Why Ophelia Worries Me

Tonight, Tropical Storm Ophelia became Hurricane Ophelia. What, no graduation party? Mazel tov anyway.

This has been an interesting storm to watch, even if it seems to be working in slow motion.

If you looked at it yesterday, closed your eyes for 24 hours, and then looked again today, you haven’t missed anything. Though marginally stronger, Ophelia hasn’t really moved. That, to me, is where the fear is.

Hurricanes are steered by upper level winds. Any small puff will push them along. But there’s barely any upper wind at all in the vicinity of Ophelia. She is spinning like a top on a table… including the wobble.

The more well defined the upper winds, the easier it is to predict where the storm will go. Even if those winds waver, inertia is at work. An object in motion wants to stay in motion.

Conversely, light winds make forecasting ridiculously difficult. Yesterday, one of the official Hurricane Center forecasts had this storm dead in its track for three consecutive days. It’s not that they really felt that way… it’s that they didn’t have anything better to put.

It was as close as you’ll ever get to a non-forecast!

This would all be academic if Ophelia was out in the Atlantic. She’s not. She’s under 100 miles off the Florida Coast.

If I were living in Daytona Beach or Jacksonville or Charleston, I’d try not to be far from the radar until Ophelia moves out, if she ever does.

It’s Not Easy Being Florida

The forecast for Hurricane Jeanne shows no mercy on the Sunshine Sate. If things go according to plan, by Saturday night Jeanne should be bearing down on the Florida coast with a path similar to Frances.

I can’t imagine Jeanne will move as slowly, but it’s quite possible her winds will be stronger than Frances. Much of the East Coast has already been weakened without repair.

Can a state throw its collective hands up in resignation?

This hasn’t been a particularly good year to live in Florida. I can’t ever remember this many storms hitting one state. And now, the possibility of a Category 3 storm right where Frances hit a few weeks ago.

I spoke to my folks tonight. My mom and dad still have enough batteries and bottled water to start a store. The unknown adventure that faced them with Frances is now gone. They’ve seen this enemy before and aren’t please by the implications.

They are now paying a special assessment from their condo association to cover the cleanup from Frances. The four days and three nights they spent without power is still fresh on their minds. My dad doesn’t want to go another week without Internet service (as he did).

Forget for a second how this will affect people who currently live in Florida. Over the longer term how will this affect who moves to Florida? A lot of people who would have jumped to Florida a month or two ago, won’t!

Will this be a blow to the Florida economy? I can’t see how it won’t. Yes, there will be outside money coming in to rebuild (insurance, federal aid, etc.). At the same time there will be unreimbursed personal financial losses, the immediate loss of tourism dollars and the longer term repercussions of people staying away.

It doesn’t have to be a large percentage to create a large problem.

We know this hurricane season is unusual, but we don’t know if that fact is meaningful in any way. Is this an anecdotal aberration? Is this the beginning of a trend where strong hurricanes forget to turn into the ocean and hit the coast?

Is this an incredible run of bad luck or have we just been uncommonly lucky in the past?

Frances As A Spectator Sport

The names used for hurricanes are on a rotation. Every seven years the names repeat. There is, however, one exception. When a storm becomes ‘notorious,’ it is retired. That’s where Frances is headed.

As of this evening it was about twice the size and significantly stronger than Hurricane Andrew was at this stage of the game. That’s not to say Frances will be another Andrew – but there is that potential.







A few weeks ago while watching Hurricane Charley, I remarked about the steady stream of data available. There is less from Frances because of its track. As far as I know there are no weather radars available on the Internet from Haiti, Dominican Republic, Turks and Caicos or The Bahamas. There are also few, or no, surface observations nearby.

The information is a little more abstract. It needs to be analyzed more carefully and digested. It is not self evident, like looking at Charley on the Key West radar.

There are weather buoys, drifting in Frances’ vicinity. There are also sporadic readings from hurricane hunter planes. And, of course, there is satellite imagery (though the highest resolution images are only available during daylight hours). These are good, but more would be better.

Hour by hour, computer run by computer run, Frances’ destination seems to be locking in on the Florida East Coast. If I had to venture a guess today, I’d say what I said yesterday – somewhere around Jupiter or Hobe Sound.

That’s no guarantee. No place from Homestead to Savannah would surprise me.

If I were anywhere in Florida tonight, I’d be making sure I was prepared. Even with Frances’ strength, most people inland will be forced to weather the storm in their homes. On the coast it will be a totally different story.

Wherever Frances lands, communication will stop. TV and telephone will be limited. Power will be spotty. In some communities, power will be shut off before the storm as a safety precaution.

Most people who live in South Florida have never felt the impact of any direct hurricane hit – much less a category 4 storm. It will be a sobering experience.

My parents live down there, in Palm Beach County. Of course, I worry for them. Their condo has storm shutters and is reasonably well built. The thing it has most going for it is its inland location. I won’t give them specific advice until we get closer.

My friend Wendie lives in the Miami area. Her office and home are close to the Intracoastal Waterway. That is more worrisome.

In a few of the later computer models, Hurricane Frances slows down while approaching the Florida coast. That could mean an extended period of torrential rain and very strong, damaging wind (possibly not hurricane strength if the storm is far enough off shore).

The are really no good scenarios left.