In 1992 hurricane Andrew decimated Miami Dade county and flattened Homestead. In 2004 Palm Beach County and the rest of the state of Florida were hit nearly three times in a row leaving many without homes and power for months.
In 2005, hurricane Wilma landed in Jupiter, Florida, as a Category three, leaving a path of destruction in its wake. After the year of storms in 2005, Palm Beach County seemed to be living in a bubble. We would get threats and warnings, but somehow the Weather Gods spared us and sent their monsters elsewhere. Hurricane warnings have turned into memes and very vocal complaints on how the media warns people about the impending storms. Everyone has been taking our luck for granted, and that luck has left the Southern Florida residents complacent. People have been blatantly ignoring the suggestions of preparations under the false assumption that we won’t get one, and the news coverage is blowing everything out of proportion to cause fear and panic to drive ratings. Those same people forget how our shores have been ravaged in the past. These people like to tempt fate.
Clear in my mind is the fall of 2016 when in October, South Florida witnessed firsthand how quickly a hurricane can change its path. Hurricane Matthew was a massive category 4 storm that was projected to hit around West Palm Beach area. The residents along the southern east coast were finally taking it seriously. They cleaned up debris that could turn into projectiles, boarded up their homes, and stocked their cabinets with food and water. Like most Floridians, I had my T.V. locked on the local news station and listened to the report. The rain was coming down, and the wind was howling, but we were all in for a surprise. Hurricane Matthew wobbled.
To most, a wobble doesn’t sound like much, but it was a sigh of relief for us.
The massive beast, tracked to decimate our coast, was now bearing down on the north. It ended up shredding Jacksonville. It didn’t take long for people to post funny pictures of lawn chairs knocked over with the captions I survived Matthew. While they were funny, I remember watching the helicopter fly over our shores, showing just how much damage was caused, and the storm didn’t even land. The images that came in from Jacksonville were something out of a post-apocalyptic movie. Roads were broken into hundreds of pieces or completely missing. The storm left over a million people without power. During the storm, a fire broke out, sending firefighters out into harm’s way to prevent it from spreading. A woman called 911 for help but died from a heart attack because first responders could not reach her due to the high winds. In total, 12 people died in Florida. The total death count from all states affected by the storm was 47 people. 47 people who thought the storm was going to hit nearly a state away.
On Monday morning, the meteorologist for my station didn’t understand why we were even discussing the tropical storm, Dorian. He swore up and down that it would hit an island in the Caribbean, and all we would possibly see would be some rain for Labor Day weekend. We all laughed, punched up the radar, and went along our business. By 9 am Tuesday, everything changed. The storm that was supposed to break apart over the island did not. Instead, it got a little bit stronger and was predicted to hit the eastern coast of Florida sometime Saturday as a strong Tropical Storm just 4 mph shy of Cat 1 hurricane.
People on my Facebook page laughed. They said all we’re doing is hyping it up a regular rainy weekend. While people complained about their weekend getting rained out, our newscast highly suggested that everyone should probably stock up on water, pick up batteries, beat the lines, and make sure they have enough gas. But they still didn’t want to worry too much since the storm hadn’t gone over the islands yet. After I left work, I tried to ignore the updates, but it was hard. I knew there was a possibility that we would start working our 12 on 12 offs if the tropical storm kept on its path. Then we got the update that it was going to make landfall as a Cat 1. A low-grade Cat 1 but still a hurricane. Thankfully it was going to be north, and my area would only experience tropical storm weather.
Wednesday, everything changed. I started to call the storm Dorian Gray. The once sweet, weak-looking tropical storm was now predicted to hit Jacksonville as a Cat 2. Thankfully the landfall wasn’t supposed to be until sometime Sunday, so that meant that I wouldn’t have to start my 12’s on a Friday and lose my weekend. This update is when I began to see people change their minds on the storm. Everyone was still holding onto hope that once the storm went over Puerto Rico, that would be that, and we’ll go back to a tropical storm. By 3pm that hope seemed to be out the window because the tropical storm had officially upgraded to a hurricane.
While I slept, the 11 pm advisory was released, and the storm went into the open, warm waters. For those who aren’t familiar with hurricanes, open, warm waters are like performance-enhancing drugs for storms. Dorian’s winds strengthened, and the storm slowed down. No one wants a slow-moving storm. A slow-moving storm means extended rains, and in Florida, we do NOT need any more rain. We have had an unusually wet August, and our soil is already overly saturated.
Before the 11 am advisory was sent out, we were waiting to see how the mountains in Hispaniola would help us out. They didn’t. The storm skirted the mountains and avoided Puerto Rico. Now there was nothing else between Florida and the hurricane except a whole bunch of warm water and a smaller Bahamian island.
Dorian has been a storm to follow its own path. Everything we Floridians have gotten used to is not happening. When we saw the first forecast, everyone in the news station, thought the storm would go to Georgia or the Carolinas’. Then we thought it would fall apart once it went overland, but instead, it got bigger, stronger, slower. It is making people get off their butts and actually take it seriously.
At 11 am the advisory was released. The cone of uncertainty had moved. Hurricane Dorian was supposed to land as Cat 4 storm in Vero beach. That means the storm was just shy of 77 miles north of our news station. The report said as a Cat 1, hurricane-force winds could be felt as far as 15 miles out from the eye, and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 90 miles.
Shit just got real.
On Monday, we had nothing to worry about. Tuesday, we were told to get water. Wednesday, people were less cynical, and Thursday, it was as if the residents of South Florida woke up and finally started to get their shit together.
As of the 11 am update, the storm is still a Cat 2, just shy of a Cat 3, and allegedly going to hit even more south. It’s supposed to show up somewhere between Saint Lucie County and Palm Beach County. My studio is in West Palm Beach.
While I sit at my desk on this dreary Friday, waiting to see how long I will be trapped in a building with so many personalities, we watch the storm. We watched the storm eat up all the warm, open waters and slow down to a snail’s pace. Sunday night, we will start to feel some winds and rain. Monday at 2 am Dorian will be over the Bahamas, and Tuesday at 2 am Florida should be expecting to feel the full force of the hurricane.
Could it be upgraded to a Cat 5, and we see the likes of Andrew? God, I pray not. Maybe the Bahamas will knock the wind out of the beast. About the only saving grace we Floridians have is thanks to Andrew. Our building codes have been updated, and we’re stronger than we were in 1992. But that doesn’t make me feel much safer.