Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Storm clouds

Well....here we are on the first day of August, running up on the Dog Days, and our first real storm of the season is gathering itself off the Leeward Islands. Welcome to the world, Trop Storm Chris! Too soon for the weather service folks to tell for sure where this one's going, but the old timers here in the Keys have already started spreading the word that this one could have our number. It's looking like Chris is going to drop into the "slot", the narrow slice of deep water in the Puerto Rico trench that angles northwest from the Leewards between Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, and Cuba to the south and the islands of the Bahamas to the north. Local folklore has it that storms following this track build slowly as they move across the deep and relatively cool waters of the trench, and then quickly gain speed and strength when they reach the warm shallows of the Bahama banks. The mountains on the big islands to the south tend to steer these storms along a path that takes them right smack over the southern tip of Florida.

The big hurricane of 1926 that wiped out the fledgling tourist settlement of Miami Beach with a raging storm surge came down the slot. A couple of years later the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 that ruined Mr. Flagler's choo choo and killed nearly 450 people was a slotter. It wiped upper and lower Matecumbe Keys clean - every building, road, tree and blade of grass was swept away under a fifteen foot high wall of water pushed out of the Gulf Stream by the sudden fury of a tempest that went from tropical storm to Cat 5 hurricane strength in the 80 or so miles from Cay Sal to Lower Matecumbe. In 1945 a "minor" hurricane came out of the slot and brushed the north end of Key Largo before wrecking Homestead and south Miami in a preview of the damage that would be caused by the non-slot trajectoried Hurricane Andrew. Donna in 1960 was the last big storm to launch itself out of the slot and through the Keys, and the locals are feeling like we've been too lucky for too long. Rita passed us by safely to the south a couple of seasons ago as it took a leisurely cruise through the Gulf before bashing Texas and Louisiana.

Overdue. Everybody's a little nervous already, and this one's still at least 5 days out. I stopped at Captain Jack's for a cold one after work tonight, and you don't have to listen too long at the bar to hear the polar opposite opinions of the new generation of Keys residents that have multi-million dollar houses and yachts to worry about and the old time conchs who enjoy more modest accomodations about whether having the wind and the sea wipe the islands bare again would be a disaster or a blessing. Catastrophe or catharsis, depending on your particular perspective.

We, of course, have a whirlwind of activity at the site right now, not only in prep for the coming weather but also in response to the growing, and somewhat contradictory, pressures we're getting from the Owner to get done as quickly as possible and the demands from the boss that we make a bunch o' cash. Folks on all sides are in a panic, knowing that their indecision or interference in the past is catching up, and everyone seems to be so busy scapegoating that there just ain't much productive work going on.

Fear and loathing on the jobsite, so to speak. For me, I've got to admit that most of the time now there are thoughts running through my head about whether or not I want to ride this storm out, and if I were to decide to bail out and head for higher ground before the real shit storm hits whether that would be a sign of prudent self-preservation or cowardly desertion. Tragedy or triumph? All in the way you look at it, I guess. There was a point in one of the meetings today where even the hint of one more "what the hell were you thinking" was going to be enough to push me over the edge and out the door. Luckily, I guess, I got so pissed off after a while that my blood pressure spiked up and the corpuscular storm surge breaking on the scarred shores of my brain drowned out most of what was being said.


Anyway, where was I going with all this? Oh yeah...TS Chris. Hope you don't grow up to be a hurricane, little buddy. But if you do, I guess there are worse destinations in this part of the world than Key Largo for an early August Dog Day hurricane. Spare the poor children in Haiti and Cuba, and think about a little island renewal in Monroe County, OK?

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