A Veteran Florida Hurricane Reporter Suggests All Newcomers Get a New Kind of Welcome Guide
If newcomers to Florida all got a handout showing the paths of past hurricanes, would they be as quick to settle in harm's way? Probably, but it's worth trying.
Updated - As the tsunami-like surge of category 4 Hurricane Ian was about to sweep the crowded shores around Fort Myers, Florida, I spent some time talking with Craig Pittman (@craigtimes), an author and a columnist for the Florida Phoenix who for decades covered Floridians' collision with nature for the Tampa Bay Times. Like a couple million others in the region, he was hunkered in a hotel.
I hope you'll listen to the full conversation below, but Pittman said one thing, particularly, that resonated as politicians from President Joe Biden to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis toured the devastation, mourned those who perished, met survivors and spread the ever-present "build back better" gospel.
Read up on the visit here in The Times.
There are, of course, some places that shouldn't build back better, but should build forward elsewhere - as is also the case in many wildfire zones and inland floodplains. The combination of decades of building an "expanding bull's eye" of development in established climate and coastal danger zones and changes driven by global warming guarantees REbuilding will be a fool's errand.
And it's time to be brutally transparent with newcomers to the tempestuous state of Florida.
Earthquake hot spots have annual Great Shakeouts. Most Florida counties have detailed evacuation plans (here's Lee County's evacuation zone map). But how many residents run the drill?
We need to support those whose lives were upended and those who are working tirelessly to aid the recovery. But it's important to keep a sense of humor too.
With all of this in mind, here's what my friend Craig said:
"Florida is the state that has been hit by more hurricanes than any other state. It's like we're the chin that the North American continent sticks out in the Caribbean and says, hit me. And they do.
"If it were up to me, all the 900 new people who move to Florida every day would get a brochure when they arrive that would show them everywhere a hurricane has hit in Florida."
Here's a mockup I propose.
[Such a brochure should show "where the nearest Waffle House is - because of Craig Fugate, the former FEMA head who was from Florida. He's the one who famously declared when the when the Waffle House is closed, you know, it's serious. And there'd be a tutorial on hurricane terminology. You'd be taught that spaghetti models do not pose for the cover of Italian Vogue. The cone of uncertainty is not a Horcrux thought by a Harry Potter, and Saffir-Simpson is not Homer's brother. And there'd be one more too. If you see Jim Cantore run the other way."