In 1992, I was 6 years old and living in Fairfax County, Va. But I happened to be visiting Miami during Hurricane Andrew. And my memory of the storm is shaped by a classic radio story.
Before we would go to bed, most nights my mom would read or play a cassette to my brother and I. One of the stories was War of the Worlds, the 1938 radio series that fictionalized an alien invasion. Before my mom played tapes of War of the Worlds, she explained to us that this was not real. That this was something that caused confusion when it first aired, but it was like the cartoons I would watch on Saturday mornings.
My brother and I shared a room. We had two twin beds. We’d just lie down and imagine all these things happening. One excerpt goes like this: “The spectroscope indicates the gas could be hydrogen and moving toward the Earth with enormous velocity. Professor Pearson of the observatory at Princeton confirms Farrell’s observation and describes the phenomenon as quote ’like a jet of blue flame dropped from a gun.’”
That summer I visited Miami on a monthlong vacation with my father and my brother. The main purpose of the trip was for my uncle’s wedding, I think it was the day before Hurricane Andrew struck. We were staying at my grandfather’s house in West Miami The day before Hurricane Andrew came, there were a lot of people in his little house, crowding around the TV. I remember looking on the map of Florida on TV. I knew that we were on the bottom right corner, in Miami, where I’d come to visit every summer.
There was a green blotch right next to us. I didn’t know what it meant. We were just at the wedding; I was with my family earlier in the day. We were all outside. It was a beautiful day.
But then there was a signal — something bad was coming.
The TV announcer was repeating warnings: “If you’re in Miami, if you’re in Dade County, look out for this.”
Everyone at my uncle’s house was having discussions. “Is this going to come to us? Is this not going to come to us? Who knows what’s going to happen when this force comes to us?”
It was like I was living a part of War of the Worlds in the sense that it was hard to distinguish whether this was fact or fiction.We were watching and listening to a broadcast and there was an image. There was a big blotch out in the ocean and we were in Miami. The blotch is not here — but it’s coming.
We were all staring at the TV and at one point, someone says, “Pon me HBO, quitame esto, que es mi show favorito.” Which means “Put on HBO, it’s my favorite show.”
And then everyone says, “No, no, no what? Como que change the channel?”
We’re gonna watch this. This is what we’re watching. This is what we’re going to do all day. There was a big verbal battle. Everybody was screaming at each other. There was some chatter in the background like, “Quitame esto, estoy cansado, no quiero ver esto.”
“Take off this stuff, I’m not gonna sit here and basically watch nothing going on on the screen.”
I was absorbed in this scene, chuckling with my brother. It slowly dawned on me that this wasn’t fiction. This wasn’t War of the Worlds. This was real.
We became silent for a time, side by side, my brother and I, deriving comfort in one another’s company.
As the barometric pressure dropped and the conditions outside changed, I could feel it in my skin like a tingling sensation, the kind of feeling you get when something’s about to happen.
It came to a point where no one was paying attention to the TV. It was kind of ambient noise and everyone’s senses were heightened. We were like animals. The hairs on our arms were sticking up, listening and paying attention.
We were in the hurricane’s strike cone. But for the past couple of years, we were also in the hurricane cone. But we never got hit. It was a case of, “if I can’t see it, it can’t be real.”
Hurricane forecasting was science fiction in the sense that it was something that could be imagined. But it never came.
Some people have conspiracy theories — at least, my family has conspiracy theories: “Home Depot pays the weatherman to tell us that a hurricane is coming so everyone goes to Home Depot to buy all the wood and then, you know, nothing happens.”
People reassure themselves in this fiction that hurricanes aren’t going to affect them, personally. They’re just going to pass over, they’re going to hit North Carolina or North Florida or somewhere else.
It’s not going to affect me.
But this isn’t an H.G. Wells tale. Living in this region is a gamble, and overnight we learned that incredible things can turn real. And once something like Hurricane Andrew comes, there is no theorizing. Only reckoning.