Blog: Is South Florida ‘due’ for a storm? Yes. No. Maybe.

May 30, 2011

The following article was published in the Palm Beach Post on May 30, 2011:

Is South Florida “due” for a storm?  Yes.  No.  Maybe.

By Eliot Kleinberg

With hurricane season starting Wednesday, and following a 5-year stretch in which no hurricanes struck Florida, the pundits have spun the wheel of fortune and determined that the state — South Florida — Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast — your house — definitely will get a hurricane this year.

Predicting we’re “due” is as irresponsible as predicting we’re not.

Whether a storm struck last year, or not for a long time, has absolutely no effect on whether it will strike, or not strike, this year. None. The weather gods don’t work that way.

As we’ve said many times this year, 2010 was the third busiest season on record, and nothing hit Florida. And 1992 brought only four hurricanes, one of which was Andrew.

After David in 1979, this region didn’t get an official hurricane landfall for 25 years. Then it got two storms, Frances and Jeanne, three weeks apart, and in nearly the same place. And then Wilma hit just a year later.

That prompted some transplants to say they were abandoning their adopted Florida; that they hadn’t counted on hurricanes. As if we’d hidden them in the fine print.

Right after those three, one colleague mentioned a neighbor, a physician, was moving back to Indiana. The colleague was encouraged to tell his neighbor that Florida had no storms for 25 years, then three in two years, and might get hit again soon (which hasn’t happened) or be spared for decades (who knows?). The good doctor, on the other hand, could bet his stethoscope that come January, back in the Hoosier state, he most definitely would scrape his windshield.

Also: three of the four most profound hurricanes to strike South Florida hit nine years and about 125 miles apart: the 1926 storm, which leveled Miami and ended the real estate boom; Palm Beach County’s 1928 Okeechobee Storm, second deadliest in U.S. history; and the 1935 Labor storm, most powerful landfalling storm ever, which smashed the Keys and Henry Flagler’s railroad.  Then there’s a half century between those three and the fourth, Andrew.

This all leads to the dilemma of urging people to prepare for a storm that, odds say, has a low chance of hitting them. But that’s easy. “Low” is not “zero.” That’s a law of physics when it comes to life insurance, seat belts, colonoscopies, and, for us, preparing for hurricanes.

We’ve said it many times. Ignore the frothing and hand wringing. Just use your head. Don’t run for your lives. But don’t do nothing. Prepare as if a storm will hit. Get a plan. Set up your window covering system. Load up on the supplies with which by now, you should be all too familiar. Then go about your business. When a storm threatens, you’ll know what to do. If it hits, you’ll be able to take care of yourself and your family. If it doesn’t, you go back to your routine and write a check to whoever did get it.

But don’t act as if, this year, we’re definitely “due.” Or definitely “safe.” As a local ad for an investment firm suggests, the answer to both questions is “yes.” And “no.”

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