The Magic of Hurricanes

Hurricanes can be terrifying as Ian recently demonstrated on the west coast of Florida. Last week, a category 1 called Hurricane Nicole threatened the east coast. It was a major disruption coming soon after a minor one — the clock change from daylight savings time. Adjusting to sunup and the hour setback was always distressing when I wintered up north. Yet the threat of a category 1 did not raise my blood pressure. I believe when you live waterside you assume the risk. That is a choice one makes—perhaps it is a lifestyle or even a sense of adventure. I choose to wait out hurricanes. This time I was lucky.

The streets looked like a modern-day ghost town. Restaurants and shops closed early once the alerts started to spike between cell phones and the tv weather reports. An evacuation order was in effect in Palm Beach so roads emptied of cars and trucks as the trade parade started crossing west over the bridges that serve Palm Beach. As the transient working population left together with many of the island residents, many headed for hotels inland in West Palm Beach, everything quieted down except for the wind, which steadily picked up momentum. The periodic rain droplet fell yet many sidewalks and streets remained dry despite the scattered precipitation and wind gusts. The stormy, tropical air was refreshing. The temperature was a steady 75 degrees. It was a Caribbean Island feel. The waves along Ocean Road topped the hard revetment structures. Waves as high as 20 feet crashed onto the waterfront roads, where locals out walking recorded the wave action on their cell phones. It was a dangerous walk since a rogue wave could easily overwhelm anyone in its path.

The social life of this new Caribbean-like island continued on, with a few storm-influenced modifications. As restaurants were closed, friends took to each other’s homes and apartments for cocktails and quickly thrown together dinners planned in anticipation of the storm touching down later on. Locals are always prepared for a hurricane party. Extra umbrellas and flip flops are always on hand. Even the recent memory of Hurricane Ian didn’t scare off everyone from enjoying the evening. With storm shutters fastened down, candles and flashlights were standard hardware should the power go out. In preparation of full electric failure, ice was stacked in buckets and cold food was the fare on offer. The phrase “house buttoned up” was heard frequently. Cars were parked in covered areas to avoid falling trees. Patio furniture was brought indoors. “Why not” was the common response to an invite from the neighbor downstairs whom one never met in five years of residency in the same apartment building. We all watched the weather reports on tv, with its repetitive charts and projections. After nothing but midterms news the change was a relief. The counterclockwise spin of the hurricane drove the action northeast. On the tv screen, the white swirling mass moved two inches to the left and up. Those two little inches meant our Category 1 hurricane was just downgraded. The next morning, I awoke and thought I was still dreaming. Just like that a category 1 hurricane became a tropical rainstorm. That relief felt something like magic.