Just in case you’re counting, Hurricane Wilma is currently 1735 miles southwest of me. That’s ‘as the crow flies’ miles. Because this hurricane is ready to make a sweeping right hand turn, it would have to travel significantly farther.
How can I be worried about something 1735 miles away? It’s easy – I’ve seen this scenario before. I didn’t live it. It predates me. I’ve studied it because it is the benchmark for New England hurricane grief.
Before you feel my pain, let me talk a little about my parents. They’re ensconced in Boynton Beach, FL. Hurricane Wilma is 640 miles south-southwest of them.
As it stands now, the official Hurricane Center prediction takes Wilma right over… or reasonably close to them. Though the storm will be coming over land, it’s swampy land. There’s warm water and low friction in the Everglades. It’s not perfect for a hurricane but it won’t kill it either.
My folks have hurricane shutters and live in a substantial building. I think they’ll be OK, though I’ll revisit this with them later today.
Here’s the one bit of good news. Hurricane Wilma will be ‘booking’ as she passes through Florida. Coast-to-coast will be 10, maybe 12 hours. The faster Hurricane Wilma moves, the sooner the trouble is over.
Nature adapts to this kind of trouble. Palm trees have decidedly less wind resistance than the deciduous trees we have here in Connecticut.
The Hurricane Center forecasts 110 mph winds at landfall in Florida, dropping to 80 mph by the time the storm reemerges in the Atlantic¹. Even 80 mph, a small hurricane, is substantial if it passes close by. Most of us have never experienced 80 mph winds… and we’ve all seen plenty of wind damage.
The Hurricane Center used to talk about 80 mph storms as minimal hurricanes. They don’t anymore. That’s a change for the better.
I am anticipating moderate to severe damage on the West Coast of Florida with minimal to scattered moderate damage on the East Coast. There will be a much smaller radius of damage in the east.
Once the storm leaves Florida the guessing game begins. It will really accelerate. This is the part that starts resembling the Hurricane of ’38.
From PBS’ American Experience: Within 24 hours, the storm ripped into the New England shore with enough fury to set off seismographs in Sitka, Alaska. Traveling at a shocking 60 miles per hour — three times faster than most tropical storms — it was astonishingly swift and powerful, with peak wind gusts up to 186 m.p.h. The storm without a name turned into one of the most devastating storms recorded in North America. Over 600 people were killed, most by drowning. Another hundred were never found. Property damage was estimated at $300 million — over 8,000 homes were destroyed, 6,000 boats wrecked or damaged.
Though the storm struck Connecticut’s coast in Fairfield County, the strongest damage was experienced at the opposite end of the state and into Rhode Island.
Here’s what’s most troubling. A storm barreling up the East Coast will leave minimal time for warning. Look at the map. Florida to New Jersey in 24 hours! I couldn’t drive it that quickly.
To get a Hurricane Warning out 24 hours in advance would mean alerting most of the Northeast. An error of a few degrees in course could mean Atlantic City versus Boston.
And where would all these people go? Imagine sending everyone in Coastal New England west on I-95!
This is the worst case scenario. A direct hit to New England would cause as much destruction, and possibly as many deaths, as the unpredicted storm in 1938!
The current projections bring Hurricane Wilma far enough east to spare New England. But there is very little margin for error over a five day forecast. I’m certainly not confident in it. Just a few degrees off…
So now we wait and watch. Like I said, there will be lots of phone calls to Florida tomorrow. I want to make sure my parents have every possible advantage. Then we’ll bring the worries closer to home.
Hurricane Wilma scares me to the bone.
¹ – The Hurricane Center readily admits, of all the things it does, predicting intensity is the thing it does worst.