Thursday, October 6, 2016

Hurricane Matthew

Well, well, the first bands of clouds from Hurricane Matthew are now passing over my house in Boynton Beach, Florida. One current forecast has the eye of the storm hitting the coast about 15 kilometers north of me, in West Palm Beach,  and then skimming the coast north and east to the Carolinas. Of course, 15 km is nothing to a hurricane like this. One tiny jiggle, and I could take a direct hit.  It is quite a powerful storm. It's currently a strong Category 3 with winds of 125 miles per hour (mph), but it's forecast to strengthen to a Category 4 before coming ashore.

I've been through six or seven hurricanes, not counting those I successfully dodged through evacuation, so I know that a Category 3 or 4 is no fun. I've never thought that hurricanes were a blast, but a major hurricane, Category 3 or higher, is a different beast from a Category 1 or 2. There's a world of difference between a 75 mph wind and a 150 mph wind. The difference is that, while a Category 1 storm may harm buildings, the damage is usually light, whereas a Category 4 can wreck, ruin, flatten, and totally destroy houses and other structures. The contrast is described in the Saffir-Simpson scale as "some damage" (Category 1) versus "catastrophic damage" (Category 4). Here's how NOAA describes a Category 4 hurricane:

"Well-built framed homes can sustain severe damage with loss of most of the roof structure and/or some exterior walls. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted and power poles downed. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months."

The only good news is that the coast will be on the weak side of the storm--provided it doesn't come fully ashore--and also the storm is fairly compact--so that the very high winds only extend 30 or 50 miles from the eye. 

The bad news is that the storm surge is expected to be very powerful and dangerous. The storm has the potential to scour archaeological sites off the beaches from here to the Carolinas. In this region, the coastal sites, or what survives of them, are highly significant and, of course, already imperiled by sea-level rise. 

No small number of my students live north of me in the zones of greatest danger, from West Palm to Jupiter to Vero Beach. If you read this, seek shelter and stay safe. As the emergency folks say, you should be rushing your emergency preparations to completion.

I'm happy that my wife is out of town and safe. I'm supposed to fly out of Miami International Airport tomorrow afternoon to join her. Last time I checked, my flight was not eligible for a free rebooking. I have no idea whether the airport will be open tomorrow, and even if it is, who knows whether I will be able to get there. If my house is gone, I may have more important things to do. 

Of course, the Weather Channel is tuned to such an intensely unrelenting pitch of hysterical fear-mongering that I don't know how they can talk when they are panting so hard. If their voices get any higher, only dogs will be able to hear them. CNN is, naturally, giving them a run for their money.

It took me quite a few hours last night and this morning to get my inadequate hurricane shutters locked down. I hadn't lowered them in at least 6 or 7 years, and several of them were welded or rusted in place. I had to buy new parts and tools, and I ultimately had to cut some parts with a hacksaw to lower them, and even drilled new bolt holes to fasten them. Fortunately, as a bit of cave archaeologist, I had a great headlamp that I was able to use to work in the dark. It was quite a relief to finally get the the shutters in place. I've packed up most of our essential papers and other stuff just in case the roof blows off toward Tampa, and I need to jump in the car. 

Get under cover and stay safe!

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