Hurricane shutters

When I was a kid all the Miami old-timers had shutters. They had learned their lessons well, thanks to a series of devastating hurricanes that plagued South Florida.

A 1926 hurricane virtually destroyed Miami and brought on the Depression — three years before the stock market crash.  The 1928 hurricane crossed over the state, spilling water from Lake Okeechobee, destroying small towns, and drowning more than 2,500 souls. In 1935, the most powerful hurricane ever to hit the United States blasted the Central Florida Keys with 200 mph winds, killing more than 850 people. Some drowned, some were sandblasted to death. In the late 1940s, a couple of smaller storms flooded southern parts of my state, prompting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build canals to drain the Everglades.

My parents moved to Miami in 1951. My dad immediately built wooden shutters, on the advice of older neighbors. Many of our better-off neighbors had hurricane awnings (see photo) they could easily swing down when storms approached. We couldn’t afford them — homemade had to make do.

But you know what? The bungalow my parents bought is still standing. So is a second, sturdier home we lived in when I was a Miami Shores teen. Thanks to shutters, we kept out the winds from hurricanes named Donna, Cleo and Betsy. The first house I bought in 1974, and lived in until I moved to St. Pete in 1977, wasn’t as fortunate. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew’s Cat 5 winds broke the windows and lifted off the roof.  I’m guessing the owner wished he’d sprung for shutters the moment he suddenly saw the open sky.

I live in a West Florida townhouse now. I bought shutters in 2005, after four powerful hurricanes crossed our state, barely missing St. Petersburg. At least once a summer since — and sometimes several times a summer and sometimes in the fall — I dutifully put up those shutters when storms threaten.

For years, I have been a curiosity among neighbors who lack hurricane experience. Why am I going through such trouble? Wow, those hurricane shutters must have been expensive! Why did you waste your money? That’s what insurance is for, chuckle chuckle.

Everything changed this summer. Hurricane Harvey’s destruction of Houston got everybody’s attention. A few weeks ago, Hurricane Irma leveled the Keys, ripped up the east coast,  and scared everybody to death. My Tampa Bay area never got more than tropical force winds — but, oh, the damage. Trees by the thousands were torn out of the ground, with some punching holes through windows and roofs on their way down. In Pinellas County, 80 percent of us lost power, some for more than a week. All from 50 mph winds. Just a run-of-the-mill tropical storm.

I’ve had most of my shutters up since August. They’ll stay up until hurricane season wanes. And you know what? I’m no longer the neighborhood goof ball. Neighbors ask me every day about my shutters. What are the options? How much do they cost? Can I put them up by myself? A stranger stopped by the house just an hour ago to ask advice.

I ain’t Florida Boy Trash no more!

Seriously, it’s important to keep the wind out of your home. That means protecting doors and windows and fortifying your garage doors. If you can afford ’em, buy shutters. If you can’t, use plywood. That was good enough for my dad and has been good enough for millions of Floridians over the decades. Build them now. Don’t wait until the day before the hurricane hits.

Yes, you may have insurance. But if the wind gets into your house and takes your roof — and the roofs of thousands of others — good luck finding someone to fix it. It can take six months or a year.

I now return you to regularly scheduled Weather Channel programming. Looks like a storm called Nate will be a hurricane by the time it reaches the Northern Gulf on Sunday.


  1. Susa n Ketvirtis Anderson

    I remember living in Fla.Your mother and father fostered me when I was in my younger years.

  2. Dave Good

    Just finished reading “Son of Real Florida” – enjoyed it very much, as I did your first book. My first visit to Florida happened when I was 15 years old. We lived in Arlington, VA and Dad had just bought his first car, a used 1947 Plymouth and taught me to drive. We took our first real vacation in 1953 and headed south on old US Route 1 and 301. Since I was able to share driving with Dad we left out early one morning and Mom, Dad, my 8 year old brother and headed south – little baby sister stayed home with our Grandmother. I’m 82 now and still remember so very many things about that trip, and know for sure that is why I enjoyed your “Stories From My Life”.
    Rolling into Florida, after miles and miles of “South of the Border” billboards, and seeing people selling ice water to tourists, and some really gave you orange juice, there were some very large eyes in that old Plymouth. Pretty sure we first saw the Atlantic Ocean (my first time) somewhere just south of Jacksonville. Traveling down old A1A in those days with sand blowing across the road, and occasional snake
    slithering along side of us was a world I didn’t know existed. When A1A took us across a bridge and St. Augustine rose up before us, I think that was when I was “hooked”. We took a look at Marineworld, and after stopping there and in Daytona, we stayed for a few days in Miami Beach, then across the old Tamiami Trail to the west coast and followed the “Trail” up to St. Pete, taking the old ferry across to St. Pete. Visited Doc Webb’s operation, checked out Tarpon Springs then headed back north with a quick stop at Silver Springs, back then it was just off “old” “301”
    We all grew up and worked in and around “D.C.” – but my brother and I ended up single again in the 70’s and headed south one fall and discovered Madeira Beach and good ol’ St. Pete all over again. He remarried and I kept coming down by myself and ended up buying a condo in Redington Shores that had been foreclosed on. My brother and I, and now my sister, and my new wife still very much enjoy our state. My wife and sister fuss about the heat and humidity, but I just roll with it. I still love to visit my home state of Virginia, and the city where I was born – Roanoke – with all the trains and coal, and mountains and creeks. And, I’ll be buried there, hopefully not too soon, but in the meantime when I run around Florida I’ll mostly take the back roads, and “301”, “19”, “60” and “41” and smile real big when I see something like “The Orange Shop” or the “Fish House” in Key Largo near John Pennekamp State Park. Didn’t mean to “ramble on” this long but reading your book stirred up so many pleasant memories – THANKS !!

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