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.