Irma. Nothing good could come from a tropical storm with a German name that means War Goddess.
Sure enough, the depression that formed in the Atlantic on August 30, 2017, soon erupted into a hurricane so fierce it was dubbed “Irmageddon.”
I live in Southwest Florida, falsely predicted to be the safer coast as the storm approached the U.S. Irma spent three full days as a Category 5 hurricane, the longest-lasting monster storm ever recorded worldwide. It reached sustained winds of 185 mph with gusts of up to 215 mph.
Over seven million people were ordered to evacuate in the U.S. alone, the largest exodus in the country’s history. At least 134 people died. In other words, Irma was a bitch on wheels.
Which brings me to the first life lesson the hurricane taught me:
Lesson 1. The cone of uncertainty apparently encompasses the entire Western Hemisphere.
Weather forecasters have developed a funnel-shaped concept to illustrate the likely projected path of a hurricane. But, as we on the “safer” side of Irma learned, the cone shifts willy-nilly until the storm actually makes landfall, so if you’re anywhere near the cone of a Category 5 hurricane, run like hell. In fact, in the days leading up to Irma’s onslaught, we Floridians were mesmerized by the varying models forecasters rely on to predict the storm track.
They kept referring to the American GFS model and the European model, two lines that meandered across the Caribbean and into Florida, never in sync until the day before Irma struck the mainland. But in the week prior to that, only the European model reflected what would actually happen, which leads me to my second life lesson:
Lesson 2. When it comes to hurricane models, trust the Europeans.
People a lot smarter than me say the European model typically surpasses the American model in accuracy due to superior data simulation, computing power, and underlying physics.
But since I have no idea what any of that means, I’ll propose this instead: American GFS stands for Global Forecast System, but those of us who live in Southwest Florida now know that it’s short for Gobsmacked For Sure.
Before Irma struck, meteorologists and news anchors issued ominous warnings that we should “prepare” for the worst. Sadly, I have learned that the word “prepare” is universally confused with two other “p words:” PANIC!!! and PANDEMONIUM!!! So even if you’re normally a reasonable human being, you’d better keep filling your car’s gas tank to the brim, buy more bottled water than a family of twelve is likely to consume in five lifetimes, and stock up on canned foods you’d never eat even at gunpoint.
Lesson 3. Buy every D battery within a 500-mile radius.
Because even if you don’t use them, you’ll feel really smug as you watch hundreds of other people deplete their gas driving from store to store vainly searching for them. We spent the better part of a week stockpiling supplies and battening down our hatches, but I learned that watchful waiting, while sometimes a viable strategy for prostate cancer, was a poor choice when it came to Irma.
Had we packed up and left as soon as the storm was described as “potentially devastating,” and “unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before,” we would have avoided the unrelenting anxiety of waiting for Irma to hit, the terror of the storm itself, and the following week with no electricity and a city sewage system taxed to the brink of total failure.
While decamping was optional in my neighborhood, many people faced mandatory evacuation – both scenarios creating extraordinary stresses. Post-Irmageddon life resembled an episode of “Survivor” – no power, no air conditioning, no gasoline, no bottled water, empty grocery shelves, unsafe drinking water, no cable TV, no cell service, no traffic signals. Thousands of trees fell. Our roof tiles flew off. Our screened patio broke apart. Which leads me to my next lesson.
Lesson 4. You still need to pet your dog. And your partner. No matter what’s going on outside, we all need encouragement.
My sweet old chocolate lab napped through the worst of Irma, feeling safe as long as we were nearby. My husband, exhausted from all the work he did to prep our home for disaster, also seemed content to curl up with us and wait out Irma’s fury.
We hunkered down. We prevailed. One last note: I found out that beauty industry professionals seem particularly cautious when it comes to hurricanes. As Irma approached, I was looking increasingly disheveled. Gray hairs popped out all over. My nails grew ragged, my brows unruly. Yet there wasn’t a salon operator in sight. Life lesson #5 addresses that vexing problem.
Lesson 5. Stay obsessively groomed during hurricane season.
Days after Irma was over, we were still without power or safe water. That meant that even those salons that wanted to reopen were unable to. I felt like a limp noodle and looked like something that crawled out from under a toppled banyan tree.
So, as soon as you hear the word “hurricane,” rush to have all your critical components dyed, plucked, trimmed and depilated. The world may be coming to an end but at least you’ll have some self-esteem as you flee.