My son lives in Southern California. He loves it there and, when I visit him, I can easily see the attraction. Rolling hills are blanketed by morning fog that melts away as a kind, almost gentle sun rises and warms the land. Most of the year the daytime temperature seldom gets above 87f (30.5c) and nighttime temps hangs around a very comfortable 65f (18c). Beaches to the west, mountains and desert to the east, large urban areas to the north and south and everywhere you turn you feel that iconic California vibe. What’s not to love?
Earthquakes, that’s what.
The ground in SoCal shakes and shimmies so often it doesn’t even register with the locals. I ask my son how is it that he can sleep when the very earth rumbles like the world is siting on one of those hotel vibrating massage beds and someone just put in a quarter. He thinks nothing of it. It’s part of the environment, like the mild temps and the morning fog. The sun shines, the breezes blow, and the earth shakes; that life in Southern California.
Of course, scientists say that ‘The Big One’ is going to happen at some point and a large portion of Southern California, from San Francisco to Baja, will split off from the mainland and become a new island and the destruction and the number of lives lost will be incalculable. My son will counter saying that scientists have been saying that for so long that most folks just don’t care anymore. If it happens, it happens. Que sera sera!
My son will then point to Central Florida, where I live, where midday summertime temps can easily hit 100f (38c) with humidity hovering near 95%. He points to how often we get drenching, bone shaking thunderstorms, tornadoes, waterspouts, rip tides, and, of course, hurricanes. It’s all true, but I mitigate it all by telling him how much I enjoy the thunderstorms (I actually do enjoy them), that tornadoes are relatively rare (compared to the Midwest, for instance), and waterspouts and riptides can occur anywhere. And because I live near Orlando, which is at least 60 miles or more from any coast, by the time most hurricanes reach us, most of the destructive power has been sapped from them and they become little more than an aggressive tropical storm. Something most Central Floridians sleep through.
That was a great argument until Hurricane Ian hit this passed week. Ian was born in the Gulf of Mexico where the Gulf’s warm waters are the ideal nursery for such storms. In fact, the Gulf of Mexico is so nurturing that any storm that wanders into the area will find new strength. Hurricane Katrina, that devastated many Gulf States in 2005, was such a storm. It originated in the Atlantic and, after briefly brushing Florida as a weak Category 1 hurricane, it wandered into the Gulf where it was invigorated and became one of the most intense and damaging hurricanes to hit the US.
Even though Ian has long since left Florida, the damage it left behind is still being tabulated. That’s because Ian was a super-saturated storm. It pulled so much water out of the Gulf that water levels in Tampa Bay were drained ahead of the storm, leaving boats docked in the bay lying in mud. Ian, in turn, dumped all of that water in a huge swath across Central Florida, from Tampa in the west to Daytona Beach on the eastern coast. On average over a foot (30cm) of rain fell in a 24 hour period. I live in Winter Springs, which is just east of the center of Central FL, and we got more than 15 inches (38cm) of rain. Add to that the damage Category 4 hurricane winds (130-156mph (209-251kph)) can cause and you got a recipe for disaster on a biblical scale.
Florida, especially Central Florida, is a big sand bar and sand can get saturated quickly. All of that rainfall quickly filled the thousands of lakes and ponds that dot the Florida landscape. Creeks became streams. Streams became rivers and rivers overflowed their banks, inundating places that normally are flood-free.
I’m happy to report that my house and my immediate neighborhood escaped with minimal damage. I was fortunate. Many, many homes suffered damage so severe that rebuilding is questionable. Huge trees, some more than 100 years old, uprooted or had massive limbs sheared off. Some fell on houses and cars. Winds in advance of the storm wreaked havoc in marinas, piling boats on top of each other. Power outages affected hundreds of thousands and water and sewage systems were push far past their ability to cope, leaving residents without potable water or viable waste disposal. I was without power for almost two days, again, I’m lucky because there are still thousands without power. I was also without running water. The water is back on now, but local utilities advise us to minimize use of our sewage systems and boil any water from our spigots before consuming.
And there have been deaths caused, either directly or indirectly, by the storm. Such things one may not be able to prepare for and they are always sad when they occur.
I did prepare in advance of the storm, as many Floridians did. Though flooding is not an issue at my home, I gathered sandbags and positioned them in what I thought were vulnerable places, just in case. I bought water and ice and stocked up of nonperishable foods. I also helped friends prepare as much as I could.
It turned out that my preparations were not needed. I and my friends all came through the storm ok.
As I sit and reflect on Hurricane Ian and the very real dangers that exist in a place where such storms can and do occur, I think about my son and what I perceived as his somewhat cavalier attitude towards the possibility of a devastating earthquake in SoCal. I realize now that his attitude is not so much cavalier as it is a simple matter of choice. He chooses to live there, understands the dangers, has prepared as much as he can for them, and now he lives his life without worrying about if or when The Big One will strike. If it does, it does and he will do what he can to survive it.
I guess the same can be said for anyone who chooses to live in places in spite of known dangers. We don’t often get storms like Ian. Most hurricanes that hit Florida tend to be little more than annoyances, like snowfall in the northeast, or dust storms in the southwest deserts. On occasion an anomalous event will happen, such as Ian here, or a Nor’easter in the northeast. They happen, you prep for it then deal with it and the aftermath when they occur, and you move on if you can, however you can. Worrying about it beforehand only degrades the quality of life that is here and now.
And that, my friends, is what really matters.