In August of 1992, I remember having the day off of school for a very important reason–a hurricane, Hurricane Andrew specifically–was crossing the state of Florida and so school was canceled because of the threat that the storm posed to the whole state. Admittedly, the storm did not greatly affect the area where I grew up, although my neighbors and I played tackle football in the grass of our neighborhood while the storm bands circled overhead. It was, as one might imagine, quite a dramatic atmosphere to play sports in. It is also worth noting that the hurricane season had been a considerable disappointment in terms of the number of storms, but all it took for things to get serious was one major storm landing in the heavily populated areas just south of Miami for that to change.
As someone who has close family who lives in Florida, any time there is a major storm that finds its way north of Cuba into the Gulf of Mexico and hugging the peninsula draws my attention and concern. The concern springs from the fact that Florida tends to be a pretty vulnerable place when it comes to storms–whether one is looking at storm surge in low-lying areas near rivers and coasts, wind damage, or flooding from rains, to say nothing of the results of the power going out for days and weeks at a time. One of the things that makes hurricanes in Florida so tricky is the difficulty one has of evacuating to safety. There are only a few north-south routes, and when a storm is already moving northwards, it is very easy to flee into the path of the storm rather than to safety.
As someone who has spent about a quarter-century of time in Florida, there are many stories of hurricanes and tropical storms that I have acquired as part of my experience. I have left the safety of my apartment to make what I thought was an ordinary drive to services and found myself on the Courtney Campbell Causeway driving through an unexpected tropical storm that was directly overhead, threatening to be a terrible day for me as I fought to keep my car moving forward without any shelter or protection from the storm, only to find the day turn into a gorgeous and sunny and even glorious day after the storm passed over. At other times I have thought myself safe when a storm passed by the state of Florida moving north and east only for the storm to loop around and hit the place where I lived at the end of the Day of Atonement and knock out power (thus preventing me from doing laundry) until it was time to leave for the Feast of Tabernacles. Such stories could easily be multiplied.
In contrast to many natural disasters, hurricanes most remind me of wildfires of the way that they are fearsome and destructive but also subject to the sudden and changing whims of the wind. For days one examines the course of a given hurricane, with a wide variation in possible paths and the usual panicking press seeing a tropical wave pop up and predicting doom and gloom to one’s home or the homes and property and lives of loved ones. Then the storm makes its unpredictable course, often bringing winds and considerable rain but not the total destruction that one can often fear. Long experience with the hype cycles encourages a sense of cynicism about storms, which can lead people to fail to evacuate because of so many previous Chicken Little experiences, but it only takes one time for a particular area’s number to be called for massive death and destruction to result. So one hopes and prays, watches the course of the storm and remains sensitive to any shifts in the track that can bring safety to some and promise more trouble and threat to others. And when the winds and waters have passed, one assesses the damage, if there is any, offers prayers of gratitude for those who escaped harm and prayers of comfort and encouragement for those who did not, and then gets to the business of rebuilding in the knowledge that one cannot get rid of the risks of life, but must live in the knowledge that one’s number could always be up.