Tag Archives: Hurricanes

Irma, like a hurricane pt. IV

1. So here we are. News has improved for Miami-Dade and Broward counties. The forecast models have moved west, with Key West looking like ground zero. We will likely get sustained tropical storm force winds and occasional hurricane gusts, peaking tomorrow morning and early afternoon. Other than a second viewing of The Departed, I’m doing okay

2. Jack Nicholson is really fucking bad in The Departed.

3. In the hours before a storm, some neighbors will watch TV all day; others will do laundry.

4. Like Monet’s haystacks, I have caught the changing light in my apartment. A painter should capture the light’s gradations.

5. TV reporters hate those nature shots requiring them to stand in front of a palm tree and say, WHOA NELLY THE WINDS MUST BE BLOWING AT 25 MPH LOOK AT THOSE FRONDS WAVE IN THE WIND.

Irma, like a hurricane, pt. III

Hi! Here are this afternoon’s updates:

1. So! The trend’s looking slightly better for southeast Florida: Irma keeps inching west. Now the keys, Key West specifically, are in a bowl of shit. The west coast up through Tampa-St. Pete looks like it’s gonna get it.

2. Around 4 p.m. yesterday I felt the tightening of my stomach knot for the first time. I’ll be alone for the day and a half prelude and for the four to six hours between Hurricane Irma’s landfall and departure for points north. I might tell the regulars at my local Starbucks to crash here.

3. I cheated. As per Wednesday’s post, I’m reading The Presidency of George H.W. Bush. I skipped to the Hurricane Andrew farrago. Boy, do I remember. In retrospect, his “handling” of the aftermath wasn’t terrible by contemporary standards. Neither FEMA nor the federal government in general had dealt with this kind of catastrophe in decades (FEMA was a Carter-er innovation; did you know?). When Miami-Dade’s director of emergency services Kate Hale infamously asked, “Where the hell is the cavalry on this one?” the cavalry arrived in a couple days. That’s as far as I go — I wasn’t living in Homestead.

4. To eliminate perishables, supermarkets start cutting prices. If you’re not a vegan or vegetarian, you can buy a nice sized T-bone for less than $8.

5. This LCD Soundsystem album has not gotten fresher.

6. I heard Amy Grant’s “I Will Remember You” at Publix.

Irma, like a hurricane, part II

Hello. Still more than forty-eight hours from a possible Hurricane Irma strike. Updates:

1. With school out and many businesses closing or about to close, streets are calmer. Governor Skeletor’s assurances about petrol availability have finally started paying off: every inoperative gas station yesterday was open today — with queues, rest assured, but at least customers could be assured a full tank between now and Saturday afternoon when steady tropical storm force winds begin.

2. Many of you ask, “Why the hell do we need huge Wells Fargo brick and mortar locations when most of our business is online?” Answer: occasions like this. Because I’m in the middle of renewing my passport, I had too many valuable documents around my apartment. I wasn’t the only person with dreams of visiting a safety deposit box. Ahead of me in the waiting area a woman a few years younger than me who arrived before I did pressed a shopping bag against her person. She had the caged look of a person kept waiting in the hot peach armchair since Hurricane Matthew. When her name was called, she catapulted herself into the vault. “We’ve gotten more visits today for safety deposit boxes [sic] today than for any other transaction,” explained the college-aged man whom Wells Fargo calls a “lobby leader,” serving the same function as the greeter with the iPad at a Disney hotel.

3. My personal jukebox: LCD Soundsystem’s latest, 2 Chainz, and, uh, the Style Council. I suspect Irma is punishment for devoting about seven hours to absorbing James Murpy’s don’t-call-it-a-comeback.

4. Waiting for me to finish them: cheerful fare like The Battle of Algiers and The Crime of Monsieur Lange.

5. Deciding that driving next week in a car whose oil filter registers 10 percent before it presumably self-deconstructs, I also took my car for an oil change. Braman Honda boasted a couple of hardy souls, one of whom looked, after a chat with a dealer, that he dreaded insurance payments more than Irma. In contrast to my bank experience, I waited barely forty-five minutes; I checked my phone once, sticking with my library copy of James Salter’s All That Is. As I’ve reported before, the expressions I see suggest reading a book in public is fascinating behavior akin to scratching one’s ear with a toe, but not, say, staring at and thumbing a electronic mobile device to watch cat videos. Before the smartphone era, we watched the numbing daytime television in car dealership waiting rooms across the land or delicately turned the stained pages of a Clinton-era issue of Good Housekeeping. I get it. But I’m not an animal!

Irma, you are like a hurricane

Hello. Here’s what’s going on.

1. No gas station or market in Florida has water. This is due to an addiction to bottled water as powerful as to any opioid. A man in Coral Terrace may have to resort to the catastrophic and potentially life-threatening probability of filling plastic jugs with water from the tap or — hard times — the garden hose.

2. Gas stations, markets, and liquor stores, however, have plenty of wine. I don’t understand.

3. Local meteorologists have been less hysterical than drivers. I saw a Doral woman somersault into a Hess station after spying a half empty bottle of Pellegrino and a bag of pepperoni-flavored Combos a child had left on the counter.

4. It took an uncategorizable Category 5 storm to get me to check The Presidency of George H.W. Bush out of the library (Also reading: James Salter’s All That Is).

5. Otherwise I’m okay. Three days off before the storm. Accordion shutters. First floor apartment. No flood zone. Every storm creates rules by which we define future ones. Please send no prayers — only money and Jae Gyllenhaals.

Harvey horrors #32: islands of fire ants

Besides displacing thousands of residents in southern Texas, Hurricane Harvey kicked up a host of unpleasant critters, one of whom intends to visit the region with the First Lady this afternoon. Bigger problems include the usual marooned snakes and alligators and, well, islands of fire ants:

The ants, known officially as red imported fire ants, are an invasive species with a sting that can cause burning, blisters, scarring, infections and even death to those who are hypersensitive to their venom. They’re destructive to wildlife and agriculture. And during floods, they’re the ultimate teammates.

Instead of drowning, the ants emerge from the soil and come together in the thousands to form floating rafts. These can be several feet wide, and in recent days images of their terrifying flotillas have starred on social media.

And survival makes these ants creative:

The workers start climbing, up a branch or what have you, while other ants stay at the base to support the weight. “It’s just like a chocolate fountain running in slow motion in reverse,” says engineer Craig Tovey of Georgia Tech. “Go up the sides and down the middle, and they just keep doing that.”

The construction job isn’t exactly efficient. “It’s almost a trial and error thing,” Tovey adds. “If part of the tower is too tall and skinny, it collapses, it sort of peels off. And what you’re left with is the part that’s stable, the part that shaped kind of like the Eiffel Tower.” Which is fine, because it doesn’t need to be as consistently solid as the raft. The ants are just buying time as they set up a new colony.

During our typical Florida downpours, all manner of ghoulish material resurfaces. I can’t imagine parents letting their kids play it it or tromp through it barefoot.

What makes Hurricane Harvey terrifying

I don’t need to reprise the Hurricane Katrina-George W. Bush story. Worse for South Florida was Hurricane Wilma, which in the final week of October 2005 knocked out power for several million Floridians and was a Category 3 storm. I was one of the four people in Miami-Dade County who never lost power, but the rest of the week remained a nightmare, saved only by the sudden welcome arrival of a cold front; for the first time in the modern era, sleeping with the windows open in South Florida proved delicious.

Teering between Category 2 and 3 status, Harvey looks terrifying in satelite images. The tight eye wall, the compactness – I’m getting Andrew flashbacks. Add a Gulf of Mexico as warm as bathwater (believe me, I was in it three weeks ago), calm air thousands of miles above the surface of the storm, and a leisurely speed (10 mph!). Tremble:

University of Miami senior hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy said Harvey combines the worst attributes of nasty recent Texas storms: The devastating storm surge of Hurricane Ike in 2008; the winds of Category 4 Hurricane Brett in 1999 and days upon days of heavy rain of Tropical Storm Allison in 2001.

That’s a relief.

And as with the aftermath of Andrew and Katrina I’m frightened for Texans, the majority of whom voted for Donald Trump, and what awaits them when they look to the federal government for help and find crickets chirping in abandoned rooms:

The irony here is that while Trump urges residents in the path of the storm to prepare themselves, he has failed to follow his own advice. He is greeting this storm without key administrators in place. This could very likely be the first major natural disaster of Trump’s presidency, and with agencies like the Department of Homeland Security, NOAA, and NASA still without leaders more than seven months into the presidency, the least he could do is offer some reassurance that he is moving quickly to fill those positions. As former American Meteorological Society president Marshall Shepherd wrote for Forbes in April, there is a “strong working relationship between the weather community and emergency managers” during disasters. And while Trump’s FEMA administrator has extensive experience in emergency management and the other agencies have interim chiefs, “strong and decisive leadership is always vital when our nation faces tragedies,” Shepherd wrote.

But we are dealing with a president, Cabinet, and sub Cabinet officers for whom “community” is a meaningless buzzword.

Twenty-five years ago…

Twenty-five years ago this week, I lowered the volume on the Joy Division squall to hear the other squall outside. My calm scowling dad ordered me to join the rest of the family in the kitchen, the only room with no access to windows. The power went out. For more than two hours the wind roared, at times competing with the noise of fervent and precise praying from my mother and great grandmother. During the worst of it my mom jumped at every bang and crash and exclaimed, “What was that? The garage flew away? Did you hear that?” My demented great grandmother recited the Our Father in a dull voice.

When it ended minutes before 7 a.m., we opened the door to a mess: tree limbs, directional signs, toys, millions of shards of glass; but the neighborhood had survived. We lost a quarter of the roof’s tar paper, although my enterprising grandmother had not waited for the storm to end to call her friend the contractor; he was at the house by eight-thirty, at the start of what became a grueling month. A week from starting college, I wouldn’t step foot on campus for another three weeks. I had friends who got power restored in twenty-four hours, others in twenty-four days. A couple of acquaintances in Country Walk, one of Andrew’s epicenters, watched as the storm turned their homes into broken match sticks.

Andrew introduced many of us South Floridians to the ferocity of hurricanes — an experience sober and unique enough to be forgotten, as is our wont. We’d get refreshers during the 2004 and especially 2005 hurricane seasons. The rest of the country would learn from Charlie, Ivan, Katrina, Wilma, Sandy, and Matthew. Now Florida looks like it might forget the lessons of Andrew, as a result of which my state passed the country’s toughest building codes, the envy of the world, in fact.

The Miami Herald reprints its first post-storm front page story. Even today the details chill me:

Power outages were everywhere. About 1.3 million of 2 million homes in Dade, Broward and Palm Beach County were without power by 8 a.m., said Ray Golden, a spokesman for FPL. In Dade, about 76 percent of people had no power and in Broward the number was even higher, Golden said.

Conditions in Cutler Ridge “couldn’t be worse, ” said police officer Earl Steinmetz. “The roads are just about impassable with downed lines, downed trees. We’re picking our way through the rubble.”

“It’s impossible to know even where you are because nothing looks the same. It’s devastating, ” Steinmetz said.

“I’m sitting in the police station, which is half gone. The Government Center roof is all gone. The library is gone. Just getting in here was almost impossible.”

No officers were injured when part of the Station 5 roof collapsed, he said.

Steinmetz also said the roof of his home, a mile away, “is gone.”

Watch the excerpt above if you’ve got a few minutes. Bryan Norcross, the meteorologist who became a legend after being on the air eighty hours straight, is at his uncanny best in this clip.

The legislature this season sought to freeze the code or slow down the level at which updates happen. “Florida’s building codes would still be updated every three years, but they would no longer adopt the ICC codes,” The USA Today revealed. “Instead, Florida would keep its current code and pick and choose which parts of the ICC code to adopt.” Contractors will insist the code remains robust; untold experiments in deregulation have shown that this is how it starts.

Matthew: this is the story of the hurricane


4:03. With storms like this, staring at the clock waiting for 5 p.m. to mix the first cocktail becomes as tense as waiting for the doctor to stick you with a shot.

2:48. “Long before the battle was won, [Henry] Clay began to draft the instructions for the Panama ministers. What resulted was a state paper of major significance in the history of American foreign policy” — Robert V. Remini, Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union.

2:14. I don’t smoke in daylight anymore unless I’ve had three martinis before 3 p.m. or the National Weather Service issues a tropical storm warning.

1:30. God, Antonio Banderas sure was gorgeous in 1990, wasn’t he? On the other hand Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! will not play well in 2016 to audiences no longer delighted by the scene in which a female prisoner whose tooth was knocked out engages in delightful repartee ten minutes later.

1 p.m. Baked chicken thighs and pumpkin ravioli for lunch. Times are desperate: I open a beer and drink half.

My accordion shutters came down this morning. Bottles of water in the fridge, set at the coolest temperature. I’m going to cook what’s left of Tuesday’s chicken thighs and boil ravioli; in the event of a power outage I’ve got cold cuts and bread for the evening. Fortunately, it’s going to take winds stronger than 140 mph to pick up and slam my hardcover copy of Robert Remini’s Henry Clay through my neighbor’s Chrysler. When the Great Compromiser starts boring me, I’ve got Lorrie Moore’s Like Life (thanks, Connie Ogle!) and a copy of Criterion’s reissue of Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! as a reminder that Antonio Banderas was briefly the most beautiful man in the world.

Although I’m not nervous, I understand nerves have got nothing to do with it. Eleven years ago when Hurricane Wilma cut east-northeast across Miami-Dade and Broward counties social media was a dream of Bill Gates’. Should the inevitable occur, at least I’m spared Tropical Storm Halperin blowing steam about the second Trump-Clinton debate next week.

Grounded: landline use during tropical storms


Phone service was scratchy in the first few hours after Hurricane Andrew made landfall, but if you were out of power for as long as many people were (my parents were lucky: only ten days) you could at least count on the land line working. The thing wasn’t even called a “landline.” During the days of expensive Motorola beauties that looked like flat irons, you were only screwed if your cordless phone required electricity. When Hurricane Wilma, our last major hurricane, hit in October 2005, many of us had cell phones and landlines; Apple would debut the first smart phone exactly two years later. The worst that could happen was running out of gas for the car and generator.

As survivors of Super Storm Sandy made clear, a hurricane during the Smart Phone Era could mess things up real good.

“I think we’re more vulnerable [in terms of communications] than we were 24 years ago,” said Norcross, who anchored the WTVJ newscast for 23 hours straight during Andrew and is now a hurricane specialist for The Weather Channel. “I remember after Andrew there were a lot of people with wrecked homes but the phone line was still working in the kitchen.”

During Andrew, Norcross’ reports were simulcast on radio. Now, for many people, the battery-powered transistor radio is little more than a nostalgic relic. Television stations also have switched from analog to digital systems and battery-powered digital TVs aren’t as readily available as the small analog models were.

Society has become dependent on devices from cellphones to tablets and laptops that need a charge to keep working — and electrical grids are often the first to go during major storms. That impact is compounded by the fact that so many people have cut the cord and use only cellphones in their homes rather than landlines, which are usually more reliable during storms.

A Florida Public Service Commission report from December 2015 said Florida residents and businesses had 3.3 million traditional phone lines last year, down from 3.8 million the previous year and 6.1 million in 2011. The most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Health Interview Survey found that 47 percent of U.S. households are now cellphone only, compared with 20 percent in 2009 and just 3 percent in 2003.

There hasn’t been a major hurricane in the United States since 2005 — the year of hurricanes Katrina and Wilma — although there have been storms that caused extensive flooding. As a result, the cellphone network hasn’t really been put to a test during the era of mobile phone proliferation. “It is a large, unexplored area,” said Norcross.

In the weeks after Andrew, payphones exploded in use; for thousands of Floridians in south Dade, it was the only way to communicate. Every time Buzzfeed or something runs an article with poorly controlled smugness wondering why anyone but drug deals would still use payphones, I must remind myself that the white lib demographic clicks on those articles.

I pay for a landline: twenty bucks a month.

Jonah Goldberg in 2005: ‘I think it’s time to face facts’

Thank Digby for reminding me what my right wing confrères were writing ten years ago after Hurricane Katrina doomed New Orleans residents poor enough to watch their homes join the Gulf of Mexico:

ATTN: SUPERDOME RESIDENTS – I think it’s time to face facts. That place is going to be a Mad Max/thunderdome Waterworld/Lord of the Flies horror show within the next few hours. My advice is to prepare yourself now. Hoard weapons, grow gills and learn to communicate with serpents. While you’re working on that, find the biggest guy you can and when he’s not expecting it beat him senseless. Gather young fighters around you and tell the womenfolk you will feed and protect any female who agrees to participate without question in your plans to repopulate the earth with a race of gilled-supermen. It’s never too soon to be prepared.

Never one to miss a chance to sound the wrong note if it means he can sound tuff, Rich Lowry ‘s got his back:

Personally, I thought the Jonah Superdome riff was funny and clearly was poking fun at the media frenzy around Katrina at a time when it seemed especially over-blown.

Lowry, author of the moistest valentine ever penned to a putative political titan that he would never forgive from a liberal, is having a ball.

Readers know I link to NRO only when necessary. NRO itself, understandably, has buried the posts under a pile of dead links. Recall that this is the publication responsible for Barry Goldwater, resistance to the Voting Rights and Civil Rights acts, supporting Franco, and war at any time and at all costs unless a Democrat is in the White House and he (or she next November) is not committing the appropriate number of troops endorsed by the military officer or spook de jour.

Postscript: Today also marks ten years since I started reading NRO to substitute for the triglycerides and saturated fats I was no longer ingesting.

‘We’ve never had the super hurricane’

Longtime denizens of South Florida — I include myself — get smug about hurricanes because we survived Andrew. Katrina? A glancing blow. Wilma? Less glancing, a genuine pain of ass for hundreds of thousands of people who lost roofs and were at least ten days without power. But survivalhood isn’t enough anymore:

Miami’s vulnerability is well known, but emergency planners say generations of political leaders have failed to invest the billions needed to keep flood-control systems up to date.

“This is not something that just occurred overnight,” said Fugate, who dealt with nearly a dozen hurricanes as Florida’s emergency management director before joining FEMA. “A lot of decisions by a lot of people over a long period of time. It’s a shared responsibility. The question is: Is there the political will to start addressing that?”

Local leaders have been able to sidestep that question for decades because of the region’s incredible meteorological luck. Even when Hurricane Andrew tore through in 1992 as a top-rated Category 5 storm, it moved quickly, brought low storm surge, little rain and made landfall 30 miles south of downtown Miami.

Other hurricanes have either passed over the region as small-scale storms or just grazed the area. Hurricane Gonzalo developed into a raging Category 4 this week, but it’s turned toward the northeast. As this year’s hurricane season draws to a close, it looks like the region will luck out yet again.

“We’ve never had our system tested by an event that brings high winds and storm surge,” said Alex Barrios, manager of Miami-Dade County’s stormwater drainage design section. “We’ve always had one or the other. We’ve never had the super hurricane.”

Never mind rising sea levels. South Florida isn’t even prepared for a Katrina and its full impact.