New York saw snow last October, too, around this time. But, despite the poeticism (and potential Halloween costume) in “Frankenstorm,” Halloween seems already past. It’s snowing a little bit, right now: flakes from the midwest that will merge with Sandy which, instead of splintering out at sea, will be forced inland by a high-pressure storm from Greenland.
Though I was born and largely raised in Manhattan, I’ve lived in Florida since I was small. We spent three years near Jacksonville, Florida, and then moved, unlike Sandy, down the coastline to West Palm Beach. Hurricane Andrew – a Category 4 storm in 1992 – had become our neighbors’ point of reference. (“Is it better or worse than Andrew? Okay.”)
The 2004 season, once over, became a running joke: Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne arrived within weeks of each other, resembling (in name, too) unpleasant family members who stay for too long, eat your food, and leave the water running. Or just off.
None of what we suffered was comparable to the destruction of Katrina. The hardest-hit of my friends went without power and A/C for several weeks. But that, during a Florida summer, can seem catastrophic. West Palm Beach faces Palm Beach – that bastion of wealth and trimmed hedges – which, as a low-lying island, cowers in the face of a storm. During the hurricane, it becomes even more exclusive, and drawbridges to the island turn away non-residents.
Sandy is a mild hurricane – Category 1 – that’s only sobering when you consider what it’s meeting. And the big problem will be the storm surge, as Mayor Bloomberg has said; this is why you shouldn’t walk to the river to meet Sandy when she makes landfall. The National Hurricane Center is the best authority on this, with visuals that depict rainfall potential, storm surge exceedance, and – if that’s not enough – an observation chart.
Authorities predict death tolls without reporting the dumb decisions that tend to cause them. Don’t go outside, even during the eye of the storm, that calm period that comes in the direct center of a hurricane. You don’t know how quickly it will cross over. This also isn’t the time to “catch a good wave.” The cliche “expect the best and prepare for the worst” applies. Stay away from windows; a floor-to-ceiling pane of glass broke in my apartment building one year and shattered the lobby with glass.
Florida can be cavalier about hurricanes, so watching New York anticipate Irene made me needlessly panic. Now I know to recognize a different sort of nervous deliberation. I’d accuse meteorologists – again – of crying wolf, if there weren’t such a confluence of factors. The jobs of meteorologists are often frustrating, and stressful: modern Cassandras, they know misfortune without being able to communicate it.
Hurricanes can be fun. Stay with friends (even if you don’t have to). Don’t do schoolwork; play cards or bake; watch a movie or read a book. We only get a few of these up North, and as easy as it is to worry about them, it’s also really tempting (and really worth it) to just chill. Do this with vigilance. Laugh when it’s over. Stay safe, and don’t be dumb.