One Storm – One Town = One Notable Anniversary

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19 years ago today Hurricane Andrew made landfall on the coastline of southeast Florida. The storm forever linked the hurricane and the town of Homestead, as Homestead, Florida was nearly washed off the face of the Earth. As a former resident of Homestead, the storm touched me, too. I had long since moved away by the time Andrew arrived. Still, the home I lived in was destroyed. The church I was married in was leveled. The building I worked in was damaged beyond repair. I had been a resident of Homestead Air Force Base which suffered even more than the town. You see, the town was rebuilt while the Air Force base was initially left to die, but then renovated into a Reserve base a few years later. Though I’ve not been to the base since Hurricane Andrew, I’ve been told the base is far from the former showpiece status it enjoyed with its exotic half Bahamas/half Cuban/half Keys atmosphere.

Down there somewhere on Virginia Avenue is the former Homestead AFB homestead of the Gorham clan. 10 years ago the foundations were visible. Today, obviously even those have been reclaimed by the South Florida vegetation. Image: Google

But I’m getting sidetracked with my reminiscing. Focusing on the storm named Andrew, we don’t have to look too far to learn that this is the storm that changed how the game of hurricane preparedness is played. Over the past nearly 20 years, those of us in the business of preparing people and businesses for the onslaught of a tropical storm have used Andrew as the perfect example of how even a tropical season with a “quiet” hurricane forecast can produce one storm that can be life-changing and, in many cases, life-ending.

1992’s Atlantic Hurricane Season forecast was indeed a quiet one, with a below average number of named storms expected. Look no further than how we had to wait until August 17th for the first named storm (“A” for Andrew, of course). As a comparison to the 2011 season, today we’re already on the “I” storm — Hurricane Irene, now over the Bahamas.

Yet despite the below-average number of storms expected, the season produced one for the record books as Hurricane Andrew became the costliest U.S. storm prior to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.

If you were a coastal resident in South Florida in 1992, you were likely aware the season was expected to have a below average number of storms. How would you prepare? Would you prepare at all? Would you be under the assumption that, due to the forecast, no preparations would be necessary? On August 25th, 1992 would your attitude have been the same as it was prior to the storm?

The mantra of ImpactWeather, when it comes to hurricane preparedness, is that it only takes one storm. Whether it’s expected to be a busy season or a quiet one, it just takes one storm to change everything. We don’t change our message based on the forecast; it’s always the same: prepare for each season as if it is the one that will bring a landfalling hurricane to your front door.

USAF Reserve F-16 "Makos" from the 482nd, patrol over the skies of South Florida assigned to Homestead Air Force Base. Photo: Wikipedia

Do you know that, according to the American Red Cross, 93% of all Americans have made no (zero) attempt at preparing for an emergency of any kind (flood, fire, hurricane, pandemic, etc)? That leaves just seven percent of us who have prepared an emergency kit and have surveyed our personal situation to determine the proper course of action should things go from bad to worse. Seven percent. And with so many of us now living near the coast (any coast), that’s an awful lot of people that are unprepared.

A properly outfitted emergency kit is not overly complicated or time-consuming, but the time to prepare it is well before an emergency strikes your neighborhood and you find your life has been turned upside down.

Category 3 Hurricane Irene is on track to brush the North Carolina coast then head toward eastern Long Island and/or southeastern New England. If only seven percent of those coastal residents are prepared for Irene, that means the stores are going to become very crowded over the next couple of days.

I miss Homestead. Fortunately, I left South Florida in 1984 with all my family and possessions in tow and we were leaving for a brighter future with more school, more promotions and more fun living just ahead.  Just eight years later, many could not say the same thing.

Hurricane Irene's current track forecast. Image: ImpactWeather TropicsWatch

ImpactWeather has written about emergency kits and actions to take before a disaster strikes. You can read a couple of them here, and here.

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