Author’s Note: While at the time of this writing Isiais is still off the Florida coast but almost all of the bad weather associated with the system is almost certain to avoid the state.
In the midst of a hyper-partisan election season and the worst pandemic the US has faced in over 100 years, Hurricane season was largely forgotten. Then last week, a weakish and ragged-looking tropical cyclone emerged off the coast of Africa. Eventually named, Isaias, the storm consistently fought dry air, Saharan dust and wind sheer on its journey westward.
The storm served a wake up call for many in Florida. Whether it was Senator Marco Rubio trying to subtly change the subject from COVID-19 and Florida becoming the global epicenter of the virus, to local officials scrambling, Isaias proved a wake-up call – the tropics don’t stop at our whims.
Unfortunately, too many didn’t pay close enough attention. The knock-on effect from the blissful ignorance many have shown toward COVID_19, continued with Isaias. Fortunately, the storm obliged us, giving us another chance. Next time, we may not be so lucky.
Governor Ron DeSantis, despite his highly botched COVID_19 response, and his continued embarrassing public posture on our state’s economy, excelled once again with a storm looming. Desantis is a native Floridian and as we noted on these pages last year his understanding of tropical weather excels, when contrasted with his non-native predecessor Rick Scott. DeSantis, understands these storms, its history and potential impact (and also when a storm may not provide the advertised punch).
He also, unlike Scott understands you don’t declare a state of emergency too early when you don’t even know if a storm will develop or threaten. Quite frankly, Scott often abused the idea of declaring State of Emergencies, but that’s a topic for another day. In DeSantis’ two storm threats since becoming Governor, he has acted far more responsibly than Scott did, in my opinion.
But too many people still didn’t get the message.
It must be remembered that Isaias is an early season storm. Atmospheric conditions are almost never terribly conducive to development of a menacing Cape Verde type system in late July or early August, and the storm fought hard against hostile conditions during its entire journey westward. It’s remarkable it ever attained Hurricane strength, and even more remarkable it survived Hispaniola and its high elevations.
But a storm like Isaias, if it forms a month from now, will have much more favorable conditions atmospherically, warmer water to develop over and history on its side. Florida is not ready for such a storm as it stands now.
On Friday, The Weather Channel (TWC) featured tourists, carefree on Florida’s beaches, eating in restaurants, sipping coffee in cafes and in swimming pools at hotels. Never mind that this influx of outsiders is exasperating out already difficult COVID_19 situation, but most seemed wholly unaware of a potentially dangerous storm barreling our way. Some didn’t even think Coronavirus was a big deal.
A lack of faith in science and general reason has infected this country in 2020 and this was yet another example.
At one point during the build-up to this storm, the entire Florida East Coast was under either a Hurricane Warning (Boca Raton to the Volusia/Flagler Line), Hurricane Watch/Tropical Storm Warning (Hallandale Beach to Deerfield Beach, which is basically just saying Broward County) or Tropical Storm Warnings (Ocean Reef to Golden Beach, Volusia/Flagler line first to Ponte Vedra and eventually into Georgia). Emergency operations already stretched beyond capacity due to COVID_19 needed to pivot quickly to handle a Hurricane as well.
While elected officials and Emergency Operations pivoted as best they could, the response of Floridians and tourists alike seemed to be delayed and lazier than typical storms of the past. Perhaps its fatigue for what 2020 has brought us, or worse yet a developing lack of faith in science and elected officials.
In the COVID era even the local news media had to split time on the local newscasts – because after all far more Floridians (7,084 as of today) will lose their life to COVID_19 than to any tropical system. As Coronavirus continues to ravage the state causing loss of life and for those who live with the virus, a potentially diminished quality of life, storms still will target and ravage the state.
The close call with Isiais should prove a wake up call. But will it?
What we learned from Isiais is with Florida in the heart of the Coronavirus pandemic we must have emergency contingencies in place if we need to use shelters and absorb outsiders visiting the state. We need people to listen to warnings, something they have become particularly bad at this year.
Citizens and tourists both need to have faith in science and emergency messages. These are overwhelming tasks and will be difficult to get completely right. But in the coming weeks we need to clamp down and get our act together. Because the next storm won’t be as forgiving as Isaias was.