Florida doesn’t have the friendliest history with hurricane names ending in A? Donna, Katrina, Wilma … and now Irma? We’ve had so many calm years and a few overblown near misses lately to falsely believe Florida is coated in hurricane-proof Teflon. But every once in a while, a storm comes along that rattles longtime South Floridians to the core. Category 5 Irma is such a storm.
Hurricane Matthew threw us a scare last year but went wide right. Now, Hurricane Irma is at our doorstep, and we all have a queasy feeling. And I’m dropping my dining critic’s fork and going back to the world of hard news again for the storm’s duration.
I have lived in South Florida since 1989, have been through Andrew (1992) and Wilma (2005), and my advice is to greet Mother Nature’s fury with respect, awe and humor. All those computer model forecast strands covering the state look like spaghetti on a plate. To use another analogy: Irma is a spinning 180 mph bowling ball and Florida is the head pin. Strike?
Major hurricanes don’t know from forecast tracks and computer models. They often have a mind of their own. Here is an A to Z guide to Irma:
A is for Andrew, still the mother of all South Florida hurricanes and the barometer by which others are judged. Here’s hoping it stays that way.
B is for Batteries, which have been sitting on my shelf for so long, I pray they still work.
C is for Citizens, the state-run insurance company that has built up billions of dollars in reserves through many storm-free years. A few bad hours could wipe that all out. All those smaller private insurers that have scooped up so many Citizens policies this decade say they can handle a big storm. We shall see.
D is for Doughnuts, which I like to eat by the dozen when we’re in the Cone of Concern.
E is for Electricity, which we all take for granted until it's out for two weeks. FPL says it has hardened the grid since Wilma, which knocked out power to 98 percent of South Florida. Keep your flashlights handy. And don’t count on your smart phones or social media feeds, either. A storm this furious could knock down cellular towers.
F is for FEMA, the federal disaster agency. People who want to shrink government usually scream loudest when FEMA doesn't arrive quickly after a storm.
G is for Gamble, what homeowners such as me do when we don't install shutters.
H is for Hurricane Hysteria, the condition that strikes broadcasters when storm warnings are issued. For sanity’s sake, don’t watch too much TV too soon. But when the weather deteriorates, keep on top of information however you can (don’t forget an old-fashioned battery-powered radio).
I is for Insurance, which is ridiculously expensive and often seems a waste. But not this week.
J is for Junk Food. Goes great with hurricane hysteria.
K is for Krispy Kremes, one of my favorite Cone of Concern comfort foods (see D).
L is for Lowe's, which has lines as long as Home Depot's when big storms threaten.
M is for Max Mayfield, the soothing former National Hurricane Center director who talks us down as WPLG-Ch. 10's lead storm expert. If a North Korean nuke were headed to the United States, I'd want to hear it from Mayfield.
N is for the National Hurricane Center in Doral, whose website is another essential: NHC.NOAA.gov. On Wednesday, the site had so much traffic it slowed to a crawl loading and nearly crashed. I’ve never seen that before.
O is Oreos, another of my storm food favorites.
P is for Plywood, among the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse of pre-storm purchases, along with bottled water, ice and gasoline.
Q is for Quiet, the kind of weekend we’d like.
R is for Renters, the most carefree people around today (they’re the ones planning hurricane parties).
S is for storm surge, serious business for those near the coast. If there are evacuation orders issued, heed them.
T is for Tums, which I chew by the bottle when my stomach is churning like the Atlantic.
U is for UKMET, one of the many computer models used to predict the course of hurricanes. If you can name more than three, you lived here during the crazy storm years of 2004-2005.
V is for Vancouver, which sounds like a nice place to be right now.
W is for Wilma, the last hurricane to hit South Florida, in October 2005. My daughter was still in the womb for that one. This time, she’s hyperaware and more than a little concerned. “Is there such a thing as a Category 6 hurricane?” she asked the other night. “Only in ‘This Is Spinal Tap,’ ” I said, explaining the comedy film that featured an amplifier that went to 11.
X is for Xanax, a prescription anti-anxiety drug. Used in a sentence: “Doctor, my heart is racing. May I please get some more Xanax?”
Y is for Yippee, the sound you make when a storm has passed and your roof is still attached.
Z is for Zello, a digital walkie-talkie that has become the hottest app around, even though it reportedly will not work when cell-phone towers are down and WiFi is knocked out. Stay safe and good luck to all.