What is your name?
Where do you live?
Miami, Florida, U.S.A.
Have you ever been in a hurricane or other natural disaster before? If so, what kind of natural disaster, on what date, and at what time did this event occur? Where did it occur?
I have been in several hurricanes - a few of them major hurricanes, but all have been experienced from an airplane. I have flown into Supertyphoon Flo and Hurricanes Gilbert, Luis, Georges and Floyd among others. The planes that we use are quite sturdy - the Orion P-3 turboprop planes.
Describe what happened.
The most incredible sight that I’ve ever seen is in the middle of a strong hurricane. One might not believe this, but most hurricane flights are fairly boring. They last 10 hours, there are clouds above you and clouds below - so all you see is gray, and you don’t feel the winds swirling around the hurricane. But what does get interesting is flying through the hurricane’s rainbands and the eyewall, which can get a bit turbulent. The eyewall is a donut-like ring of thunderstorms that surround the calm eye. The winds within the eyewall can reach as much as 200 mph [325 km/hr] at the flight level, but you can’t feel these aboard the plane. But what makes flying through the eyewall exhilarating and at times somewhat scary, are the turbulent updrafts and downdrafts that one hits. Those flying in the plane definitely feel these wind currents (and sometimes makes us reach for the air-sickness bags). These vertical winds may reach up to 50 mph [80 km/hr] either up or down, but are actually much weaker in general than what one would encounter flying through a continental supercell thunderstorm.
But once the plane gets into the calm of a hurricane like Andrew or Gilbert, it is a place of powerful beauty: sunshine streams into the windows of the plane from a perfect circle of blue sky directly above the plane, surrounding the plane on all sides is the blackness of the eyewall’s thunderstorms, and directly below the plane peeking through the low clouds one can see the violent ocean with waves sometimes 60 feet high [20 m] crashing into one another. The partial vacuum of the hurricane’s eye (where one tenth of the atmosphere is gone) is like nothing else on earth. I would much rather experience a hurricane this way - from the safety of a plane - than being on the ground and having the hurricane’s full fury hit without protection.
What sorts of preventative measures have you taken (regarding hurricanes) in the past?
While I have not experienced a hurricane on the ground, my family and I have been threatened by a few hurricanes including Georges in 1998 and Floyd last year. To prepare, we put up storm shutters on all of our doors and windows, brought in garbage cans and potted plants, picked all of the 1-lb avocados off of our tree, brought enough canned food/bottled water for a week of no electricity, picked up extra batteries and emergency supplies.
For both hurricanes very little - outside of an inch or two of rain and gusty winds - occurred. Given the uncertain nature of hurricane prediction, every 4 times that hurricane warnings are issued only 1 time will you get hit. But to be ready that one time that you do have the disaster, it requires many other times of “crying wolf.”
What do you think should be done in the future to prepare for natural disasters?
Yes, all of that is a good idea: education about the disasters, information (from newspapers, radio, tv, internet) about the forecasts to allow people to prepare themselves, better building codes and enforcing of them, not building in dangerous areas and insurance rates appropriate to the risk being taken.
Was your view towards life changed in any way after the event? Do you have any last thoughts regarding the incident?
Again, I haven’t experienced a “disaster” per se, but have been threatened by a couple. It is important for folks to know that predicting disasters is still a very uncertain business and occasionally (or even more often) the disaster will not show up and that schools will have shut down, business closed, tourists told to go home, for apparently no reason. Such “overwarning” or “crying wolf” is a necessary part of the process because forecasts aren’t perfect. But it is difficult for people to accept this.