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Record storms, unparalleled heroism

William Sisson

William Sisson

Hurricanes Irma and Harvey spun their way into the books well before the final toll of the destruction had been tallied. Individually and together, they set records for intensity, duration, rainfall and misery stretching across a string of pummeled Caribbean islands and into Texas, Louisiana and Florida. When it rains, it pours. 

As we went to press, Irma had been downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane and then a tropical storm as it moved north of Tampa, leaving more than 6 million homes in Florida without power. This issue of Trade Only contains seven pages of Hurricane Harvey coverage. We will report on the damage from both storms next month and in future issues. It will be weeks if not longer before there is a good estimate on the damage to recreational boats, marinas, dealers and builders.

In subsequent issues, Trade Only will focus on lessons learned from Irma and Harvey and on best practices regarding major storms. 

Irma set a record for lasting three consecutive days in the Atlantic as a Category 5 storm, the first time that has occurred since scientists started using satellites to monitor storms. And Harvey set a record for rainfall in the continental United States, unloading 51.88 inches on Cedar Bayou, Texas. 

This year also marks the first time since records started being kept in 1851 that two Category 4 Atlantic hurricanes made landfalls in the United States in the same year. Covering an area twice as wide as Florida’s peninsula, Irma also prompted one of the largest emergency evacuations in U.S. history. 

One takeaway from these storms: A blog called Category 6 posted by Dr. Jeff Masters, a cofounder of Weather Underground, cautioned the public not to fixate solely on the Saffir-Simpson scale for a storm such as Irma. “The amount of water pushed by a hurricane like Irma does not decrease very quickly even if the winds at its core decrease,” Masters wrote. “Three of the four most expensive U.S. hurricanes on record dropped by two Saffir-Simpson categories before making landfall: Katrina came ashore as a Cat 3, Sandy was a post-tropical cyclone near minimal hurricane strength and Ike was a Cat 2.” Superstorm Sandy in 2012 caused about $62 billion in damage, much of it the result of storm surge, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. Sandy damaged or destroyed 65,000 pleasure boats, mostly in New York and New Jersey, to the tune of about $650 million, says Scott Croft, public affairs vice president for BoatUS. 

And with Katrina in 2005, surge was the major cause of $75 billion in destruction along the Gulf Coast and in New Orleans, the Journal reports. 

Much was learned after Andrew ripped across a narrow swath of Florida south of Miami in 1992 as a Category 5 hurricane. “It was a marker event in the history of South Florida and for Florida in general,” Richard Olson, director of the International Hurricane Research Center at Florida International University, told The New York Times. “Nothing was ever the same in terms of mitigation and preparedness.” 

Building codes were strengthened, residents took steps to better prepare their homes, adding hurricane shutters and installing stronger roofs, and laws were enacted that required supermarkets, gas stations and hospitals to install generators, according to the Times. 

We suspect Harvey and Irma — one of the strongest Atlantic storms ever — may have a similar effect. 

Protecting boats and marinas during large storms takes planning, experience and a bit of luck. Even after a marina has taken the right precautions, so much still depends on one’s location and the strength and path of the storm. If you’re unfortunate enough to find yourself on the wrong side of a powerful hurricane, there’s only so much that can be done after battening down the proverbial hatches and finding shelter. 

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said as much as Irma passed over the Keys and moved toward southwest Florida. “The biggest thing you can do now is pray,” he told reporters. 

And Mother Nature has a way of upending even the best-laid storm plans. 

Paraphrasing former champion boxer Mike Tyson, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn told reporters, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Still, early planning is key to saving lives and protecting property, including boats. 

The future? It really never was a question of if a major hurricane was going to hit South Florida, but rather when. Experts for some time have warned of the catastrophic damage that could occur if a powerful hurricane landed a direct hit on Florida’s heavily developed coasts, especially coupled with rising sea level in areas such as Miami. 

There were plenty of unsung heroes in Harvey and Irma, people who risked their lives to help others in need. If you’re looking for blue skies in the immediate aftermath of these hurricanes, the unselfish actions of those good Samaritans are a testament to strength of character that no storm can obliterate.  

This article originally appeared in the October 2017 issue.



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