Hurricane Season officially starts on June 1st and ends November 30th. You really need to know that the National Hurricane Center, thankfully for us based in Miami, has some of the most knowledgeable and experienced employees you could want on your side - most are ‘lifers’! Which is why many of us here in South Florida knew that Hurricane Sandy was VERY LARGE! When it made landfall just over a week ago on the beaches of New Jersey we here in South Florida were still feeling the wind from the tail of the storm that dragged itself across Florida to make landfall 1500 miles away.

Perhaps everyone in our family is a weather watcher, sailors that most of us were? We evacuated from our low-lying apartment for H. David in 1979 when our oldest son was just two years old - thankfully it blew by. Twenty years ago we stayed put in our single storey house, which sits about seven feet above sea level, waiting for H. Andrew in late August 1992. Andrew decimated areas of Miami just 30 miles south of here. I remember it well: at about 4 a.m. I woke the family and gathered us together, each with pillows, torches and radios, into our small central, protected-on-all-sides, hallway. The three of them fell back to sleep (!) while I listened to the wind thrashing our front shutter! We lost tree branches, some shrubs were denuded of all their leaves, and about four tiles came off the corner of our house, but we were all safe. Our sons were 11 and 14 years old then.

We were so devastated by what we knew people had experienced in Miami that we didn’t call our insurance agent about the roof tiles - all agents were very busy aiding people in real need, most address numbers and street signs were blown away so it was a very hard job. So we fixed our own roof. In the long run it was probably a mistake because shortly afterwards we had to pay for a new roof out of our own pockets! But we made the right moral decision at the time. Two months later we drove to Miami to visit Fairchild Tropical Garden since my mother was visiting. As we drove south the devastation was still very apparent and my 11 year-old son said “Mum, we have to turn around, I can’t look at this any more”. He was right.

More recently we hunkered down in late October 2005 for H. Wilma which came ashore as a Category 5 storm less than 120 miles due west of here. (Sad to report our rear shutters are still covering windows and doors from that adventure!). Wilma took the tops of many large trees in our garden, several of which were well over 40 feet tall and had been so long before we moved in 31 years ago. The house was safe though, as were we. That was the year we got a generator! It makes a huge difference mainly because it keeps the fridge running and we could have a couple of lights on and a floor fan going as needed.

This preparedness thing comes from nearly 40 years of living in this area and I suspect that we often aren’t as prepared as we should be. We all become a little casual about those fine, and more often than not, quite accurate hurricane watches and warnings coming from the National Hurricane Center. For heaven’s sake, one of the meteorologists from the National Hurricane Center is the ex-chief of the hurricane center and now on the payroll of one of our local TV stations - why wouldn’t we listen to him and benefit from his years of knowledge and thoughtful expertise and advice?!

Being the fortunate ones we are, after Wilma blew herself away, we cut up our own branches and then to defer boredom and perform a little community service several of us went out with the trusty chainsaw in one son’s hands and proceeded to also clear branches from the roads. How else could emergency vehicles get to those in need?

Here’s what I think the residents of New Jersey and New York didn’t quite understand when H. Sandy was on its way ten days ago: With the guys of the hurricane center on your side and you paying attention to your local TV meteorological experts you have no reason to be concerned. But, you must pay attention, take the pictures shown from the satellites seriously (from our viewpoint the pictures alone told us H. Sandy was so obviously very large and about to meet up with a cold front coming down from the north!), prepare your house and your family, and move out if you are advised to do so.

For us Hurricane Season has been a serious block of time every year - six months of each year, in fact. I feel terrible for all the people whose lives have been devastated by Sandy but Hurricane Season isn’t just for Florida any more, we’ve seen that over and over in recent years, and perhaps it is time to reform the building code in other susceptible parts of the country, just as we’ve had to do down here since H. Andrew in 1992. Otherwise none of us will be able to afford to live in our own homes; insurance rates will sky rocket everywhere.

Three weeks to go until the end of Hurricane Season 2012. Be safe and be prepared.