Preparing for Hurricane Irma

By Charles Morgan III


People approach deadlines in different ways. The preferred manner would be to prepare for the task—whatever that task might be—well in advance, so that a deadline does not become a factor. I’m not one of those people. I turn this column in at the last minute.


My plan was to write about the United States’ 16-year-old conflict in Afghanistan. I’ve done the research. But there is another conflict—a natural one—that has reared its head. Hurricane Irma is (or isn’t) on its way to the Gulf of Mexico.


My adult life has been spent primarily between Destin and the Bahamas. I’m familiar with hurricanes. They’re fascinating works of nature. They’re more predictable than earthquakes, tornados, or fires—although with advanced science and the Weather Channel, everything is more predictable these days.


Irma, a traditional storm formed off the coast of Africa and traveling across the Atlantic, is easier to chart than Katrina, a storm that formed in the northern Abacos.


The anticipation that precedes a big storm is an interesting phenomenon of its own. People are energized. They race around making preparations that may not (they hope) be necessary. The world stands still and everyone’s focus becomes the storm.


Whether at the grocery store, post office, hardware store, or along the docks and in the restaurants, the conversations revolve around the storm. Where will it hit? How strong will it be? What are the evacuation plans for those who will leave?


Where are you taking the boats? What will we do with the pets? The children? The grandparents? The folks in nursing homes? When will they cancel school or work? When will they close the bridges?


It is the anticipation of something—the storm—over which we have no control. We can prepare. We can watch the path. We can leave. But we have absolutely no say-so in what the storm decides to do. There is something refreshing in dealing with a natural event over which we have absolutely no power.


Bad weather is always more interesting than good weather. I think bad weather is a primordial excuse to take a day off. Weather can prevent people from farm work, hunting and fishing. Even cave men could take a day off in brutal weather and huddle in their caves. When the barometer drops below 29 millibars prior to a hurricane, people can become strangely euphoric.


While the anticipation of a storm might carry a strange sort of excitement, the aftermath of a storm does not. There is relief when a storm peters out or heads in another direction. But for a community that suffers a direct hit from a major hurricane, the day after is numbingly the same…storm after storm. It’s an ugly mess, soggy and hot. And usually sunny when you wish it would be cool and overcast.


The storm that just sank Houston, Harvey, was primarily a rain event. Katrina, which pounded the Mississippi coast more than New Orleans, was devastating to the coast. In New Orleans, the destruction was due to flooding. It’s always the water.


In the Bahamas, there is rarely damage from the surge of storms. The water is pushed around the islands. On the northern Gulf Coast, there is nowhere for the water to go. It builds and builds and rises along the coast. With tremendous rains, the rivers to the north flow to the coast. Sprawling development is not a friend in our area. The water drains poorly, and we flood.


The Gulf of Mexico has had historically high water temperatures all year. Warm water is a hurricane’s lifeblood. It’s no surprise that we are having a busy hurricane season.


Destin is facing a fluid deadline, one that might not even be pertinent. If we get this storm, at some level it will be like the rest. Whether it’s stronger or weaker, whether it hits us directly or just slips by, there will be a wide range of emotions shared by us all.


It’s the sharing that brings us together. Storms have a way of doing that.

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