Monthly Archive: August 2004

Hurricane life (in Orlando)

The Florida officials in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area had effected a mass evacuation in anticipation of Hurricane Charley. On the afternoon of the 13th, Friday, however, the hurricane shifted direction and came ashore in Punta Gorda, with sustained winds of 145 mph. A large number of residents, many living in mobile homes, lost not just their homes, but their lives. On the television and on the Internet, one saw images of the storm taken from satellites, with a wide variety of imaging techniques, utilizing ultra-sophisticated technology. Meteorologists on television tracked the storm for us, with entertaining commentary; one of the television meteorologists was even brilliant, dazzling the viewer with his intellectual understanding as well as real-time graphic manipulation of satellite imaging data. The National Hurricane Center gave their analysis and commentary, with all the preciseness that the latest computing power could provide. The storm moved fast, however, and its change of direction caught many by surprise–those hundreds of individuals who lost their lives most of all. There was a need to allow for a greater variance in the probabilities of where it might land. No amount of technology could supplant the need for conservative human judgment. It is inconvenient to prepare for a worst-case scenario, but when the unexpected card shows up there is usually no time to prepare, although lessons learned can be gleaned, if we can admit our mistakes. This does not reflect poorly on the individuals making decisions about hurricane preparations in Florida, but teaches us all to be wiser. As one TV newscaster put it, referring to the situation in Orlando, “If you hadn’t bought groceries at Publix by 2 pm yesterday, you were SOL.” The boy scout motto “be prepared” comes to mind.