Arcadia Florida is still very south

Hurricane season

Still, hurricanes are a predictable catastrophe. The forecasts made by meteorologists are becoming more and more accurate. Thanks to so-called hurricane hunters, who fly their planes across the approaching storms, very precise warnings can be issued. With an extensive evacuation and rescue program, the people of Florida have so far managed to keep the number of deaths relatively low.

Experts are currently heavily debating whether there is a connection between the intensity and number of tropical storms and the greenhouse effect. Will warming the sea water make the hurricanes bigger and more dangerous? For 2005, at any rate, climate researchers are expecting another exceptionally intense season.

Warm, humid air rises over the Sahara, on the coast of West Africa. Thunderclouds move around, they wander around each other, begin a slow, gloomy dance. The ocean water is unusually warm, 26 degrees Celsius and more. Moist air rises from the water, new clouds form. A center with low air pressure forms and sucks in more and more moist air. The distracting force of the earth's rotation creates a vortex of clouds that slowly migrates westwards, over many thousands of kilometers, all the way to America.

Palm trees that bend in the wind, flooded streets, destroyed buildings. Every summer and autumn we receive these pictures from America. In the summer of 2005, the season started unusually early with Hurricane Dennis ...

"That's the nature of living here in Florida. It's an exciting place to live in some way, but sometimes it's too exciting. (Like last summer ....)"

Disaster researcher Stephen Leatherman of the International Hurricane Research Center at the University of Miami.

"Florida is an exciting place, but sometimes just too exciting. This time the hurricanes came from all directions: from east, south and west. The Florida peninsula is exactly at sea level. Even small changes in sea level change our landscape dramatically you can see very early on what global changes will take place in the future. "

In summer and autumn 2004 the situation is worse than ever:
Four hurricanes hit the coast of Florida. 117 people die, thousands become homeless. Property damage is $ 44 billion.

A large parking lot in front of a hardware store in Arcadia, a small town in southwest Florida. Suntanned men push shopping trolleys with wooden strips and metal plates around. Even now, a year after the 2004 hurricane season, they are still buying roofing materials. The cityscape of Arcadia is characterized by blue plastic sheets that the residents use to protect their houses from the rain. Once the water has got into the walls, black mold spots appear and spread an unbearable smell, says Frank Morgan, who owns a house that actually consists of four walls.

"It was scary. The roof just blew off, I put my children in the bathtub, my truck just overturned, total loss. It's terrible, you really don't have to experience something like that."

"I was in my mobile home, which started to collapse around me, when the worse of the storm came over."

When Hurricane Charley came, Ariel Holstrum was sitting alone in her little trailer until it collapsed and she had to flee to the neighbors. She works at the checkout at the hardware store and has recently started recommending metal roofs to her customers. They are not cheap, but research has shown that they withstand the storm much better than conventional slatted and asphalt shingle roofs.

The cloud spiral is getting bigger and bigger, the warm water from the ocean supplies it with energy, drives it, forms a tropical storm with wind speeds of up to 117 kilometers per hour. At even higher speeds, the storm becomes a "hurricane", also known as a "typhoon" or "cyclone" in the Pacific. In its center a round area, several kilometers in size, is formed, which is spared by the clouds: the eye of the storm. It's quiet here, the weather is clear, the sky can be seen. The wind rages most violently in the so-called wall of the eye, the eyewall.

Above 210 kilometers per hour, meteorologists speak of a very strong category 4 hurricane, above 250 kilometers of a devastating category 5 hurricane. Record speeds of up to 305 kilometers per hour were measured in 1969 when Hurricane Camille hit the American coast.

Captain Troy Anderson in September 1995 chasing a hurricane. (AP Archives) A ​​hangar at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida. Technicians prepare an unconventional aircraft for its next mission: a Lockheed WP-3D Orion, 34 meters long, with an egg-shaped radar antenna under the belly. Next to the entrance door are several dozen red stickers with the years and names of the hurricanes through which the plane has already flown. From "1976 - Bonnie" to "1992 - Andrew" to "2004 - Jeanne". The machine is driven by four powerful propellers. They give the pilots something that is crucial when flying through a hurricane: immediate control of the machine.

"All the pilot has to do is press a button and he immediately has thrust in the propellers - this is not possible with a turbine drive, there is always a delay. In addition, turbines do not tolerate rain in a storm as well as they can this machine here. "

Meteorologist Barry Damiano has been a hurricane hunter for 18 years and has flown across a hurricane 220 times. He has seen spectacular natural spectacles and dramatic flight maneuvers. But the older he gets, the less he likes the danger.

"During the flight in the direction of the eye of the hurricane, there is dramatic turbulence: the two pilots of the machine hold their control sticks firmly under control, while the flight engineer who sits behind them regulates the propeller thrust using large levers on the right and left it happens that this team of three pilots lose control of the aircraft for a short time. "

"That has happened several times. The last major incident was in 1989 in Hurricane Hugo. We had just started from Barbados, with a full tank, with 19 people on board, crew and scientists, when we got into tremendous turbulence. There were problems, a bigger mess When we got the machine under control, it was only 270 meters above the water. "

One of the most important tasks of the hurricane hunters is to drop small probes at regular intervals. These narrow tubes are about the size of household rolls and measure temperature, air pressure, wind speed and their location using a global positioning system on their way through the storm. As soon as the probes drop in the ocean, they measure the water temperature just below the hurricane and send all the data back to the aircraft - thus enabling precise weather forecasts.

On the edge of the Miami university campus stands a modern fortress: the world's largest center for hurricane weather forecasting - the "National Hurricane Center". An angular bunker, long and wide like a soccer field, with lots of antennas and satellite dishes on the flat roof. Two thick reinforced concrete walls and heavy metal doors are designed to hold the water in the event of a storm surge. The heart of the building is a large, darkened room with long rows of monitors. On the right side, meteorologists observe the hurricanes in the Atlantic, on the left the storms over the Pacific.

"The data comes in via these computers here: satellite images, the data from the hurricane hunters, but also measurements made by ships or on land. The data situation is then very different. In some storms we call:" Give us more data "We need more data," with others we are drowning in it. "

Jack Beven rolls back and forth in his office chair between a screen that shows satellite images and a computer that holds all available information about tropical storms in a large database. Beven runs various hurricane simulations and tests whether newly developed models offer progress or not. But the computer programs alone do not make a good prediction - what counts in the end is the experience of the hurricane expert.

"You have to observe every storm and learn from it. You have to memorize the lessons it teaches you and use them for yourself in the future. Especially when different computer models make different predictions, then it depends on your experience You want to make a good prediction. "

If a hurricane approaches the coast, Beven must bring in reinforcements. His colleagues then speak to the emergency services on site and issue current warnings at short intervals.
Sometimes it can get quite crowded in the "National Hurricane Center".

"This building is also used as an evacuation center for our employees. If a hurricane hits Miami, they can bring their loved ones here with them. So they can work in peace without having to worry about what happens to their families at home. "

The hurricane is slowly approaching the North American continent. It wanders northwest through the Gulf of Mexico, runs parallel to the coast for a while, and then, all of a sudden, moves northeast, towards land. There the hurricane is gradually losing its power. Without a supply of energy from the ocean, it continues to weaken. Only when his path leads over warm water again can he gain new strength.

"As soon as we have the forecast of exactly where the hurricane will land, our wind engineering team takes the transporters there. It takes half an hour to set everything up and then they make off as quickly as possible."

Stephen Leatherman and his co-workers at the University of Miami measure the wind speed of a hurricane when it comes ashore. To do this, they use mobile wind towers that look like small, very stable construction cranes. They then measure the wind at heights of 0, 5 and 10 meters, i.e. exactly where people live and where the buildings are. They send their measurement data by satellite to the "National Hurricane Center" in Miami. Last year the wind chasers even managed to get to exactly the right place. As the first team in the world, they were able to measure how the eye of the storm came ashore, how it suddenly became quiet, and then how the storm began to rage again.

On August 13, 2004, Hurricane Charley hit the west coast of Florida. According to the weather forecast, it will hit the city of Tampa, but then the meteorologists will have to correct their forecast at short notice. Charley swerves to the right and hits Punta Gorda, walks over Arcadia and then on towards Orlando. People in these cities are largely taken unprepared.

"At 10 o clock that morning I went to get a pig, me and my buddy. I said to him we're getting nailed, we need to get beer."

Fred Gilbert has parked his pick-up truck in front of the hardware store in Arcadia and is pushing long blocks of wood onto the loading area. He remembers exactly the day Charley came. He found out about it at 10 a.m., just two hours before the storm hit his home.

"I was just about to pick up a pig with my buddy. I said to him, this time it will get us, we have to get some beer quickly. We stood in the front yard of my house, got drunk and watched the whole spectacle. Mine Sister-in-law had also come to us, she lives further north, and she believed she was safer here. Our entire roof came down; her house, on the other hand, remained completely intact. In return, her fear drove my children completely crazy. "

"The main thing that happened to houses here in South Florida was that they often didn’t have coverings over the windows or carport door."

Meteorologist Hugh Willoughby of the International Hurricane Research Center at the University of Miami.

"Most of the houses here in South Florida had no protection from their windows and garages. But when the wind blows more than 200 kilometers per hour, the first window breaks because an object flies in. Pressure builds up inside the house, and the wind pulls the roof up like the wing of an airplane. According to the latest building regulations, all houses must have special shutters. If all houses had been barricaded, the total damage would have been only half the amount. "

"I had dealt with Charley on the previous night shift when he was traveling the Caribbean. I took him on on my next shift when he reached the Florida coast. Charley not only changed direction at the last minute, he also turned in its last five hours over the sea extremely intensified - from a category 2 storm, i.e. wind speeds of up to 170 kilometers per hour, suddenly to a category 4 storm, the second highest category with up to 250 kilometers per hour. I can tell you that that scares us meteorologists when storms grow as fast as Charley did. "

A large field of white gravel outside the town of Arcadia. A few dozen white residential containers are here, neatly lined up like in a barracks. Two children play ball between the containers, pensioners push their walking aids around. FEMA-Park is the name of this government-funded emergency settlement, which houses people who have not had a place to stay since Charley. A truck drives up, brakes, two men jump off and unload a wheelchair.

"My mother lost her wheelchair in the hurricane, these people have finally repaired it. Until last summer, she had her own condominium in an assisted living house. When Charley met us, water suddenly came from the ceiling lamp and the sockets Roof crashed. My mother lost 90 percent of what she once owned. "

A long wooden ramp leads to the door of the container. A simple kitchen with dining area, a bedroom. There's a sermon on TV. Seventy-three year old Cheryl Smith is sitting on the sofa, carefully made up. Last year she lived in a confined space with her son, now she has moved here. It's difficult for her to start here, she says. It's all very different here than what she is used to. Yet Cheryl Smith is grateful for having a place to stay.

In August 2004, Charley wandered across Florida at such great speed that it was really devastating only in a very limited corridor. The great tidal wave that people expect on the coast does not materialize. Not so with Hurricane Ivan, which follows a few weeks later. It hits coastal areas in northern Florida on a broad front and brings with it a three-meter high tidal wave. Fortunately, this time the correct region has been warned, and most of the people there follow the golden rule of Florida: "Hide from the wind, but flee the tide."

There is a lot of confusion in the corridors of the American Geological Survey's research center in St. Petersburg, Florida: files and rolls of paper are lying around between overcrowded offices, and large-format photos and maps are stacked here on top of each other. Oceanographer Abby Sallenger looks at a photograph showing a multi-story apartment building on the beach that has collapsed.

"It's a shocking photo. There has never been anything like it in American history. When Ivan came ashore, five-story apartment buildings just fell over."

Abby Sallenger and colleagues flew the coastal areas in airplanes and took numerous photos. At the same time, they recorded a precise elevation profile of the beaches, islands and houses with a special laser scanning process called LIDAR.

"For the first time we tried to predict what would happen when a hurricane hits the coast, what it will change. In the future we want to be able to predict how high the tidal wave will be that the wind will push against the land. A crucial question is whether the offshore islands off Florida will be flooded and how the current will drive individual strips out of the islands. In the case of Ivan, we were able to predict that quite well. So we hope that we will soon be able to calculate which areas of the coast are particularly endangered are compared to other areas. "

On September 5, 2004, Hurricane "Frances" hit the east coast of Florida, north of Miami. Two weeks later, hurricane "Jeanne" is approaching, slowly turning a loop off the coast, and then heading for exactly the same region. Houses that have just survived "Frances" are blown over by "Jeanne" very quickly.

Hugh Willoughby of the University of Miami Hurricane Research Center has analyzed the number of deaths from hurricanes over the past few decades.It turned out that the statistics have improved significantly in recent years, even though more and more people have moved to the coast of Florida over the years. The victims are usually people who completely misjudge the danger or who fall victim to terrible coincidences.

"We're here in America, OK. Everyone thinks they have to drive a big car, an SUV. And then it goes like this: I paid $ 50,000 for this Hummer tank, and I can get through here very well." Drive water. - People today mostly drown in their cars, only very rarely in their houses. What also happens very often is that people let their child play in the flood - and suddenly it is driven away. Manhole covers are also often used pushed out by the tide, and then when the tide recedes, people can get sucked into the open hole and drown down there. "

Florida is the US state best prepared for natural disasters. With every new hurricane, people have the opportunity to gain experience, revise emergency plans and improve crisis management. And yet Florida is overwhelmed with four hurricanes within six weeks. The electricity and the cellular network fail for a long time. The drinking water is becoming scarce. The streets are congested. The helpers have just started to settle in one place when they are already being called to the other end of Florida.

Traffic expert Larry Hagen from Tampa University uses a conference call to coordinate evacuation planning for the 2005 hurricane season with colleagues from the road management authority and rescue workers.

"Most traffic lights had no emergency power supply last season. The responsible authorities had set up generators at the major intersections, several thousand of them - but many were stolen because some people wanted to supply their house with electricity. With new LED traffic lights that If they consume little energy, it will hopefully soon be possible to operate the traffic light systems with batteries for a long time. After a hurricane, it will take a long time for everything to go back to normal. But if the traffic lights worked, that would be a great help. "

The director of the American Hurricane Center Max Mayfield during an operation on July 10th when Hurricane Dennis hit Florida. (AP Archive) "When the first hurricane, Charley, suddenly turned to the right, waterworks were destroyed and water pipes contaminated. Many people were then supplied with bottled water. But that was not a good solution - people have to shower and cook too We are now trying to make it clear to the emergency services that there are specialists across the country who can be called in and who can lay emergency water pipes very quickly, which is just one example of a range of actions that can be taken must - regardless of whether we are experiencing a hurricane, a flood or some other disaster. "

Epidemiologist and health nurse Tom Mason directs the College of Public Health at the University of Tampa. He advises the military and other organizations on the management of relief operations.

"We will publish our experience of the four hurricanes and show the rest of the world that we did not do badly, but that we were overwhelmed nonetheless. We must learn from these events in order to face the challenges of the future . "

As a result of the greenhouse effect, the temperature of the earth's atmosphere rises. The oceans continue to warm up and drive the huge storm spirals ever stronger. Although this development has no influence on the number of large storms, it does on their intensity. Mighty hurricanes like Charley, Ivan and Jeanne will be even more powerful in the future and bring even more dramatic rainfall. Storms of the highest category 5 will soon no longer be a rare occurrence.

"I suspect that we already have a significant influence of global warming on the hurricanes. But that is not yet the most important influencing factor. There is a natural cycle in the atmosphere: every 25 years there is a phase with intense storms, and that dominates The current development, but we experts now agree that soon, in 100 years, when there is a lot more CO2 in the atmosphere, the strongest hurricanes will be much stronger and that they will bring a lot more rain with them. "

American meteorologists made a forecast back in spring - for the summer and autumn of 2005: They anticipate an unusually intense season, similar to 2004, and they expect around nine hurricanes over the Atlantic. Two of these strongest storms hit the coasts of America in mid-July: Dennis hits the area in northwest Flordia that Ivan had passed through a year earlier. Emily is haunted by the Mexican peninsula Yucatan, with winds of over 210 kilometers per hour. The hurricane season has never started so early and so violently. Dennis and Emily are the most powerful July storms on record, since 1851. And they're just the beginning.