Hurricane

At the dawn of a new hurricane season, a look back at the ‘voice in the darkness’

Bryan Norcross recalls his experience with Hurricane Andrew

Acclaimed meteorologist Bryan Norcross recently penned a book on his experience covering Hurricane Andrew in anticipation of the storms's 25th anniversary.
Up Next
Acclaimed meteorologist Bryan Norcross recently penned a book on his experience covering Hurricane Andrew in anticipation of the storms's 25th anniversary.

Hurricane season starts Saturday, June 1, but you know that already because two early bird disturbances in the Atlantic already teased us in May.

One of them, a subtropical system about 300 miles away from Bermuda, even graduated to name status — Andrea — to knock one of the names off the 2019 list about 10 days before season.

All of this hurricane talk comes on the heels of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s release of its first prediction for the 2019 hurricane season. (Meteorologists say it’ll be a “near normal” season with up to 15 named storms and two to four that could be major storms in the Category 3-5 range.)

Read Next

Meteorologist and author Bryan Norcross, 68, now lends his expertise as a hurricane specialist to WPLG Local 10, the ABC affiliate that gave him his start in the South Florida market in 1983. Norcross, who also appears on The Weather Channel, also is gearing up for the 2019 season with The Bryan Norcross Podcast on Apple.

IMG_IMG_Guererro_Hurrica_2_1_5OCC99TR_L34165642_fitted.jpeg
Harold “Tex” Keith, outside his trailer park home at what was called ground zero on Aug. 24, 1992, in Florida City after Hurricane Andrew left the Homestead/Florida City area.. C.M. GUERRERO El Nuevo Herald File

But in August 1992, while at CBS4, Norcross arguably became the most famous meteorologist of all. As the compact Hurricane Andrew buzz-sawed South Miami-Dade with Category 5 winds, it was his steady, calm and astute responses to terrified listeners that got many of them through the storm.

Read Next

As the 2019 season begins — near the 100th anniversary of the fierce 1919 Florida Keys hurricane in September of that year that would be the equivalent of a Category 4 today — let’s revisit some of Norcross’ greatest stories from the Miami Herald archives.

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

Read Next

The man who talked us through ‘The Big One’

TV critic Hal Boedeker’s take published Aug. 25, 1992

A speech pathologist called Monday morning and offered to help restore Bryan Norcross’ scratchy voice. It was just one of hundreds of grateful calls for the WTVJ-Channel 4 meteorologist.

South Florida wanted to thank the unflappable weatherman who talked the region through Hurricane Andrew.

“All I need to do is rest my voice,” Norcross said by phone after leaving the air early Monday. “I remember talking and talking relentlessly.”

Norcross, 41, had spent almost an entire day, with just a couple of half-hour breaks, explaining the storm’s progress, answering sundry questions and calming the distressed.

People called in to Norcross as their roofs blew off. A girl consulted him from a bathroom, while her brother and father tried to keep the door closed through the high winds.

“Every issue we addressed seemed to turn into reality,” he said. “It was like writing a script and having it turn into a movie.”

Chloraseptic and planning

The plain-spoken weatherman credited a bottle of Chloraseptic for his vocal endurance. But his superb on-air performance had been three years in the planning, ever since he arrived at Channel 4 from WPLG- Channel 10.

Norcross, who has a background as a news writer and producer, wanted to excel at hurricane coverage during his six years at WPLG.

“I fought the battle at Channel 10 for a long time and was never successful,” he said. “No one there made it their business to be informed about all the issues of hurricanes beyond just the meteorology.”

The weathercaster found more support at Channel 4, which built the Storm Center, kept refining its hurricane planning and sat ready for a major storm. He has done five hurricane specials in the last three years.

“He is absolutely relentless in what he believes in,” Channel 4 news director Sharon Scott said. “As you found out from our coverage, he can be compelling in his reasoning.”

He’s a good man to have in a crisis, too.

When the National Hurricane Center lost its radar, Norcross started advising hurricane chief Bob Sheets on the storm’s position.

“We got Bob Sheets on the phone, and he was really shook,” Norcross recalled. “He didn’t have radar available, and so I described to him what I saw on the West Palm Beach radar. He was using it for his own information, to see where he stood in relation to the storm. It was one of those things.” (Channel 4 usually uses the West Palm Beach radar rather than Miami’s because it is clearer.)

19920828_1_BigOne (1_fitted.jpeg
Cover page (page 1, section A) of the special edition of the Miami Herald published Monday, Aug. 24, 1992, on the day Hurricane Andrew arrived in South Miami-Dade. Miami Herald Staff Miami Herald File

Norcross’ skill

Sheets praises Norcross’ skill.

“He works very hard at his job,” he said. “He digs in and does the research, so he knows what he’s talking about.”

On the big story, Norcross clearly stood out.

WPLG-Channel 10 meteorologist Don Noe left the screen for a time Sunday to care for his own home. WSVN-Channel 7 weathercaster Jillian Warry acknowledged on the air that she hadn’t put away her lawn furniture — something she was urging her viewers to do. And WCIX-Channel 6 weathercaster Maria Genero was often missing from the screen, first when her station ignored storm coverage early Sunday and later when it lost its South Dade tower early Monday morning.

Norcross was happy Channel 4 accurately predicted the weather would turn bad shortly after midnight Monday, but he was low-key about Channel 4’s top-flight coverage.

“No television station is fully prepared in this market, including Channel 4,” he said. “We just took so many more steps. Part of it is luck. Channel 10’s tower fell over.”

He’s realistic about the weatherman’s role in everyday television.

“I don’t think you have to be a pure academic about it or a clown. I don’t think it’s an and-or thing. It’s a middle ground.”

Yet he criticizes a journalistic double standard on weather. Would a news director hire an inexperienced reporter to cover major stories? he asked.

Weathercasters as meteorologists

Ideally, he believes, all weathercasters should be meteorologists because at some point, they will be called on to be experts rather than simply presenters.

“It’s important to be an entertainer,” he said of the weathercaster’s role. “Maria and Jillian are excellent in the way their roles are defined. But in a city where the weather can turn into a life-threatening issue, my objection is to the way the media have allowed weather persons to be defined. If we had a lot of hurricanes here, it would change. In Oklahoma City, with a lot of tornadoes, you have to be a meteorologist.”

During the storm, Norcross was originally supposed to share his on-air chores with anchors Kelly Craig and Tom Randles. But both were out of town initially.

“The minute Brian started talking, it was clear no one else should have been on the air,” news director Scott said. “We’ve seen it in him for years. This storm showed the public what we’ve known about Bryan Norcross.”

Building codes and shelters

Norcross hopes that Hurricane Andrew prompts the state to define coastal building codes, and that by next hurricane season, the list of storm shelters is printed in the phone book.

Dade County, the schools and the Red Cross recognize distributing the list via TV is inadequate, he said. He said Andrew ought to change the way South Florida looks at hurricanes.

“We said all along, ‘We need a good little hurricane.’ We got a good big hurricane. I would have liked a tropical storm to knock down trees and to get people to thinking.”

Before he returned to the air late Monday afternoon, Norcross called the speech pathologist. She said: Don’t drink caffeine or hot liquids. Do drink cold liquids. It worked.

His voice was restored and ready for another long evening on the air.

Read Next

img0426A
The condo community of Naranja Lakes was destroyed when the center of Hurricane Andrew swept across it in August 1992. C.M. Guerrero Miami Herald File

After Andrew: Scared, scarred ... and blessed

A Leonard Pitts, Jr. column published Aug. 26, 1992

It came like a monster, pounding on all sides of the house, demanding entrance.

Remember the scene in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” where the aliens come for the woman’s child, and there’s no way she can escape them? Remember how their eerie red light poured in through the door, the window, the furnace, even the stove, until she realized that no matter where she ran, there was absolutely nowhere in her own house that was safe?

That’s the way Andrew came calling in the dark hours of Monday morning. He came rattling every closed door and banging every taped-up window. He came throwing things at the glass patio doors, with menacing winds that issued forth from unexplained places. He came in rivulets of water that crept in over the top of the front door and spat at us through the peephole.

Finally, he came through the ceiling in the family room, which sagged and then split open like overripe fruit just seconds after my wife and I ran clear. We took shelter in the living room — the two of us and our five kids — and looked fearfully around as the house trembled and shivered under the brunt of Andrew’s winds.

norcross 9761210105
Bryan Norcross checks a radar screen while he was still a weatherman at the Miami station that is now CBS4. He’s currently a hurricane specialist at The Weather Channel. Peter Andrew Bosch pbosch@MiamiHerald.com

‘Norcross saved our lives’

TV weatherman Bryan Norcross, broadcasting on radio station Y-100, probably saved our lives just about then. If you feel threatened, he said, don’t be afraid to hunker down in an interior closet and shield yourself with mattresses. It sounded like such a foolish thing to do. The house shuddered. Water came through the front door and hit the back of my neck. Honey, I said, this may sound like a foolish thing to do, but . . .

Moments later, we had gathered food and water and heavy pillows from the couch, emptied a bedroom closet of clothes and shoes and taken refuge inside. We spent the remainder of the night there, sometimes listening by flashlight to the updates from Norcross and his colleagues.

Other times, to conserve battery power, we sat there in darkness, listening to the sounds of howling rampage. To unseen bumps and thumps and shatterings, to the attic trapdoor above us as the wind kept trying to suck it out the house, to quiet, fearful questions from our kids, to crabbing arguments from those same kids (“You’ve got your foot in my side!” “You’re sitting on my leg!”).

And yes, we also sat there and listened to our own silent, earnest conversations with God. In those anxious moments, we wondered — and doubted — whether we would survive this night.

As I sat there, feeling the closet wall bulge in against my back, I found myself thinking: If we were not safe here, if the entire house was destroyed, where could we go to seek shelter? The answer, of course, was nowhere. We would stand naked before the storm. And we would die.

It was sometime after early in the morning before the winds had slackened enough for us to venture out of our bunker. I wasn’t ready for what I saw.

California earthquakes

Let me preface this by telling you this: I am a Californian by birth. With the exception of the most recent swarm of temblors, I have lived through every major earthquake to strike the southern end of the Golden State in the last 30-odd years, including the San Fernando Valley shaker of 1971 that knocked down freeways and a hospital.

I’ve always taken a certain perverse pride in that, always considered quakes the worst of all natural disasters — a he-man’s natural disaster. They strike unexpectedly, devastating you not just physically, but psychologically. It wrecks your belief system when the firm, dependable ground suddenly shakes and trembles on you.

No, I’d tell doubters smugly, it just doesn’t get much worse than a good-sized quake. I was wrong. I knew that the moment I rounded the corner out of that closet and got a look at my home.

andre_fitted.jpeg
The Miami Herald section front on Aug. 25, 1992, the day after Hurricane Andrew decimated South Miami-Dade. “Destruction at Dawn.” Miami Herald File

‘House broke’

My wife, searching for a way to make the disaster comprehensible to our not-quite-2-year-old daughter, would later explain it to her in two words: “House broke.”

I can’t improve on that. House broke.

The roof peeled away. Daylight rushing in. Pink insulation lying all over the floor like big soggy wads of cotton candy. The refrigerator overturned. The windows broken. The carpets soaked with gray water. The patio gone.

House broke. Possessions mangled. Lives shattered.

Busy work

We spent Monday in what I now realize was busy work. It kept us from thinking too much. My oldest son waded out into the river our street had become and cleared the storm-sewer drains of debris. I shoved huge chunks of roofing into neat piles. We nailed up broken windows, took a shovel to the dining room. We even toured the neighborhood, first on foot and then by car.

We found ourselves luckier than some, unluckier than others. We still had four bedrooms — some people had lost their entire homes. Some people’s cars had been twisted and overturned. Some people, the man on the radio told us, had died.

Marveling at such things kept us from having to think too much. For me, thinking finally came late that night as I wandered through the shattered house by flashlight. I looked up through where the kitchen ceiling had been and saw a clear sky filled with more stars than I ever knew were possible.

I realized that those stars were only visible now because there was darkness all around; they were no longer lost in the wash of light from Earth.

020919222_fitted.jpeg
The Miami Herald front page on Friday, Aug. 28, 1992. “We Need Help” as Hurricane Andrew aftermath overwhelmed during relief efforts in Miami-Dade. Miami Herald File

‘What are we going to do?’

My God, I asked myself, where are we going to go? What are we going to do? Where will we live? The questions are still unanswered on the second morning after.

These words go into the computer as I sit in the front seat of my van about 8 a.m. My 7-year-old son spent yesterday trying to convince me to hightail it back to California: Earthquakes, he said, aren’t this scary.

I gave him a lecture about how it’s all right to be scared. What I really wanted to do was agree with him.

The trees are filled just now with singing birds. My wife has come out to stand nearby with my oldest son, and she points out the birds’ return to him. He says they’re probably up there wondering what it is they’ve come back to.

I agree. I am worried. I am scared. I am uncertain. But I am also, in a certain sense, more free than I have ever been in my life.

We invest so much pride, so much importance, so much of ourselves in the things we own.

Blessed

I used to have a pretty nice house in a pretty nice neighborhood. I used to have a record collection to die for, along with thousands of books, magazines and videos lining the shelves of my personal multimedia library. I used to have a TV and a VCR, used to have a near-mint condition 1974 Mercedes, used to have a treasured picture of my late mother, used to have on computer disk the 30-odd chapters of a novel I’ve been working on for the last two years.

Used to have so much.

And now it’s all damaged or destroyed.

But I used to have health, too. Used to have a wonderful wife and five great children. I still do.

And on this morning above all others, I think that entitles me to call myself lucky. No, I think it entitles me to call myself blessed.

Read Next

Man-of-the-hour gets a flood of thanks

Published Aug. 31, 1992

Bryan Norcross, WTVJ-Channel 4 weatherman whose confident voice steered thousands through the storm, was flooded with gifts: flowers, food baskets, a hurricane care package, cologne. He received three marriage proposals (he’s single), plus hundreds of calls and letters from viewers.

“We were in a newsroom meeting this morning, and someone from our assignment desk yells out, ‘I have a producer from L.A. on the phone and he’s wondering if anybody’s tied up the rights to the Bryan Norcross story,’ “ Dick Lobo, WTVJ’s general manager, said Friday.

One South Dade family painted “Thank you Bryan Norcross” on its roof, and there’s a “Bryan Norcross for President” banner at SW 131st Street and 145th Avenue.

Read Next



IMG_Lightning_2_1_7PCAUM0A_L340512408.JPG
STRIKING TWICE: On the seventh day after the storm, thunderstorms sweep through South Miami-Dade, once again drenching furniture in exposed houses and leaving many people mired in mud. This stark scene, near the Homestead city hall, shows graphically the devastation the city suffered. Jon Kral Miami Herald File

Hurricane Andrew’s weird science

Published Sept. 13, 1992

Something strange stands in the middle of this ruined mobile home community in Florida City: two rows of mailboxes. Undamaged. Unbelievable.

Here at Cove Oasis, just west of where the Homestead Turnpike Extension wraps into U.S. 1, Andrew ripped homes like a Doberman chews an old slipper. Shreds everywhere. But the boxes survived. The flag is up on one. Inside, envelopes have crisp edges. Anchored by small, rusty screws, only three of 27 boxes blew away. If only the trailers had fared so well.

“I’ve been telling them to bring me the mail,” jokes Eugenio Aguilar, who sleeps in a pickup next to his crushed home until his federal disability arrives. “No one can believe we have mailboxes.”

Aguilar can’t explain why homes disintegrated while mailboxes survived. “This,” he says, pointing skyward with a cigarette, “is for the man up there to know.”

Perhaps, agree wind experts, but for all the incomprehensible incongruities of destruction, there are also reasons grounded in science.

Hurricane velocities, dynamics

Hurricane velocities, chaotic wind dynamics, pressure jags and jumbled debris create bizarre phenomena. In fact, weird nearly becomes common.

For instance:

Celia Garcia’s trailer near Princeton lost all but one wall. On that wall, a bulletin board still held her children’s drawings — stuck on with tacks.

Jim Gran of Mangowood found a sliver of tar paper driven into a branch like a nail.

In Sam Vega’s yard near Southwood Estates, tough slash pines snapped but tender orchids didn’t lose a petal.

In Mae Robinson’s Cutler Ridge home, Andrew blew out the living room front window and rear glass doors, destroyed furniture, books, drapes and the TV — but left six crystal glasses untouched on a shelf. “It’s beyond belief,” Robinson says. “My mother gave these to me. If you’d have asked me the one thing I wanted to save, these would be it. The Lord blesses us in strange ways.”

Mysteries filled Walter and Joanne Repetski’s hard-hit home near Perrine: There’s the fine wall clock. Usually it needs winding every other day or so. After Andrew, it ticked for more than a week but refused to be wound by key. There’s the glass lamp that exploded, a week after Andrew. And there’s the Madonna portrait, a cherished old print that hung over a bedroom dresser.

During Andrew, the bedroom window and glass door blew out. The next morning, the gilded frame, glass unscratched and backing intact, still hung straight in the disheveled room.

Minus the Madonna.

Joanne Repetski found the print, harmed only by a light watermark, plastered to another wall behind debris. She’s sure this is a quirk of nature, but something more, too. “There are a lot of ways for God to channel little gifts back to you after something terrible like this. I guess this is one of them.”

Weather experts

Events like these never fail to amaze wind and weather experts. But they expect to hear them. They always do.

Peter Ray, a meteorologist at Florida State University, says he once rummaged through a home in Alligator Point, south of Tallahassee, gutted in a hurricane tidal surge. He found a carton of unbroken eggs inside a dresser.

“How it got out of the refrigerator and into the drawer, who can say.”

From the chaos of a hurricane or tornado often comes a certain number of “counter-intuitive” events, says Dean Churchill, assistant meteorology professor at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.

Such as:

How does something soft like tar paper split something hard like wood? “You would have thought it would have crumpled like a car crumples when it hits a wall,” says Peter Sparks, engineering professor at Clemson University. But, propelled by enough speed and striking with perfect geometry, Sparks speculated, it can happen. A million times it wouldn’t. A million and one, maybe.

“You get very high pressure at the point of contact that could possibly penetrate,” says Sparks, who analyzed wind damage from Hurricane Hugo in 1989 in Charleston, S.C., and also viewed Andrew’s destruction.

“I don’t think anyone really knows what happens when you see something like this,” says Churchill. “Tar paper striking into a tree, that’s remarkable.”

Still, he recalls a photograph of tornado damage: A broom straw had been driven into a tree. By far, the most common perplexity is the array of fragile objects that survived: Sam Vega’s orchids, Mae Robinson’s crystal, Celia Garcia’s drawings, Eugenio Aguilar’s mailboxes. These things are probably the easiest to explain, says Kau- Fui Vincent Wong, associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Miami.

“It’s quite clear: When tiny things are in the wake of big ones, they will not be touched.” Even in a roaring hurricane, pockets of perfect calm can form. Furniture, debris, a window overhang can be enough to deflect the wind.

Effect on buildings

Hurricanes also create severe pressure fluctuations and imbalances in buildings, which can produce startling effects.

A home behaves a bit like a jet in flight. Inside, the jet is pressurized to ground level. As long as the plane remains sealed, everything is fine. But rupture a window and physical law suddenly demands equilibrium:

Initially, the more powerful force of outside pressure sucks everything out of the plane. Even in a jet going several hundred miles an hour, the wind rushes in only after pressure has equalized. In a home, the suction can be so strong that windows or doors are yanked out of frames.

Once that occurs, several things can happen, says Jack Cermak, distinguished professor of wind mechanics and engineering at Colorado State University, who developed the first wind-tunnel testing for large buildings and is considered the father of wind engineering.

First, the wind finds somewhere to go: through the roof, windows, doors. “Once the wind gets into the building, it’s like blowing up a balloon,” he says. This can prove devastating: Wind forced through a small opening — say, from one window to another inside a home — can accelerate to as much as twice its outside speed.

But if a structure is strong enough, once pressure equalizes and wind is trapped inside, a room can turn eerily calm — even with the hurricane raging outside.

The pressure change probably explains the Madonna mystery. The experts’ best guess: When the first window blew, suction lifted the frame from its backing and pulled the print out. Once pressure equalized, wind rushed back in and sealed the frame — minus print — to its backing. How the frame hung straight and on its nail is the astounding part.

Impact on neighborhoods

Outside homes, Andrew left questions just as baffling.

While many neighborhoods showed disturbingly similar failures related to workmanship, structural or building-code problems, many areas had homes barely damaged next to ones devastated. It’s not always a matter of construction, experts say.

As everyone who watched Bryan Norcross now knows, hurricanes aren’t a solid wall of wind. Bands of rain and wind — those colored swirls on the TV radar — vary in intensity.

On a normal day, temperatures, wind speed and direction can differ astonishingly — even block to block. Climatologists call these microclimates.

A hurricane produces something akin to microclimates, but the differences are even more dramatic, says Ranier Bleck, a UM professor of meteorology and physical oceanography.

“You see some trees that got it, and 50 feet or 100 feet away a tree the same type and size is standing,” says Bleck.

In the hard-hit Villages, an upscale community in Homestead, one anguished man went from neighbor to neighbor after the storm to say how ashamed he was that his home had fared so well. But if luck, fate or nature had shifted the wind’s direction a few degrees, his place might have been the one ruined.

When wind hits a building, says Colorado State’s Cermak, it slows, turns and speeds up again. With the wind howling in from one direction, one home could protect another. If the wind shifts a bit, though, wind can accelerate off the first home and buffet the second more severely, something called “channeling.”

Buildings significantly taller than the ones around them also can act like “stirring rods,” Cermak says, funneling fierce winds down into surrounding areas. Since there’s no way to predict wind direction, it’s impossible to buy a home or building that will always be buffered.

But generally, homes at the edges of communities or with little foliage took harder hits, says Dale Perry, endowed professor of architecture at Texas A&M University.

Studies have shown that fences, hedges and trees cut wind dramatically. The down side, of course, is that hurricanes can turn them into missiles.

Reason to rebuild

Perry worries that frightened homeowners won’t replant. “That’s exactly the wrong thing to do,” he says. “Don’t get rid of that tree, I’m telling you. The tree maybe fell on your house and damaged your roof, but if that tree weren’t there maybe your house wouldn’t be there either.”

Across U.S. 1 from the devastated Cutler Ridge Mall sits a small pawn shop called The Cash Dome. It lost only awnings. The building looks like two igloos sitting side by side. Ugly as heck, but aerodynamic as hell: no straight lines to become pressure points.

“Shape, of course, has a profound effect,” says Henry Liu, a civil engineering professor who specializes in aerodynamics at the University of Missouri. This, wind experts say, also explains why small trees stood where big ones fell. And why tall, thin slash pine did better than tall, wide ficus.

Slippery.

In the devastation of trailer parks, Clemson’s Sparks kept noticing that the airplane shapes of Airstream trailers were intact, while squarish homes folded. Along U.S. 1 south of Cutler Ridge stands an old-style farmer’s market — a football-field-sized open building made of steel I-bars. It lost only a few sheet-metal panels from its roof.

Without walls, the wind passed through. Canary cages — scattered in the wreckage of mobile homes — did well for the same reason, unless something heavy crushed them.

A little farther down U.S. 1, some of South Dade’s barnlike packing plants collapsed, their high walls acting like sails. Homestead’s signature water towers, seemingly so vulnerable, withstood the onslaught. Their circular shape reduces pressure on any one spot.

The one flat area at the tower in Tom Harris Field, an entry door, was heavily damaged, however.

Shape of houses, roofs

Hip roofs — four-sided designs that reduce what engineers call “windloading” — generally fared better than more common two-sided gable roofs.

In principal, multisided hexagonal homes would fare better than the square four-sided boxes now built. And ovals would be even better.

“Normally, the kind of shape you want to have may not be practical for homeowners,” says Liu. Price for one thing. Aesthetics for another.

“No one wants to live in igloos.”

Scientists will collect data and analyze it. They’ll be able to answer most questions and make good guesses at others.

Take the exploding glass lamp. Could be a delayed reaction to pressure stress, some experts say.

UM’s Bleck says glass, perhaps due to some invisible flaw, can spontaneously crack. And that ever-ticking wall clock? Bleck says pressure change couldn’t tighten a spring. Wind? Unlikely. Maybe someone wound it, he says, and forgot they did. Maybe something inside broke.

And if not? “I would consider that metaphysical,” Bleck says.

HurricaneSeasonLastingScars.JPG
In this May 6, 2019, photo, Jeff Blakley shows off some of the photos and newspapers documenting the destruction to the town by Hurricane Andrew on display at the Historic Homestead Town Hall Museum in Homestead, Florida. Blakely remembers watching the exodus while pulling 12-hour shifts as a BellSouth lineman, repairing telephone lines for the ravaged area. Wilfredo Lee AP

Scientific mysteries

Science, he says, can’t explain everything. “We do have a fair share of calls from people who report strange things and blame it on this or that,” Bleck says. “We plead ignorance. We’re lucky we can explain certain things based on the laws of physics.”

In South Dade, some of Andrew’s strangest doings — like the miracle mailboxes of the Cove Oasis trailer park — will remain forever mystifying.

But Eugenio Aguilar has learned at least one lesson from them. He endured Andrew in his trailer because the hurricane shelter would not accept his long-haired Chihuahua, Crystal. Aguilar curled in his mattress with Crystal as his trailer was crushed and flipped. “Next time,” he says, opening the door to his hurricane- proof mailbox, “I will put my dog inside and go to the shelter.”

Ill wind

Wind can harm buildings. South Florida knows that well. But the wind, as the saying goes, also can blow ill:

In the book “Weathering,” author Stephen Rosen documented how wind currents can affect — often mysteriously — human health. One infamous wind, the foehn, begins as a warm current south of the Alps. It rises over mountains, cools, dries and drops in Switzerland and Bavaria. The wind has been linked with anxiety, insomnia, nightmares and even crime and suicide, Rosen writes.

Science Digest has described the effects of the sharav, a hot and dry wind from the Sahara Desert. In a study of 200 people who reported that they were sensitive to the sharav, Israeli scientist Felix Sulman documented migraines, sleeplessness and irritability in 88 people, and a reduction in hormones that help fight stress in another 86. The remaining people showed both effects. The reasons remain largely uncertain.

High-velocity winds have been linked with vascular problems, Science Digest says, perhaps because cold winds make blood vessels contract, increasing blood pressure and the chances of strokes or heart failure. Strong humid winds can aggravate tuberculosis, and easterlies have been linked to epilepsy.

‘Voice in Darkness’ leads a panel

Published Aug. 24, 2002

Ten years later, Bryan Norcross said, people still come up to him and start weeping.

Norcross was the voice of Hurricane Andrew, covering it for WTVJ and radio station Y-100: “It was dark, and I was the voice in the darkness.”

Now a meteorologist for WFOR-CBS 4, Norcross returned to Homestead on Friday night to lead a discussion panel on the decade since Andrew.

Amid the bustle of Historic Main Street’s Taste of Homestead and Florida City festivities, Norcross and eight experts answered questions outdoors. The panelists agreed any new hurricane would find South Florida better prepared.

Charles Danger, Miami-Dade County building department director, said “nobody in the country uses a better building code” now. The problem is persuading owners of old houses to hurricane-proof them, Danger said. Miami-Dade offers money to low-income homeowners older than age 65 to strengthen their homes. (The county’s Emergency Management Office has more information on the program.)

“That program hasn’t been used as much as it could have,” Danger said.

In 1992, Norcross said, there was also a lack of sources for residents to get information.

“There was only one voice from the government, and that was Bob Sheets,” former National Hurricane Center director. “We didn’t know what the government was doing.”

Now, he said, accessing the government for information is much easier.

After the storm, Norcross worked 17-hour days. Then, for two years, he was a fixture on the talk show circuit.

Looking at old news footage over the past few weeks, he discovered “what I had blocked out was the sheer anguish people went through,” he said.

Read Next

Miami Herald Real Time/Breaking News reporter Howard Cohen, a 2017 Media Excellence Awards winner, has covered pop music, theater, health and fitness, obituaries, municipal government and general assignment. He started his career in the Features department at the Miami Herald in 1991.

  Comments