Saturday, November 18, 2017
Human Interest

Hurricane season: Our annual reminder that Florida is trying to kill us

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A couple of years ago, a real estate blog called Estately announced that, according to its highly scientific calculations, the scariest state in the union is Florida.

Why us? Because of our hurricanes, for one thing. And the shark attacks. We get more than anywhere else in the world. The blog also counted our tornadoes (frequently spawned by our hurricanes) and our many lightning strikes (we usually get more of those than anywhere else in the U.S.).

"The most dangerous state in America is the most likely place to experience a real life Sharknado," the blog noted.

Of course, as a Floridian, I was incensed by this. They completely forgot to mention our sinkholes!

For a state that's notoriously flat — flatter than Kansas, in fact — we're constantly teetering on the brink of some calamity. The hurricanes wash away buildings and beaches. The sinkholes swallow cars, roads, pools, houses, the occasional person. Mosquitoes bite us, trying to give us Zika. A day at the beach leaves us chomped on by a shark, stung by a stingray or stepping on sand spurs.

Our placid and comforting state song about the Suwannee River (written by a guy who never actually set foot in Florida — how Florida is that?) should be replaced with something more accurate. My nominee would be the 1979 hit Flirtin' With Disaster by Jacksonville band Molly Hatchet: "We're flirtin' with disaster, y'all know what I mean/And the way we run our lives, it makes no sense to me"

See, the Chamber of Commerce folks don't like to mention this, but the fact is, Florida is trying to kill us.

The pioneers knew this. Every day they faced not just bloodthirsty mosquitoes and relentless heat but venomous snakes and hungry gators; saw palmetto that could rip up your hands if you grabbed it wrong and the manchineel tree with sap so deadly it could be used as poison. That's why they named so many places the way they did: Tate's Hell Swamp, Lake Hell 'n Blazes, The Devil's Millhopper and so on.

Yet, we claim it's a paradise. We've got air conditioning! And Cinderella's Castle!

In 2014 a financial analysis company called CoreLogic rated Florida as the state facing the highest risk of losses from natural hazards. Each state was assigned a score from 0 to 100 based on the level of risk.

Florida earned a score of 94.5. The No. 2 state, Rhode Island, scored below 80.

A big reason for that: We get more hurricanes making landfall than anywhere else in the country, a key fact to ponder as June heralds the start of another hurricane season.

We haven't had a Big One make landfall in more than a decade, so some Floridians have grown complacent about our summerlong state of risk. Others, having never experienced a hurricane, don't know enough to be concerned.

If it were up to me, everyone who bought a home in Florida would be handed a brochure listing all the hurricanes that have hit us and where, all the local flood zones and evacuation routes, and anywhere Jim Cantore might do a standup report.

On the back would be a quick Floridian tutorial for anyone unfamiliar with hurricane terminology: "Spaghetti models" do not pose for the cover of Italian Vogue. "The cone of uncertainty" is not a horcrux sought by Harry Potter. "Saffir Simpson" is not Homer's long-lost brother.

Honestly, I think our vulnerability to hurricanes is part of what makes Floridians behave the way we do. Every June we get a reminder that our grandest achievements could easily be turned into kindling.

The idea that everything we've done and everything we've got could be blown away at any moment makes people concentrate on today. We tend to avoid thinking about tomorrow, much less what climate change might do 20 years from now. We build our poorly designed houses and corner-cutting condos, we suck the aquifer dry to water our lawns, we pave over wetlands that could recharge the drinking supply.

Maybe it makes sense that Florida's trying to kill us. After all, look at what we've been doing to Florida.

Contact Craig Pittman at craig@tampabay.com. Follow @craigtimes.

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