By Mike Gold, A retired entrepreneur living the dream in the Pacific Northwest.
As we all watch hurricane Florence hitting the southeastern U.S., I thought back to our six years in South Florida.
During that period, we had a direct hit (in Boca Raton) by Hurricane Wilma, and a “miss” by Hurricane Katrina. The long-range forecasters are now equipped with a very accurate set of tools. With these tools they can predict the path of a storm by as many as ten days.
Let me describe to you what it is like when you are potentially in the bullseye of a strong hurricane. Hurricanes are rated according to the Simpson Scale (and no it’s not OJ Simpson). They range from Category 1 up to Category 5. A Category 1 storm has winds between 74 and 95 mph. A Category 5 has sustained winds or gusts over 157 mph.
The first order of business when a storm approaches is to get the necessary supplies. That means drinkable water, a full tank of gas for your car, food that need not be cooked to consume and last, putting up some protection for your home windows.
Now after Hurricane Andrew (1992), a Category 5 storm, which completely destroyed Homestead Florida (about 30 miles south of Miami – and afterwards, there were many office buildings up to ten stories high that only had the steel frame of the building standing afterwards), the state of Florida passed new building requirements that all new homes be equipped with storm shutters. In addition, the requirements for attaching the roof trusses to the building were significantly strengthened.
See, what is not widely understood about hurricanes, it is not the rain that does the most harm (although Hurricane Katrina was an exception), but the wind. With winds over 100 mph, many objects become flying projectiles. They can be anything from tree branches, to just about anything that is on the ground (flower pots, garden tools, etc.). When one of these goes through one of your windows, two things can happen. First, the interior of your house will get rain soaked. Second, and far more dangerous, is that the wind entering your home below the roof, can actually lift the roof trusses (and the roof) off the top of your home, leaving the entire interior exposed to the elements. That’s why they strengthened the roof truss tie downs to the walls of the house.
In addition to this, they passed a requirement that all windows installed in new homes (post 1992) be 105 mph glass. That means the glass will not crack with sustained winds of up to 105 mph.
So the question always is: “Do you feel lucky punk?” from a Dirty Harry movie. Do you go through the time and expense of installing your hurricane shutters or don’t you. See hurricane paths are notoriously unpredictable. In our six years there, we installed our storm shutters twice. Each time it proved unnecessary to do so. (The storm path veered or the winds were not as great as predicted.) So when Hurricane Wilma approached us, many models showed the storm going into the Gulf of Mexico – and along the west coast of Florida – sparing us on the east coast of Florida from a direct hit. So no shutters for us. Of course, Wilma changed paths and moved directly over Florida from west to east. The eye of the storm came directly over Boca Raton, the first time that had ever happened.
We had over 250 ceramic tiles blow off our roof. They are about 15 lbs. each, and are glued into place. Many of these tiles became projectiles. Thankfully none of our tiles hit any nearby buildings. My wife and dog sat in our closet away from all glass. It was terrifying to watch our very large windows flexing back and forth. Fortunately, we lucked out and no windows broke. Our next-door neighbors screen enclosure (for their swimming pool) wound up partially in our own pool. We lost power for six days.
Here is the really bad news. The local media goes apoplectic for five days before the storm. You would think you are about to die. So forget about getting any of the necessary supplies. There is no gas at stations; the markets are out of bread, batteries, and other staples a week before the storm hits (if it does). What we finally wound up doing is maintaining a hurricane emergency kit in a closet. At least we would have the basic stuff.
Now the worst of all, is that the lift pumps that take toilet flushings to the sewer treatment plants also don’t work. So you cannot use your toilets. That was the most inconvenient thing of all.