Storms and Stories
By E. Adam Porter, Editor in Chief
As a writer, you tend to collect stories. As I’ve grown older, I’ve found those stories can take on a life of their own. They expand and shift in memory, some details blur, while others sharpen with time. Groups have stories too: history, fables, and legends that grow in the telling. Family tales and community lore that are shared across dining tables and picnic tables, at weddings, funerals, birthdays, awards ceremonies, and memorial services.
As time passes and these stories collect, the exact dates and details become connected to memorable events, else they are forgotten. We put time stamps on memories, rather than precise dates. “Remember when…” followed by, “Wasn’t that right around the time…?”
Thanks to these defining moments, we can quickly, if not necessarily accurately, call up those memories in a context that reminds us of who we were then, and why that story is important. For a kid growing up in Florida, more than a few of those timestamps coincide with a severe weather event. As we enter yet another hurricane season, I find myself wondering what sort of memories we will attach to this year’s cyclonic watch party.
Thinking back, many of those context-defining disasters have names: Donna, Elena, Andrew, and Irma, for example. Then there are the seasons so unrelenting, they seem to run together in our memories. Storms like Charley, Ivan, Jeanne, Dennis, Frances, Katrina, and Wilma hardly giving us time to clean up the mess from the last one before the next one is upon us. Other storms have “No Name” at all. There are surprise thunderstorms of such ferocity they rip down trees and blackout communities, yet do so anonymously. And there are freezes so complete, like back in ’77 and ‘82, that the talking heads on local TV fret for weeks about the nature and future of Florida agriculture, our state’s second most-important industry.
But you know what I remember most about those events?
It’s not the blackouts, the relentless rain, rising floodwaters, the crashing trees, or the wind screaming in from the Gulf like some deranged banshee bent on malevolence. It’s not the days of bottled water and peanut butter crackers… not the eerie silence of the eye or the strangely comforting growl of two-stroke chainsaws.
It’s the people.
Not the hustlers and the price gougers. I’m talking about the strangers who become heroes and the neighbors who become friends. The tree guys who show up on their own dime to clear roads and driveways. The good Samaritans who deliver water and non-perishable foods. HAM radio operators keeping everyone connected when our cell phones are turned into expensive plastic paperweights. Florida’s own home-grown version of the ‘Cajun Navy’ cruising around in ‘kicker boats’ rescuing people off roofs, reuniting families, and searching for lost pets. Folks who deliver gallons of coffee and hot sandwiches to first responders, and neighbors who share their generators, their shelter, and their food… who sacrifice their own comfort to provide the basic necessities of life to others without condition or qualm.
I also think about the reporters and forecasters who go through the same routine every season. They talk about preparation, offering bulleted lists, emergency contacts, and other vital information long before the storm comes. Then, when the storm is on the way, they drive or fly into the beast everyone else is running from.
Storms bring us together, and in that togetherness, we create new stories. For my family, last year’s season was a story of evacuation and major flooding. Of too many days camped out with family on higher ground, then coming home to four feet of water our front yard. Of days without power, weeks of cleanup, and nerves that were frayed until at least Christmas. Of course, that story ends like so many others:
“It could have been worse…”
That’s the survivor’s prayer, a mantra we whisper to each other even years after the howling wind and driving rain. We heard it in Homestead after Andrew; Central Florida after Charley, Frances, and Jeanne; New Orleans and Biloxi after Katrina, and Houston after Harvey. It was horrible… but it could have been worse.
And now here we are, facing yet another season of uncertainty and hourly-updated spaghetti models. Of empty store shelves and wondering if we bought enough batteries. Knowing that, whatever comes, we will make it through together… with stronger communities and another story to tell.