Tuesday, September 7, 2004


Okay, so I am now quite fascinated with the current hurricane season in general and with Hurricane Frances in particular. Watching this vast storm via internet satellite photos as it swirled through the western Atlantic toward America’s southeast coast at 10 miles per hour was awesome. It is as if it drew all elements within hundreds of miles into its vortex and spun them out with devastating fury. Awesome.

WHAT IF? When I was a child, our family vacationed in New Smyrna Beach, Florida for two weeks nearly every summer. We were never there during hurricane season, which begins in late summer and continues into Autumn. To my disappointment, hurricanes tended to affect other areas, not central Florida’s east coast. There was no local lore about the “big one” that hit back in the day. NSB was too safe, too tame. Still, my imagination would run wild with “what if” as I walked up and down the beach looking at beach houses, restaurants, and condominiums.

NOTHING IMAGINARY. It looks like my innocent childhood imagination became grim reality in Frances. Its track brought it ashore south of Cape Canaveral and Melbourne. Still, its 80-mile-wide swath of gale force winds, tide and powerful waves battered NSB’s beachfront and may will have rearrange fixed dwellings far inland. My parents’ NSB home withstood 90-mph winds from Charley with little damage a few weeks ago; I pray that when Frances finally exits Central Florida, it will have stood firm. They chose not to evacuate.

HURRICANE TRIVIA. Did you know hurricanes always rotate counterclockwise? That the eye of a hurricane is calm? That a tropical storm officially ranks as a hurricane when its sustained winds reach 74 miles per hour? That the worst hurricane is category 5, with sustained winds at 155 mph or higher? That Frances was a cat 4 storm with sustained winds at 145 mph on Thursday? That hurricane Ivan, already a cat 4 cyclone, has formed behind Frances out in the Atlantic and is heading toward the Caribbean?

OUT OF THIN AIR. I’ve visited numerous web sites trying to find the best animation of satellite photos, charts, updates and predictions. What is it about a watching a storm develop, grow, and move toward the continent that is so fascinating? Certainly it is because I have family in its path. Yes, because it is headed for places I have visited (will it swamp the Beach Variety Store or destroy Aunt Catfish’s restaurant?). More than these, it is its sheer and unstoppable power that emerges as if out of thin air. We can learn about tropical cyclones, try to understand how they behave and predict their course; but then all we can do is try to nail things down and get out of their way.

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