Tuesday, July 12, 2005

"Dennis" Discos Through Florida Panhandle

There were no cheering partygoers as Hurricane Dennis discoed through the Gulf of Mexico and into the Florida Panhandle this week. Any stobe effect was surely the result of the electricity winking out as Dennis shimmied ashore at Pensacola Beach, an area hard hit by Hurricane Ivan last year. By means of comparison it was no contest -- in spite of similar strengths Ivan remained a Terrible Encounter, whereas Dennis' threat dwindled as he speedily left the region to give his watery welcome to inland areas. Hubby and I decided to "ride out" the storm. Mainly because we live in CENTRAL Florida, which pretty much missed the excitement, which was all focused on the Panhandle area. In fact if that area gets a few more big storms like this we may soon be referring to the Florida "Pan," as the Handle may just break right off or disintegrate. Thus we were located to the east of the Cone of Doom that the weather people had been yapping about endlessly. That is the ever-shifting funnel that suggests where this early-season weather monstrosity might actually hurl itself ashore. Last year we rode out three other hurricanes (Charley, Frances and Jeanne) that did pass directly over our house. However there was no place to evacuate to. It was more a matter of deciding whether to ride it out in the kitchen or perhaps all crammed into a closet and risking hanger trauma. The meteorological excitement over Dennis had been building for more than a week, reaching its crescendo Sunday in a Surge of Rainjacketed Reporters. (You can use your color-coded maps to determine the volume of reporters stacked in any given "strike target" location and your probability of traversing the region without being interviewed about your previous hurricane experiences and plans for "riding this one out.") So of course there were many exciting facts reported. Such as, the Department of Transportation announced plans to "suspend" construction on the I-4 between Orlando and Tampa until the hurricane was past central Florida. Well fiddle dee dee! Did they have a choice in the matter? Surely they weren't going to send their flag people out there slowing up traffic if people had to flee the coast. I sincerely hope they brought the orange cones inside, or else glued them securely to the asphalt. Otherwise they may have migrated to Alabama. Consumer experts advised evacuees to "take your hurricane policy with you." As opposed to, say, leaving it out on the kitchen table next to a burning candle as you leave the house. And be sure to enclose it in one of those handy ZipLoc bags! Still, shouldn't your INSURANCE COMPANY also have a copy of this important document? If yours is destroyed will they deny it? Meanwhile NASA announced it was NOT planning to move the Space Shuttle Discovery indoors as a precaution. What was that? A dare? Better to announce plans to protect the shuttle, then quietly cancel them as the storm continued on its path to the Panhandle. Mother Nature has excellent hearing. She will always try to foul up your so-called plans. Meteorologists are coming up with increasingly sophisticated tools to aid their predictions and give the impression this isn't something you couldn't have figured out yourself by opening a window or watching debris from your neighbor's patio party fly past your house. They have so many indices now: Sustained Winds, Maximum Gusts, Storm Surge, Strike Probability, Palm Tree Hunching Ratio, Roof Loss Coefficient, and of course the Probability of a Geraldo Rivera Sighting. The newest measurement tool is called the SLOSH indicator. Which seems to be the amount of rain that ends up in your shoes as you hurry to your car prior to evacuating. Or possibly the amount of alcohol you need to consume in order to fully "enjoy" your hurricane experience. The forecasters pretend it measures the amount of rain the hurricane sprays on your community as it passes by, but which is not accounted for by "storm surge" or "flooding." Another fascinating tool is the predictor for areas at high risk for tornado activity. This is designated by a "box" on your weather map that gets stretched to be a rectangle, or sometimes even a Parallelogram of Danger. However there are no curves or concentric circles, possibly because this could cause confusion with the lines designating the hurricane force winds, which take priority on the map. So tornados are instructed to adhere strictly to the box formation! Or as we call it in Florida, the Box Step. One two three four WHOOPSTHEREGOESTHEGARAGE One two three four...and so on. Fortunately Hurricane Dennis, which was nearly a Category 4 storm when it hit Pensacola Beach, did not do nearly the damage of last year's Hurricane Ivan. Experts attribute this partly to a compact eyewall. Also Dennis made like a bad blind date with his hasty exit. (That's okay. We're playing the field!) I've heard there is already another tropical storm makings its debut in the Atlantic Ocean, the demurely dubbed "Emily." I'm planning to watch for the Animated Whirling Red Ninja Disks of Disaster to mark this potential hurricane's path. Last year's parade of storms shredded parts of central Florida into Tropical Confetti. From a resident's perspective, that's nothing to celebrate.

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