September 2017 will be remembered by Americans for a series of storms that devastated several states and islands in the Caribbean.
For those of us living in South Florida Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria were wake up calls that we live in an environment that can turn from paradise to horror in the course of a few hours.
It’s a sobering thought.
We like to think that we are above it all—masters of our own destiny and in control of our environment.
But Mother Nature reminds us that we are not in charge—we are subject to the whims and will of the weather.
Whether you embrace the science behind climate change or you think the jury is still out—there are two things that we should be able to agree on. First, climate issues and weather events have become a major part of our lives and there seems to be an increasing amount of historic storms.
The last time Delray Beach dealt with hurricanes was the challenging seasons of 2004-05, culminating in the hit we absorbed from Wilma which left some without power for 21 days.
Prior to 2004, we had experienced a long lull. Yes, Hurricane Andrew scared us but we missed the brunt of the damage and therefore many of our communities were not prepared when the first storms hit in 2004.
Back then many if not most stores, groceries, gas stations and homes were without generators creating a challenge for the recovery effort. Our hospitals could not get their personnel to work due to gas shortages and people ran low on food, water, ice and prescriptions. The debris fields were enormous and we lost a great deal of our tree canopy. City Hall was damaged and businesses had a hard time re-opening.
While we went a record 12 years since Wilma before Irma hit us, there was clearly a difference this time around. More homeowners and critical businesses had generators, people seemed better prepared in terms of food, water and prescriptions and while gas shortages posed an issue we seemed to recover fairly well.
FPL spent $3 billion ‘hardening’ its system but still a huge amount of customers lost power—some for almost a week in areas that were not as hard hit as the Keys or West Coast.
That indicates that even with massive investments and storm mitigation strategies, we can expect power outages to remain a significant issue for a large part of the population in future storms.
Each storm has its unique challenges and nuances. Irma pointed out the need to have better temperature control options in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. For Delray Beach, lift station outages created a challenge.
We get better after every storm. But only if we remain vigilant and keenly aware of the vulnerabilities in our systems and plans.
On a positive note, it seems that building codes enacted after Andrew in 1992 did their job in standing up to a monster Category 4. Efforts in the state legislature to water down the code are not only foolish, they are downright life threatening.
With two months to go in hurricane season, we urge our readers to remain vigilant and prepared. And just because Nov. 30 marks the end of the hurricane season it doesn’t mark the end of the threat. Hurricanes have formed as late as December in the Atlantic basin. We live in paradise, for sure, but living in Florida also means learning to live with hurricanes.