The “H-word”

As mentioned in the previous post, Floridians never worry about the weather, unless someone utters the “H-word.”  What is the H-word?  It is a single word capable of striking fear into the heart of everyone living on this spit of land stuck between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.


Many from Up North and Out West haven’t a clue about hurricanes.  They see the video on their evening news and to them that is all it is, a video account of a news event that does not affect their lives. It is a little different for the Floridians.

For most Floridians, the hurricane itself is not an event to fear; it is the time which follows.  If the hurricane is a dangerous one, most residents will leave the state.  Like rats on a sinking ship, Floridians will flee to higher ground.  This is what makes the hurricane not so fearful; when it hits, most who live in the dangerous areas of the state are gone.

One veteran, who returned home after military service, had the chance to explain hurricanes to a woman in California.  When he mentioned he was leaving the service and anxious to return to Florida, she said, “I would never live in Florida!”

“Why not?” he asked.

“They have hurricanes in Florida,” she answered.

“Yep,” he conceded. “We do. We watch them spawn off the coast of Africa, we track them for a couple of weeks as they make their way across the Atlantic, we predict landfall, and everyone in the area where it is going to hit, leaves.

“Here in California, on the other hand, you have earthquakes. And they just happen.  With no predictions.”

Most hurricanes happen like that.  They are born in the Atlantic near Africa and with the modern tracking capabilities we have today, we can watch them very closely.  Of course, not all form near Africa; those forming in the Caribbean or the Gulf of Mexico are the surprise hurricanes.  Fortunately, because they are so close to the mainland, they have little opportunity to strengthen into a dangerous storm. They usually remain a tropical depression or a Category 1 hurricane.

Tropical depressions and Cat 1 storms are dangerous, but for the most part, survivable.  They can be very wet and cause damage and injury, but the loss of life is typically minimal. A category 5 hurricane, however, is a different story all together.

Only three Cat 5 hurricanes have ever made landfall in the United States.  The first was the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 which landed in the middle of the Florida Keys; the second was Hurricane Camille in 1969; and the third, in 1992, was Hurricane Andrew.

In terms of money, all three of these hurricanes were devastating, particularly the last, Hurricane Andrew.  In testament to our ability to predict, track, and keep people safe from hurricanes, the number of fatalities says it all.

The Labor Day Hurricane killed 408; Camille in 1969 left 254 American fatalities; by 1992 when Hurricane Andrew struck, only 26 people lost their lives.

The key to surviving a hurricane is following through with what the authorities tell you to do.  If everyone would do that, the fatality numbers would probably be very close to zero.


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