So now Irma’s long and winding road is set to hit the Gulf Coast of Florida, the place where I grew up. At the intellectual level I know it’s a terrible storm and much suffering and financial (and other) loss will follow but I’m finding it hard to really get upset and worried at the ur-level that some people are experiencing.
Part of that is being very far away from Florida and not having any connections with people there any longer so there’s a distance but it’s more than that.
Growing up in Florida, hurricanes are part of the mental landscape and never too distant in ‘hurricane season’ (a third or so of the year) and so I can’t perceive them in the rare wrath of the universe way that some do. Here are some random and disjointed hurricane memories.
As a child I grew up in the shadow of Donna, a 1960 major hurricane that became the touchstone for comparison each hurricane season. “Think it’ll be another Donna?” “It’s no Donna” or people would say evaluating the latest mass of wind gathering in the Caribbean as it approached the peninsula.
Stores used to give out hurricane tracking maps and local TV stations would update the coordinates every few hours. Most of the time it came to naught but the slow game of chicken was an effective way of dealing with the tension.
A few times my mother took me and my brother out of elementary school to retreat inland to where her widowed sister and mother lived. I don’t remember much of those beyond the emergency drills my crazy aunt would inflict on me and my brother (finding things in the dark, practicing wrapping up potentially broken limbs). A bit of family lore surrounded the time my aunt accidentally locked my father out of the house when he went outside during the calm eye of the storm and he was stuck on the porch for most of the second half of the hurricane.
In the late 1960s my crazy aunt moved to the town my family lived in and when a potentially threatening hurricane approached she gathered up me and my brother to sleep in the office she worked in the courthouse (the sturdiest building in town). That hurricane passed through but was a dud and our house was untouched.
Another time I remember driving around town with my father, a journalist, before a potential hurricane hit and noticed a kind of…. electric charge in the air. Everybody was in a buzzed, excited mood almost daring the hurricane to pass through and relieve the usual small-town boredom (that’s my earliest memory of the contagious nature of crowd reactions).
I remember reading a novel where a hurricane shows up out of nowhere and thinking how clueless the author was. Hurricanes are usually preceded by days of cloudy rain and wind of a kind that is unmistakable and subtely different from the usual rainstorms – hurricane weather it was called. You almost didn’t need the tracking maps to feel hurricanes approaching.
Later, I was working in a convenience store during a major hurricane scare. The store was next to a main highway and the northbound lane got clogged and movement stalled. Almost all the people leaving were very recent transplants while the native and longer term residents (over 15 years or so) were getting prepared in various ways stock up on fresh water, do what you can to secure windows… but not really considering moving.
That hurricane was a dud but a couple of years later a no-name storm (called by everyone in the area ‘the no name storm’ showed up almost out of nowhere and did massive damage, especially to buildings built too close to the coast on sand (it washed the sand out from under the buildings with predictable results). That was the only time I was actually afraid for the house I grew up in as the winds and tides were pushing the canals close to the banks even as the rain had overfilled the ditches. But in the end even though the water lapped at the sides of the roads the house stayed dry.
There was no major hurricane in Florida to match Donna until Andrew in 1992. I was in Poland at the time (my first illegal alien experience) and it was very odd in the pre-internet days to get information, but I remember being sad that Homestead, a small town I knew fairly well had been so badly hit.
Then ten years ago two major hurricanes hit the area I grew up in within a few months. It was very weird to hear CNN International mention small towns I knew well….
So anyway, Irma’s going to hit. Snowbirds and recent transplants will freak out and maybe leave (maybe forever) but the real Floridians will ride it out and then when it’s over assess the damage and get on with things.