its foundation. Floods can also happen quickly and trap people inside their homes, which is why they end up being the most lethal natural disaster. Learn more about flood safety

⛅️ The aftermath
After a storm passes, the world feels eerily calm and quiet. But that’s when the third prong of hazards comes into play. 

A category 4 storm (like Ian or Harvey) can disrupt water and power services for weeks, depending on the infrastructure and resources of a place. It isn’t until you’re without water and power for a few days that you realize just how many things depend on these utilities. There are many ways in which this can become dangerous for people over time:

  • Without working traffic lights, driving becomes much more dangerous. You just have to trust that everyone else is driving with as much caution as you are and treating every intersection as a 4-way stop.
  • Downed power lines, flooded streets and wet logs are a dangerous combination. Naturally, everyone wants to step outside to assess the damage after the storm has passed. But one misstep could cause great injury or be fatal.
  • Everything in your fridge eventually spoils and becomes unsafe to eat. Most methods of cooking to kill bacteria also require electricity. That’s why it’s important to have non-perishable food reserves that don’t require refrigeration or heating.
  • Knowing this, many Floridians have invested in gas-powered generators. However, when not used and ventilated properly, it ends up being one of the leading reasons for hurricane-related deaths.
  • Even if you had the foresight to fill your bathtubs with fresh water and stocked up on bottles of water, it eventually runs out. Without proper methods to disinfect post-storm water, there’s increased risk of getting sick from the water. (That’s when you start sacrificing bathing and develop a funky musk, especially in the un-air-conditioned Florida summers.)
  • Looking into the long-term health impacts, flood damage to a home could lead to the growth of mold, which can be harmful with prolonged exposure.

     

Lessons Learned

If that sounds like a lot to navigate and endure, it is. And we go through it every hurricane season, year after year. They don’t call Floridians a little bit crazy for nothing 😉 There must be something in that Florida water that keeps us around. Or perhaps the 70-degree winters make it all worth it 😎🏖️ 

Whatever it is, we’ve learned how to live with the hurricanes, the key to which is being prepared and coming together as a community. That includes following local authorities and evacuation orders. Those stubborn enough to stay behind in an evacuation zone could find themselves in need of rescue. However, rescue services could be strained and are not guaranteed during a natural disaster.

In the face of hardship, the metaphorical rainbow after the storm is seeing how communities come together. Whoever gets their water and power back first invites those still without over for showers, a hot meal, and air conditioning. Neighbors help each other locate displaced vehicles, washed miles away. We pick up the pieces, and each others’ pieces, and (probably foolishly) rebuild. I’ve learned that working together as a community and sharing advice and resources (like an outdoor safety app) is the only way to weather the storm.

Insights and lessons learned about hurricanes from a Floridian
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