By Harry Welty
Published Aug 19, 2004
Bonnie and Charley
The captain pointed out Bonnie's circular outer arms as we few over her to our
destination in West Palm Beach a little north of Miami, Florida. Our flight to
visit my Father-in-law, to straighten out some family business, was taking us
into the state during Florida's first recorded assault by two simultaneous
Although we had checked out the weather reports before departing from Duluth we
didn't know how bad Bonnie or Charley were going to be. We would eventually slip
in between the two storms. Bonnie was breaking over Florida's panhandle by the
time we breezed by and it had been downgraded to a "tropical storm."
Even so, Bonnie would still manage to spawn killer tornados in the Carolinas as
it passed north.
Charley was still south of Cuba and wouldn't reach our latitude until well after
we landed. So far it was only a 2 on the 5 point Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale.
Forecasters weren't sure yet where it would hit land but they were predicting a
touchdown somewhere on the Gulf coast 150 miles to our west. Everyone there was
urged to flee to the East.
Floridians are pretty nonchalant about Hurricanes. They have built thousands of
million-dollar homes along their coasts well within reach of a typical
hurricane's storm surge. In this they are not so different than well-to-do
Americans out west who build mini-mansions with cedar shake roofs in arid hills
surrounded by tinder dry forests.
You don't have to be rich to be nonchalant. Lots of Floridians, many of them old
and infirm, live in fragile trailer homes which are vulnerable to the 75 mph
winds which mark the boundary between a tropical storm and a level one
hurricane. After the level-four Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida in 1992
tie-down regulations were stiffened but only locally. Florida's Gulf Coast
continued to enjoy looser regulations and less vigilant enforcement than South
Florida which suffered 25 billion dollars in losses at Andrew's hands.
This is not very surprising as Florida takes a Republican inspired, hands-off
attitude about government regulation. I found the attitude on display in a
cartoon in my Father-in-law's newspaper. It showed a little girl trying to jump
rope after a bunch of liberals legislated all the fun out of it by loading her
down with more safety gear than a marine heading into Fallujah. As a final touch the do-gooders severed her jump rope lest she
The path eventually predicted for Charley took it over Tampa and so prudent
locals packed up and fled east. Unfortunately, Charley suddenly changed course
and headed for Ft. Myers a hundred miles south of Tampa. Ironically, Tampa's
homes were left untouched while their owners, fleeing to Orlando, ran headlong
into the hurricane. The lucky Tampans, who had been too complacent or too stupid
to flee, congratulated themselves afterwards for their good sense. As far as
they were concerned the Weather forecasters had simply cried wolf.
When Charley finally began its overland march it crossed the homes of my wife's
Aunt, Uncle and cousins on Sanibel Island. One son remained in his home through
the storm. He was unprepared for the storm's change of course or its unexpected
leap from a category 2 to a category 4 monster. He spent the night hiding in his
bathroom under a mattress praying that his roof would stay put. By his own
admission it was a foolish thing to have done which meant it was just the sort
of thing I would have done had I not been burdened with a sensible wife.
I watched this all play out on television (there's a lot of television watching
at my in-laws) and remained safe. I watched a lot of PGA Golf, a lot of the
Olympics, and a lot of 24-hour Hurricane coverage. The only thing we had to put
up with was hot, muggy weather. After my fill of television I would excuse
myself and work up a sweat by chasing anoles. These are Florida's native lizard.
I like to annoy them until they open their mouths defensively. That's when I let
them bite my ears. They make lovely earrings.
This would be an opportune time to bash liberals. Can't you just imagine those
busybodies passing a law to prohibit lizard earrings? I'm sure it would be done
for high-minded reasons like promoting good hygiene or preventing the spread of
lizard pathogens. And while I'm at it, it's not a bad time to bash conservatives
for the billions it will take to clean up after Charley. Some of this expense
will be the price taxpayers pay for Florida's freedom from tough regulations.
Welty is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at: www.snowbizz.com