All that rain from Subtropical Storm Alberto may be good for your lawn, but it isn't helping Miami Beach's traditional Memorial Day bacchanal. On Sunday, for the second day in a row, crowds were meek and mild in the face of Alberto's storms.
City officials had been expecting an influx of as many as 200,000 visitors for the Memorial Day weekend, which has become a major tourist event for the city. But the warnings that Alberto was going to slap South Florida around on its way north may have diverted some of the hearty partyers back. Certainly it reduced their numbers on the streets.
The crowd at Sunday's Air and Sea Show was smaller than last year's, said Geoffrey Green, one member of a cluster of Normandy Shores neighbors who came over for it. And even so, the crowd was much bigger than the Saturday attendance.
"There was no one" on Saturday, said Green, who cut his own visit short because of the storm.
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The soggy weather, however, didn't seem to have a calming effect on the crowd. Miami Beach police had recorded 72 arrests by mid-afternoon Sunday (mostly for minor drug charges and other misdemeanors), slightly more than the 63 at the same point in 2017. Both numbers, though, were well below those of the Memorial Day celebrations early in this century, which numbered in the hundreds.
Alberto gave the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area a wide berth — by 4 p.m. Sunday it was 165 miles west of Tampa, headed north at a steady 13 mph clip — and spared us any serious damage. But it did inflict a sodden day on a long holiday weekend that usually ushers in the summer sun.
The rain — at times just a lonely drizzle, at times a series of sharp cloudbursts — fell from a mottled gray sky that, almost any place outside Florida, would have been accompanied by chilly November winds.
The effect of the rain and and its meteorological partner in crime, wind, was more than aesthetic. As recorded wind speeds reached 20 to 25 knots with gusts up to 35, the National Weather Service posted a small crafty advisory and the Miami Dade Fire Rescue Department tweeted out a blunt warning: "Don't head out in bad weather."
Even venturing a few feet into the waves triggered whistles and stern warnings from lifeguards. When a paltry crowd of a few hundred gathered in the anemic sunlight filtering through the clouds to watch the Air and Sea Show — well, the air part, anyway; everything else was canceled — a couple of brave souls tip-toed into the surf, only to be ordered back out again.
For Lay Hines, 23, and Gwen Jefferson, 28, who were visiting from Syracuse, New York, this was the first time they'd been on the beach since arriving Friday morning.
When they learned that a storm was approaching Miami, the friends had tried to cancel their flights and book new ones to Las Vegas, but the change fees were too expensive. What they had imagined as a weekend of jet skiing and sunbathing turned into "umbrellas and raincoats," Hines said.
"This is the most sun we've gotten," she added.
Hines and Jefferson tried to go shopping on Saturday, but even that hadn't been possible. They made it to two stores before the wind and rain became too much.
"We could barely hold onto our umbrellas," Hines said.
Instead, they'd spent most of their time in Miami going out to eat and enjoying the bars. They lamented that the one weekend they'd picked to come to Miami had turned out to be the first weekend of warm weather so far this year in Syracuse.
"It's never nice" in that part of New York, Jefferson said.
Other tourists warily crept out onto Ocean Drive in the mid-afternoon to enjoy a brief break in the rain, though they prudently armed themselves with umbrellas in case of further atmospheric treachery. The sidewalk cafes were crowded as visitors strolled up and down the street and through Lummus Park.
Friends Jacque Wilkins, 28, Leighana Caldwell, 28, and Ashley Brown, 27, were waiting in line for brunch at Z Ocean Hotel. They had come to Miami from Atlanta and New York to celebrate Caldwell’s birthday and were having fun despite the weather.
They'd escaped the rain by bar hopping and had spent Saturday night at Mango's Tropical Cafe, which they said had been crowded. But the storm had ruined some of their plans. They had hoped to go jet skiing and spend time on the beach.
"We knew it was gonna rain but..." Caldwell began.
"...we didn’t think like that," Wilkins finished.
They were cautiously optimistic about the break in the storm, but not optimistic enough to make plans for the rest of the day.
"Just take it hour by hour," said Wilkins. "We don't know with the rain and wind."
Their optimism was rewarded, at least for a little while. As they stood outside the hotel waiting for a table, the sun broke through the clouds.
"The sun is coming!" Brown exclaimed.
"Yeah! Sunshine!" Wilkins said.
To be fair, not all the misery being wreaked upon visitors over the weekend could be blamed on nature. Nick and Julia Crisp, visiting from Great Britain, were actually finding Sunday's weather a bit of an improvement over Saturday, which they spent chained to the ninth circle of South Florida Tourism Hell — that is, South Beach traffic.
"We were stuck in traffic for 40 minutes for a two mile journey," Julia said cheerfully.
They were applying sunscreen on Sunday afternoon as planes roared overhead, but had come prepared for the weather to take a turn for the worst.
"We're British. We've got waterproofs with us," Julia said, gesturing to a bag holding rain jackets. "Didn't quite bring the Wellies," she added, referring to Wellington rain boots.
The Crisps were in Miami for the first time to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. They said they might come back, but likely would visit during the wintertime, when the weather was guaranteed to be better in Miami than it was in England. While they'd spent the weekend dodging the storm, the Crisps reported with ironic smiles, their neighbors back home were experiencing a heatwave.