A hero of Hurricane Andrew, Bryan Norcross, reveals his untold stories

Bryan Norcross on the TV set, gets ready to report the weather in 1997.
Bryan Norcross on the TV set, gets ready to report the weather in 1997. MIAMI HERALD FILE /1997

“Bryan, should I move my grandma out of her condo on the beach?”

“Bryan, what do I do about my flower pots?”

“Bryan, is there going to be school on Monday?”

It was August 1992, and millions were tuned into their TVs, calling in to ask meteorologist Bryan Norcross everything from emergency help to practical tips. Hurricane Andrew was expected to crash into South Florida, and the phone lines to TV station WTVJ were jammed for days.

There hadn’t been a hurricane in more than a decade — let alone a Category 5 — and emergency plans were new and mostly untested. But Norcross was there with a steady voice and a peace of mind. He was the human connection for Miamians huddling in hallways and watching the news. Even Norcross and his crew made an iconic on-air move to a storage closet, which became a memory symbolic of the storm’s assault.

It was “more than a hurricane,” Norcross writes in his new book, “My Hurricane Andrew Story.” “It was an epic mind- and life-altering event.”

Norcross, now a hurricane specialist for the Weather Channel, said he “buckled down” and wrote the narrative book in February. Norcross will read from his new book Thursday night at Books and Books in Coral Gables.

The self-published book comes just before the 25th anniversary of the storm that changed South Florida and the broadcasts that changed lives. It tells the story of Hurricane Andrew through Norcross’ lens, detailing the push for his TV station to acquire backup phones and radar, his famous 23-hour marathon broadcast and the aftermath that left his viewers shaken and vulnerable. The book is ordered and labeled chronologically, from initial reports to the legacy the storm left on the region.

“It’s such an intense and amazing story that just needed to be told,” he said. “I hope that it encourages other people to tell their stories.”

Norcross’ job was not always encouraging or inspirational, though. The meteorologist remembers times where he doubted his ability to help those in need.

“What happens if I give people advice,” he wrote, “but they still get injured or killed doing the ‘right’ thing?”

The book recalls the way people were floating on mattresses, scavenging near-empty stores for any materials to board up windows and watching their subruban homes crumble to pieces.

“It does read like something unreal, because it felt unreal at the time,” he said. “I hope people understand that sometimes, the very worst does happen.”

If an Andrew-sized storm hit Florida again, Norcross said, there would be significant challenges that didn’t exist in 1992.

“People are dependent on their cellphones. Batteries go bad and towers get damaged and you don’t have the bandwidth,” he said. “And people are not as well-insured now as they were after Hurricane Andrew. Dade County recovered more quickly because so much insurance money flooded in.”

Norcross said the main two lessons readers should take from the book is that sometimes, storms are worse than forecast and that preparedness works. Everyone — homeowners, businesses, governments — need to take weather seriously.

“What you do before the storm makes a tremendous difference than what happens after the storm,” he said. “It’s worth the time and energy to think it out. People who live here and went through it understand what it means.”

At the book-signing on Thursday, Norcross said he is excited to meet the people who went through Andrew.

“It’s amazing how close we all are after 25 years,” he said. “It’s a special bond that we have, Hurricane Andrew people.”

If you go

When: Thursday, July 20. 7 p.m.

Where: Books & Books, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables

Information: “My Hurricane Story” is available for sale at the signing and on Amazon.

Related stories from Miami Herald