2011 Hurricane Season Reason to Be Wary, Not Afraid

COMMENTARY | The 2011 hurricane forecast was just released by NOAA, and while it contains dire predictions of an extremely busy hurricane season, I’m not too worried. I’ve lived most of my life in parts of the country where hurricanes are just a fact of life. My family lived through Hurricane Andrew, though our house was destroyed and I had to switch school districts while over the course of many months it was rebuilt. I was 8, and far from being traumatized, I thought it was cool that my second floor bedroom closet was now in a pile of drywall by the front door. My bookshelf, made of rickety black metal, was miraculously untouched.

As I’ve gotten older, that attitude hasn’t changed much. I live in New York now, where hurricanes do hit but are rarer. Even when I was still in high school in south Florida, tropical storm warnings meant days off of school. I thought of them as the South’s answer to snow days. Most storms blew over with little to no damage, resulting in a few hours or days without electricity at most.

When I was older and attending the University of Miami, storms were just an excuse to have a hurricane party. My fellow students and I would choose the sturdiest house to barricade ourselves in with some beer and board games. If we were without power afterward, it just meant we had to barbeque anything and everything left in our fridge before it went bad — another excuse to socialize. The longest I went without electricity during that time period was three weeks one hurricane season; annoying and uncomfortable, but hardly deadly.

But apart from my own rather benign attitude toward hurricanes, here’s why I’m not too worried. Once the 2011 predictions are broken down, they aren’t as bad as they seem. Though there should be 12-16 storms, the majority of those will be minor ones that won’t do much damage even if they make landfall. Last year there were 19 named storms, the Sun Sentinel reports, more than is being predicted for this year, but only one wimpy one made landfall in the United States. Floridians generally don’t even put up shutters for tropical storms or category one storms. Even category twos aren’t much to fear. Out of the three to six major storms predicted, most of those will probably stay far out in the ocean, blowing themselves out where they won’t do any harm.

Another reason to stay calm is that Florida, which is generally one of the hardest-hit hurricane states, is probably also the most prepared for a major storm for that very reason. Andrew’s lessons still linger and homes and businesses are built to be able to withstand all but the strongest storm. And from what I’ve seen, the further north a hurricane travels, the weaker it gets, since the warm water is what fuels them. So if Florida is bypassed, the northern states probably won’t have too much to worry about anyway. Of course there are exceptions, but catastrophic storms are fairly rare. People should do what they can to prepare, but not live in fear of something that is unlikely to happen.

The only states that worry me are the ones around the Gulf of Mexico, where warm waters can fuel storms. But to get to the Gulf, storms generally have to pass over Florida first, and there they usually blow themselves out while on land. I’m not an expert, but I’ve watched hurricanes form and dissolve out in the ocean year after year and lived through plenty of my own. In the end, the worst thing is to live in fear. No matter how many or how few storms are predicted, it only takes one. So rather than live afraid, it’s better to buy hurricane shutters, stockpile a few gallons of water and some canned goods, and then move on with your life.