Carl Hiaasen

Hurricanes bring certain certainties — despite uncertainty

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has been criticized for voting against federal aid for the victims of Superstorm Sandy, while requesting funds after Hurricane Harvey swamped Houston.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has been criticized for voting against federal aid for the victims of Superstorm Sandy, while requesting funds after Hurricane Harvey swamped Houston. NBC News

Meteorologists call it the “cone of uncertainty,” but we civilians refer to it variously as the cone of doom, the cone of disorder, the cone of prayer, or the cone of heavy pharmaceuticals.

It is here in that critical path — anxiously studying our location on each new forecast map — we await a monster hurricane.

Irma is poised to kick Florida’s ass.

This is the deal when you choose to live on basically a sand bar in the tropics. Sooner or later, you’ll get your ass kicked by weather.

When Donna hammered the state in 1960, we huddled inside my parents’ shuttered house and listened to the news on a transistor radio, hoping we wouldn’t run out of batteries.

There was no Weather Channel, no colorful cone to contemplate, no spaghetti models to ponder. The sound of trees snapping is what told us the storm had arrived.

Now, thanks to amazing science, we can start fretting 10 days in advance, as soon as the first unruly cloud creeps off the coast of Africa.

Here’s a line that native Floridians love to hear: “You were born here. You must be used to this.”

Seriously? Nobody ever gets used to it, no matter how many hurricanes they experience. If you’re not worried, you’re a certifiable moron.

The wait is always grinding. The blow is always frightening. The cleanup is always grueling.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott urges residents who live in an evacuation zones to not wait, and instead leave now before the possible arrival of Hurricane Irma during a press conference on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2017.

If you luck out and the worst of it misses you, that means somebody else got smacked.

Twenty-five years ago, Andrew left a moonscape of destruction in south Miami-Dade. Yet if you drove just 40 miles south to Tavernier, you saw untouched houses where not even the garbage cans got knocked over.

Eleven months ago, Matthew blasted Haiti, killing more than 580 people before steaming toward Florida. Then it randomly sidestepped Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm.

Contrary to the blather of Pat Robertson and other doomsday preachers, hurricanes don’t seek out certain sinners to punish. The atmospheric forces guiding each storm are natural, well-documented, and utterly uncontrollable.

The aftermath is the most predictable part of any major hurricane encounter. That’s when people desperately turn to the big, bad, bumbling U.S. government.

It’s happening now in Texas, following the heart-crushing devastation from Hurricane Harvey. Politicians such as Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. Greg Abbott, who built their careers ranting against the federal bureaucracy, are now singing a different tune: Help!

More than 570,000 Texans have already applied for FEMA grants. Unfortunately, the agency’s Emergency Response Fund will run out of money by the time this column is published, unless Congress (for once) moves fast.

Ironically, the cry for Harvey relief is being led by none other than President Trump, who recently proposed slashing FEMA’s budget by $600 million. Now he’s seeking almost $8 billion in aid for Houston and other flooded communities.

This is typical blow-hard hurricane politics, which is tolerable if the result is getting crucial assistance to the victims.

Cruz’s sneering opposition to the Hurricane Sandy relief package has come back to haunt him. Another hypocrite who voted against the New Jersey aid bill was our own Marco Rubio, who’s already pleading for federal dollars to help Floridians in Irma’s path.

Drone captures the calm before Hurricane Irma. Residents and visitors emptied the city, following evacuation orders.

A path, by the way, that all of us are able to track thanks to the actual good work of another federal agency. It’s the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

NOAA runs a little outfit called the National Weather Service. Without its planes, satellites, and experts, we’d still be following killer storms with pencils and paper hurricane maps.

Instead we can turn on the TV or go online to watch Irma’s approach hour by hour, complete with graphics showing expected storm surges, rainfall potential, and wind speed probabilities. The science is literally phenomenal.

Earlier this year, Trump submitted a budget that would cut funding to NOAA by 17 percent. The satellite data division alone would lose $513 million.

Satellite data is what makes it possible for us to watch Irma right now. There’s no doubt Trump himself is watching.

Being a part-time Palm Beach resident with waterfront property, you’d think he would appreciate NOAA’s value, especially during hurricane season.

That cone you see on your high-def TV, Mr. President? It’s way more important than a new border wall.

Ask anyone in Houston today, or Miami tomorrow.

Related stories from Miami Herald

  Comments