Thursday, August 31, 2006

The next one may not be as kind as Ernesto

Posted on Thu, Aug. 31, 2006

The next one may not be as kind as Ernesto

Tropical Storm Ernesto spared South Florida on its way north, where it
will spoil many a family's Labor Day weekend. We owe it all to Cuba and
Hispanola, whose rugged terrain took some starch out of the storm.

Some here who dutifully did the pre-storm drill may be asking themselves
what all the fuss was about. But don't fret: Consider all that careful
storm preparation a dry run for the two busiest hurricane months just ahead.

The silver lining here is that more South Floridians are preparing well
when a storm approaches. It's a good bet that Hurricanes Katrina and
Wilma have a lot to do with this year's good response to Ernesto. On the
anniversary of Katrina's shredding of the Gulf Coast, South Florida
could well have had a similar fate. Katrina really is an unforgettable
event for anyone living in hurricane territory. It was kinder to Florida
than to Louisiana and Mississippi. But it wreaked havoc here with power
outages and ripped up trees and roofs. Then came Wilma with a stronger

Survival lessons

Every hurricane causes its victims to learn a lesson or two about
survival and recovery. With Wilma's widespread power outages in Broward
and Miami-Dade counties, one lesson was to fill your gas tank before the
storm strikes. Almost predictably, the day before Ernesto arrived, long
lines queued up at gas stations.

Gov. Jeb Bush did his part by cautioning residents not to panic. Don't
top-off your car's tank if it already is three-quarters full, he said.
But many of us did just that. Others filled six or more five-gallon gas
containers rather than settle for, say, two. This kind of selfish
behavior can cause shortages for people who truly do need gas.

Hurricanes unpredictable

The predictions of Ernesto's intensity and where it eventually would
make a U.S. landfall changed daily. It was a tropical storm that became
a hurricane. It was supposed to steer toward the Gulf of Mexico but then
it bounced around the mountains of Hispanola and Cuba before emerging on
a path toward Florida.

Ernesto reminded us of this timeless truism about hurricanes: They're
unpredictable. Example: If not for a last-minute wobble to the east that
spared New Orleans the full force of Katrina's Category 5 fury, that
city would be in even worse shape today.

Because hurricanes are so unpredictable it is imperative that everyone
within the broad cone of a storm's projected path always prepare for the
worst. It is better to wonder afterward what all the fuss was about that
prompted all those preparations than to regret having gambled that the
storm would go elsewhere.

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