An ugly chimera of a storm is hitting the eastern seaboard of the United States tonight, and is expected to rain havoc down upon the region for the next several days. Before anything else I want to say that my family will be praying for all of the people in the storm’s path (both current and recent), and hoping damage expectations were terribly exaggerated.
That being said however, now I need to talk about hurricanes and poor civic planning.
In case you’re not familiar with the time of year called “Hurricane Season,” here’s the one paragraph primer. For half of every year, tropical ocean waters churn up the atmosphere enough to produce devastating cyclonic storms. In the Atlantic ocean these are called hurricanes, and they follow broadly predictable paths toward land. If they form in the open Atlantic, they generally sweep across the Caribbean before either turning back out to sea or slamming into the coast of Mexico or the United States. If they form in the Gulf of Mexico, they generally dawdle there for a few days before slamming into the coast of Mexico or the United States.
As you can tell from my description, hurricanes generally trouble the Caribbean and coasts. They’re not subtle about it. People have known about them for, at the very least, centuries. Given that information, why in the world would anyone want to live in a place that juts out into the Caribbean and is almost entirely coastline?
Yes, I’m looking at you, Florida. The Caribbean islands at least have beauty to recommend them, whereas Florida is a ceaseless track of swampland resting on dead fish. (Some people call it “limestone.” Don’t let the name fool you; it’s neither fruity not solid. It’s just the mashed together bones of things that have tried and failed to live in Florida.)
And yet Florida’s population is apparently booming, and all of it at the coast. People build multi-million dollar mansions on sand, as though they don’t want the waves to strain themselves while destroying everything. Clearly, at some point in the past, Florida development was arranged by a dare, the sort that teenagers bandy about in an attempt to see who will be the first to win a Darwin Award.
(To be fair at least Floridians don’t build cities in large bowls below sea level, in the swampy area between the ocean and a giant unstable lake, on a patch of coastline that regularly endures hurricanes, then imagine that they’ll be safe. What could possibly go wrong with that plan? You might think that the destruction of a city would be enough to inspire people to move it, but they rebuilt in the same place. A hurricane couldn’t hit there again, right? Somehow it became a matter of pride, although pride isn’t the word I’d use.)
In any event, an interesting side effect of this is that Floridians tend not to complain about hurricanes very often. In 2004, the year before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans as a category 3 storm, three storms of category 3 or greater along with two other named storms hit Florida. I suspect that very few remember the names of any of them.
If a category 1 storm (like the one hitting tonight) were to approach Florida, it wouldn’t be newsworthy. The official Florida response would likely be something akin to “This might tickle.”
Apparently, at least in my imagination, Floridians are a bit like barbarians who laugh in the face of danger. Lets hope that folks in tonight’s storm get the last laugh too.