Sunday, September 10, 2017
Irma has made landfall in the keys. She is moving north and is expected in the Tampa area late today.
It's now a waiting game. The monster storm is stalled near Cuba; the projections have shifted the expected path to go along the coast on the Western side of the state of Florida, much to our relief.
Except that I remember the night when Charlie was proceeding northward along the West Coast of Florida, and I went to bed, expecting that the storm would progress up the West Coast and stay completely away from central Florida, thus leaving this writer in safety.
Upon awaking the following morning, it was discovered that Charlie was at our doorstep, and passed within a few miles of Lake Agnes. The devastation to my property was considerable, and getting out of my subdivision was a serious matter involving large tree trunks blocking Lake Agnes Drive.
Charlie was a bad storm, but in the order of THIS storm, Charlie was a minor player. This storm oscillates between Category 4 and 5 as it moves inexorably northward.
The hurricane numbering for categories should read Category 1, Category 2, Dead. Anything above the middle of Category 2 isn't survivable. But those categories are for descriptions of wind speed, not for the description of the means of people making it through.
Hurricane categories are a complicated matter. They are largely a matter of judgment of the person issuing the category designation. Everyone knows about the 'calm' of the hurricane's eye. Winds in the eye wall are the most powerful, and the power diminishes as the distance to the eye wall increases. I'm surmising here, but the categories seem to include a range of wind speeds with the fastest sustained speed being the one that they use to determine the category.
The eye of Irma is huge, some 20 miles in diameter.
The FM (Factory Mutual) designations that we use in design of buildings are far more specific and therefore far more accurate. Insurance classifications use FM designations, FM 60, FM 90, FM 120, and refer to pounds per square foot of force instead of wind speed. Building code requirements are in resistive capabilities of buildings and are expressed in pounds per square foot, also.
But category designations are what seem to be used in the conversations that are being bandied about as authoritative. People are used to the category designations, and although they are rather non-specific and highly variable, they can fit events into a pattern that is relative to historical events. This allows someone to say that the current hurricane, Irma, is more terrifying than Charlie.
But those people that Charlie killed are not impressed.
Being indoors, even, during a Category 2 event is a terrifying experience. There was a man interviewed this morning on Fox News who had plans to remain in the building where he was through the hurricane as it passed over Key West. He was a reporter who reports on this type of thing – the fool.
His expectation, probably correct, was that the glass, all of it, would be gone from the building he was in, which was advertised as designed to withstand a Category 5 event. He was on the fourth floor of a concrete frame building which would put him above the storm surge, anticipated to be 12 feet or so above the highest point of land on Key West. His plan was to move into the stairwell when things got bad. Stair towers are the safest place to be in nearly all buildings. They are as fireproof as the building can be, and are nearly always the strongest portion of the structure. The openings into the stair are also fortified for fire and strength.
The reporter had undertaken a task for which I'm sure he was paid handsomely, but didn't really need to be done. I, frankly, have no interest in some daredevil's exploits, and the gathering of data during this event can be done more easily and more accurately with instruments. But that takes the human element and the human interest out of it. I suppose that's the point.
Here in central Florida, approximately 75 miles from the West Coast, and 50 miles from the East side of Tampa Bay, we have reason to hope that the monster storm stays off the West Coast as it moves north. We have seen the projected path of Irma's progress shift from the land side of the East Coast of Florida to its present projection along that preferred path.
An even more preferable location for the storm would be 50 or so miles west of Tampa Bay. That, I'm afraid, is more than we can hope for.
The movement is very slow at this moment, and the eye is still near Cuba. When a hurricane stalls like this, the individual direction of its progress is really unknown. So it is at this time.
The confident predictions we get from the media are merely guesses, and are highly dependent upon the person laying out the path. As far as I know there has never been a 100% right hurricane prediction. The timing, the location, the strength, and the direction, are all permanently in flux.
The variables are in the thousands of different circumstances, and the complicated interrelationships are not understood. It comes down to hope.
My hope is that the current set of predictions is sort of right, and that the storm passes to our west as far as possible away from us. That would probably not be the best for Panama City, but someone is going to suffer.
Better them than me.