Hurricane Irma: An Intimate Account
More often than not, my thoughts are spilled from afar. As they concern most of the issues of the day, there’s nothing about them experienced, intimate, nor lived. They’re remote from the troubles that be—displaced from the facts on the ground. Distance, in this way, becomes a rather comforting than depressing thing. It becomes for the critic like me a useful little instrument ready for his employ. For him, distance is not only a buffer but a shield, one that deflects and pushes back any potential rebuke or siege. Yet at times, that very same shield doubles its function as a weapon of choice. In the course of such a transformation, it becomes not a rapier nor a dagger but a lance. It’s not for combat proximate to his skin, but for thrusts from far away. And, armed with the long shaft of the lance, the critic can poke from afar while always preserving himself.
There come times, though, when even the furthest critic isn’t safe. Sometimes, not even the longest, sturdiest lance will do. These are the times when the issues come to him, rather than he to them and they simply can’t be repulsed. They are the force majeures, the acts of god, whose momentum can’t be stopped.
Confronted by such a force, I write in the eye of Hurricane Irma. I’ll admit from the outset that it’s a bit of a peculiar feeling to know oneself to be writing from center stage. I am, as are thousands of Floridians like me, at this very moment in the grip of a national disaster. It feels as if we’re under the influence of an apocalypse and at the mercy of the sky. Unknown to us is that all of America’s eyes and most of world’s passing curiosities are upon our now vulnerable corner of the country’s southernmost state. The news stations glimpse our streets, the scientists adjust to our beaches their scales, the politicians pray for our deliverance, and the journalists remark on our resolve. The critic’s worst fear has come to be; the story has come to him.
The wind-burnt walls behind which I write have for hours absorbed the elements of this storm. Even inside, where luckily I’ve found sanctuary in a small hospital alcove, I can feel the tempest desperate in her efforts to break in. We shan’t blame Irma, though. She’s simply in the business of living up to her name. It’s a name, after all, that’ll be marked down as one of history’s greatest and largest storms. I can attest to her strength. Her gusts have been unceasing, her rains torrential, and her noises indefatigable. Already I can imagine the damage that she’s done. Surely, when the skies clear, the emerging picture will be bleak. Likely, in her wake, roofs if not entire homes will be torn asunder. Cars, at least those nearest the coast, will be submerged. The florid shrubbery will be strewn every which way and the endless restorative work will have already begun.
Experts projected that the storm’s path would be one both erect and true. They thought it would ascend reliably up the state’s sturdy spine from that archipelago of the Keys on toward that cosmopolitan Orlando. So far, as far as I know, it’s doing just that. Irma is making her way with a harrowing verticality proving the meteorologist right every inch along the way. Not only is she moving straight as an arrow, Irma’s diameter, at over four hundred miles, is said to be one of the largest ever recorded. To grasp its capacious reach, we’ve been told here that it’s as though a storm were covering everything from New York City to Washington D.C.
Prior to her arrival in southwest Florida, Irma had already made her way and left her indelible mark on the Caribbean islands. Antigua, Barbuda, St. Maarten, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, and Anguilla all absorbed her wrath. The damage on those islands, whose economies rely almost exclusively on their lucrative and robust tourism industries, will be devastating. An estimated ninety-five percent of the buildings on Barbuda were destroyed. In St. John, which is a part of the U.S. Virgin Island chain, “virtually one hundred percent of the power infrastructure” was destroyed. Twenty-four people in the Caribbean have thus far been reported dead.
Once finished with the paradisiacal Caribbean isles, Irma made her landfall in Cuba. The storm dallied there for days, lashing out most fiercely on the country’s northern coast. Most affected was the capital, Havana, but other distant, low-lying areas and the hinterlands were affected as well. Ten fatalities were reported, and much of Havana’s historic downtown district was submerged.
The hope amongst Floridians—selfish it may have been, but I think we’ll be absolved of our sin—was that Cuba’s landscape would be a sort of buffer. Cuba’s landscape would serve us by softening the hurricane’s punch when finally it came to America. The best-case scenario was that, before setting forth for the Florida Straits, Irma’s momentum would be tempered along Cuba’s northern coast. Cuba would drain from Irma a bit of her harrowing strength. Opposing this hope was the fear that, because of the Florida Straits’ seasonably warm water temperatures—which can reach a prune-inducing eighty-five degrees—Hurricane Irma was expected to regroup and strengthen as it moved from Cuba toward Florida’s coast. Bereft of updates from the outside world, it’s difficult to say at the moment, as I write, which scenario has played itself out. Based on the winds I hear assaulting this building within which I sit, though, I can imagine the second scenario having come true.
Somewhat pretentiously and seemingly overnight, everyone here seems to have developed a dilettante’s understanding of meteorology. Ask anyone on the street, and he’ll talk at length about the intricacies of weather patterns, trajectories, and projections. In the past week, in the lead-up to this storm, I’ve listened to more “arm-chair” weathermen than I’d care to recount, but from them I like to think that I have gathered a better understanding about what’s going on out there. The first important point, as to which I alluded earlier, is that a hurricane thrives in warmer waters. Warm waters are like an espresso shot to the growing storm; they add liquid energy to keep it chugging along at pace. Probably, this is what’s happened in the Florida Straits. There must also be little to no wind shear as the storm moves. The wind shear, if excessive, can cleave the top of hurricane before it even has a chance to form, rendering all that caffeine for naught.
Fueled by the warm water and unmolested by the shear of the wind, Irma seems not to have run into an impediment. She’s become exactly that which she was feared to be. Thus explains the building foundation I feel shake under my feet and the palm trees I see bend like toothpicks in the wind. It also explains this desperate cursor I notice blinking at me with a peremptory pulse as I hasten to write these last few words on the screen. Yes, the power here in the hospital is available, but it’s restricted. Reliance now falling upon the generators, the discretionary use of electronics has become restrained. As a consequence, so too has become this critic’s voice.