Every year around this time, snowbirds charmed by high-rise condos and traffic reminiscent of mid-town Manhattan think about making South Florida their year-round home. As a permanent resident, I’d recommend they spend a summer here first. Not because of the heat. Everybody knows Florida summers make steam rooms feel downright refreshing. And not because of sea lice. Everybody also knows those little buggers give beach bathers an itchy rash in a place nice people don’t scratch. It’s not even the hurricanes. It’s bracing for hurricanes. Bracing is hard work. The worst part is that nine times out or 10, the hurricane peters out or takes a wrong turn. All that bracing and we don’t get the pleasure of seeing the neighbor’s roof fly off. Just kidding. I wouldn’t really want to see my neighbor lose his roof; it would probably damage mine, too.
Bracing starts with a hurricane watch. In technical terms, that means a breeze is kicking up along the west coast of Africa. This is when the governor holds an emergency press conference urging residents to stock up on water, canned goods, first-aid supplies, flashlights and batteries. By the time he finishes speaking, stores are out of water, canned goods, first-aid supplies, flashlights and batteries. Floridians stock up on wine, beer and hard liquor.
When the storm is within 36 hours of turning the Sunshine State into a soggy pile of Pick-up Sticks, the National Weather Service upgrades the watch to a warning. The governor orders the evacuation of all flood-prone areas, roughly 99 percent of the state. When we got the order last year for Hurricane Dorian, Bob and I spent the next 24 hours watching TV news off and on, hoping the storm would veer off course. It didn’t, so Bob started screwing a dozen plastic and aluminum panels over the windows. I took on the arduous task of evacuating the refrigerator of a half loaf of bread, an almost full jar of peanut butter, three slices of pizza, one chicken leg and two breasts, a week’s worth of kale salad, a tub of guacamole, a pint of Häagen-Dazs mint chip and half a chocolate-and-peanut-butter pie. I couldn’t finish the kale.
We hit the road just as six million South Floridians converged on I-95 North, where they would spend the rest of that night and half the next day stuck in traffic. To avoid this hassle, do what I did; marry someone with a family member living in a high and dry house south of you. Bob and I drove to his sister’s house in record time.
The next morning, I couldn’t wait to watch the spectacle through my in-laws’ crystal-clear hurricane windows. I didn’t see so much as a single shingle fly by. So I went for a run. The only person I saw was a bored-looking cop. Everyone else was inside bracing. We learned later that morning that Dorian had slowed to one mile per hour over the Bahamas. Folks stuck on I-95 could have escaped the hurricane faster on foot.
We spent the day watching news reports that the entire state of Florida was in Dorian’s path, along with the Carolinas and Georgia. As we could see from the diagram, meteorologists pinpoint the hurricane’s path with the highly scientific technique of tossing strands of overcooked spaghetti in the general direction of the Eastern Seaboard.
In his concern for the safety of Republicans voting in the 2020 election, President Donald Trump did his own spaghetti toss and got a somewhat different result. He tweeted a warning that Hurricane Dorian would hit harder than expected in five states including Alabama. Meteorologists for the National Weather Service – Democrats, no doubt – missed the red state of Alabama with their spaghetti toss. Twenty minutes after Trump tweeted, they counter-tweeted that Dorian would not hit Alabama.
Over the next few days, disappointed Floridians took plywood off the windows, restocked the refrigerator and went on a diet. Ditto for Georgians. Dorian bypassed us altogether, brushing only the eastern edge of North and South Carolina. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the weather service’s parent agency, scolded its wayward child over the counter-tweet, even though Alabama was untouched. Republicans there are still bracing.