Monday, September 26, 2022

A Planet We No Longer Know

I wrote this post to a friend this morning:  "Nothing like an approaching storm to make me remember how much of my heart is in Florida--I know so many people throughout the state."

This morning's forecast track looks like it could be dreadful in a multitude of ways.  One of the worst ways would be that a major storm comes ashore at Tampa.  Others have done deeper analysis than I will do here, but here's a short version:  lots of development on lots of low-lying land, with lots of potential for flooding and other types of destruction.  Are those people insured?  Will insurance companies go broke and not be able to pay?  Will Citizens, the Florida insurer of last resort, have enough reserves?

There's the threat of storm surge.  The only hurricane advantage I had when I lived in South Florida is that the area wasn't prone to storm surge because of the deep drop off of the shelf under the ocean, as the sea meets the shore.  Much of the Florida coast doesn't have that, so a storm like Ian will be even more damaging because of that storm surge.

There's another dreadful scenario--the storm could sit over the peninsula and/or move very slowly and dump a lot of rain.  And even if it "speeds" across the state, it's still a lot of water falling on land that's already saturated.

People in the path of the storm don't have much time to make decisions.  One hopes that people have been paying attention, gathering important paperwork and possessions, and making plans.  I know that many of them have been thinking that the storm would come ashore where the panhandle meets the peninsula.  That could still happen, but if I lived on the west coast of the peninsula, I wouldn't bet on it.  I'd be making plans and finishing preparations as if the storm would pass over my head.  Soon it will be too late.

It's days like these that I'm glad I'm not in emergency management.  Of course, there's never a day when I'd want to be working in an emergency management department, but today will be intense, for many of the same reasons that the day will be intense for many Floridians:  decisions to make with many of the factors remaining uncertain.  And how to evacuate people safely?  That's a level of emergency management that would make me lose sleep.

I think of all the people with electric cars and what a headache those will cause for evacuation.  I am thankful it's not my headache, while at the same time, I feel this anxiety.  Some of it may be some variety of PTSD.  It's not that long ago that we had similar decisions to make about hurricane Irma.  For 24 hours, it looked like we would get a direct hit from a category 4 storm.  On the Wednesday before the storm hit, my spouse and I took a walk around our sunny neighborhood.  I said, "I'm assuming that if we evacuate, we're coming back to nothing."  But it was not to be that bad.

Of course, in some ways, coming back to nothing might be preferable to coming back to flood and wind damage and spending the next 2 years navigating insurance, contractors, repairs, all the while holding onto a full-time job and a part time job.  I am glad we won't be facing that in the near future.

I am now saying a prayer for those who are facing all of these worst case scenarios, and a prayer for all of us in this time of changing climate, a planet we no longer know.  This will be the 3rd record breaking storm in a week.  There was Fiona that wiped out a chunk of Canada, Noru that set records for rapid intensification (and significant damage for Vietnam and the Phillipines), and now Ian, which I'm willing to bet will set some records too.

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