Trying to Reason With Hurricane Season

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As a Florida boy, I have experienced my share of hurricanes — or what the old-timers in my hometown of Miam-Muh called “Hurry-Cans.” First one I remember in detail was 1960’s Cat 4 Donna, which cut across the Keys and the Everglades and into the Gulf before curving back into the Atlantic. It was big and powerful enough to damage thousands of roofs, uproot trees and flood low-lying Miami Beach. Hurricane Cleo, in 1964, was a less potent Cat 2, but it scored a direct Miami hit. I still remember the spooky lull as the eye passed over. Hurricane Betsy, the following year, was a much stronger and scarier Cat 3 when it roared across South Florida. At 15, I was smart enough to be scared by the howling wind, creaking roof and bent-over palms outside the one unshuttered window. You didn’t have to be a physics wiz to imagine a 20-pound frond blasting through the glass.

Hurricane Andrew? What can I say? I’m glad I lived in St. Pete. However, I visited South Florida for a story a few weeks later and witnessed the unspeakable damage. Houses flattened, including the one I had previously owned. Vehicles upturned and sand blasted. My botanist friend Roger Hammer drove me through Homestead and pointed to a two-by-four that had rocketed through the upper trunk of a royal palm like an arrow.

Now we’re all reeling from news accounts of the tragedy in Houston. And we’re beginning notice  a new one, Hurricane Irma, in the distant Atlantic. By the time you read this, it might be a Cat 4 storm, a catastrophe should it hit land. Some models have the storm eventually curving to the northeast out to sea. Let’s hope. But another has it reaching the Caribbean Sea and its hurricane-friendly warm waters.

Everyone who lives on the Florida coast should pay attention.

If you live on the water, I don’t know what to tell you. A Cat 4 or a Cat 5 is going to flood your house. Your ten-foot seawall won’t do much good. Evacuate sooner than later when the time comes.

I have shutters. I bought mine and I can install them in a matter of hours. They’re expensive. If you are young, strong and handy, go to a box store as soon as possible and buy lumber. Build your own. They will work.

Whenever I put up my shutters, I can usually count on at least one humorous neighbor (who has never experienced a hurricane) to give me the tsk tsk along with the accompanying  “That’s why I have insurance.’’ Insurance is good. I have it too. But if your house is damaged and uninhabitable— if thousands of houses are damaged — good luck finding a carpenter.

It’s critical to keep the wind out of your house. If gets in, it will likely take your roof. Protect your doors and your windows. And make sure you fortify your garage doors. I spent six months a few years back reporting the University of Florida’s “wind engineering” program. (Go to Amazon and download it as a Kindle or buy the little paperback for $5.95.) During my research, I watched a video taken in UF’s Cat 5 wind tunnel. A poorly designed garage door lasted about three seconds in the big wind.

Finally, everyone should have a box or two of hurricane supplies. That means water, batteries, canned food and — of course — coffee. And yes, make sure you have an old-fashioned pot you can make it in.


  1. David Hammer

    Truisms, all. Hope some of the newbies read and regard, and not just we with experience in these things…

  2. The Miami oldtimers I knew said Miama, rhyming with Alabama, not MiamUH. They called the morning paper Miama Hurled.

  3. Ann Simas Schoenacher

    I remember those Miam-muh hurry-cans, too, Jeff. Donna split our huge rubber tree in half in North Miami Beach. I also remember photos of hills of sand and fish in hotel lobbies along Collins Avenue. As we have seen too often, these hurry-cans are no joke. I probably have the same shutters as you do — ones I can manage by myself — if I have to.

    • Our Haden mango tree was partially uprooted, but came back strong. Last time I drove past 511 NE 110th Terrace I saw it towering over the house!

  4. Nancy Randall

    Great information given in a writing style I love to read. I’ll check into getting some kind of shutters. I have my supplies (well, most of them) but need to get them into one place. Thanks for the reminder!

  5. Mike Glynn

    Thank you. Born in 62 Doctors Hospital. Never knew what a Hurry can was until Andrew. Learning lesson right there. Moved to Stuart in 02. Felt Hurrycan Frances, Jean and Wilma. And Katrina blow thru Miami. My lessons learned- prepare for yourself, help neighbors and don’t rely on Government assistance. Love your writings.

  6. Good advice from the voice of experience. A comment about evacuation: if you live on the barrier islands, do it sooner than later. Ten years ago we thought we left early (from Satellite Beach) but spent a miserable day-long trudge up the Interstate with a sick 90-year-old. We had to leave, and I am glad we did, but earlier would have been much better. Visit relatives in Georgia and save yourself some grief.

  7. Herb Klinker

    Donna too, was my first encounter with hurry-cans. As an eight-year-old, living in Ocala. It caused major damage, and made me a weather junkie for life. Today, I know the weathercasters on the Weather Channel better than I know the anchors of CNN.

    • That’s right. From the gulf it cut right across Florida into the Atlantic. Later, it smashed into New England.

  8. Carla Klepper

    I remember those same hurricanes but with a Hollywood perspective. I still can picture Dad putting down the awnings as we ran around picking up bikes, balls and anything else that could be propelled. Then “hunkering down” (with one window open to keep the pressure correct) until the eye came over. We would run outside and play in the water that was standing on the street and then head inside when it was obvious the eye was starting to pass. I respect hurricanes, but they don’t scare me. I guess because I know what to expect and have live through them. Tornados are another story….

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