As I write this, Hurricane Dorian is churning just north of the Bahamas after devastating the Abaco Islands. My heart breaks as I see the footage of 20 feet of storm surge overwhelming cars, homes and lives.
I’ve spent a good deal of time in the Bahamas both for vacations and in studying tropical weather forecasting as a meteorologist. They sit right at sea level and it’s unreal to see Freeport and other parts of Grand Bahama nearly underwater. While tropical weather systems fascinate me, they also horrify me. As a meteorologist, their genesis, development and paths are interesting. As a reporter who has covered the aftermath, their devastation is unforgettable.
My first tropical system scare came decades ago from Hurricane Hugo in 1989. I nearly took a job as a weathercaster/reporter in Charleston, S.C., but instead accepted one at a television station in Fort Myers, Fla. Two weeks after I moved, Hugo smashed into the Carolina coast. During my five years in Florida, several tropical storms swung by, and I covered them both in the studio and doing live shots in the rain and wind on the beach. Luckily, none made landfall directly in southwest Florida.
Then came Hurricane Andrew. It’s still one system I will never forget. We were on the air across the state 24/7 as the monster hurricane made landfall on Florida’s east coast and ravaged Homestead, Florida City and beyond. The high winds and rain swept across the state, and we were fortunate in Fort Myers to only experience tropical storm-force winds. The next day, I headed south with a photographer to Marco Island and Everglades City, where stacks of boats at marinas were toppled like houses of cards and the screen cages that cover pools and lanais were shredded and scattered in pieces.
The day after that, we followed first responders from Collier County and Naples over to Homestead and Florida City on the east coast as they assisted with recovery from Hurricane Andrew. I remember the chaos as street signs no longer existed, power was out for weeks and the military had to patrol with M-16s to prevent looting. Our first responders conducted search and rescue missions and also brought truckloads of water jugs, diapers and baby formula to pass out to desperate families. We spent the night on cots in a high school gym with no lights ... but we were the lucky ones to have shelter and water.
Hurricane Andrew hit 27 years ago last week. As I watch Dorian creep so close to the Florida coastline, I am still fascinated with its atmospheric components but am hoping they will continue to keep the storm offshore and away from those all along the U.S. coast.
Kristin Emery can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.