Every morning and every night for the past four days my first and last thoughts have been for Hurricane Dorian. They’re too obscene to repeat here, though I’m sure they’re no different than the hurricane of obscenities all of us Floridians are directing at the little shit as it toys with our fates.
I attribute Dorian’s latest and dramatic shift away from our shores to that blast of obscenities. It’s not reflected in the forecasting models. But you can sense it. Our collective curses, like summer heat forming gigantic thunderheads, is its own high-anxiety pressure system–not an H or an L sitting over weathercasters’ crayola maps but a gigantic F. This defiant weather system now sits over Florida, shaped more like a middle finger than an anvil, our George Carlin-fonted answer to that continuing progeny of stupidly named bastard children of west African dust devils. After Hurricanes Michael, Irma, Matthew and Wilma, we have a right to say, like Job to God: “You have grown cruel in your dealings with me, your hand lies on me, heavy and hostile, you carry me up to ride the wind, tossing me about in a tempest.”
At least the god of the ancient testament, that reliable sadist, had the good sense not to christen cataclysms with cute little names that belie their homicidal intent. Supposedly the names help to more effectively communicate the danger of storms. We identify better with “Dorian” than with “2019 dash four.” And it makes it much easier on TV weathercasters, who during catastrophic storms are indistinguishable from demented meth addicts. They like things simple, if too prolonged at our expense.
Dorian’s dithers aside, it’s been reassuring to see Flagler County’s new regime operating so smoothly at the intersection of government and emergency management. Ex-Palm Coast City Manager Jim Landon and County Administrator Craig Coffey were typhoons of ego and insecurity. Now that they’re gone, those assigned various roles can go about their work without interlopers presuming to run the show. It’s been an excellent drill for an actual disaster we hope never comes.
A few days ago I called up Jerry Cameron, the county administrator on temporary leave from Downton Abbey, to get his analysis of the situation. “Jonathan Lord is going to be the lead,” Cameron said of his emergency management chief. “The last thing I’m going to do is put myself in front of the cameras.” It’s a startling change from Coffey, who’d made a eunuch of his emergency management chief at the time. In his administration you were either diva or castrati. Matt Morton, Palm Coast’s new manager, has been equally, radically different from Landon, replacing imperious arrogance and a presumption of papal infallibility with transparency so candid you’d think he was a board member of the First Amendment Foundation.
Speaking of popes, it’s curious to see how emergency officials still go all Catholic on us in emergencies: no Protestant deference to individual interpretations of the National Hurricane Center’s or other models’ scriptures. They like to have just one source of information, the Emergency Operations Center turning into a sort of disaster Vatican. The pronouncements from EOC start resembling the pope’s balcony appearances, especially when officials stage those cheesy, robotically inauthentic news conferences for the TV cameras, or when the governor uses them as campaign props.
Ironically, all those pronouncements are based on the National Hurricane Center’s analyses, which are themselves based on an innumerable number of models from around the world: hurricane forecasting is nothing if not a mixture of science, guesswork and the consensus of spaghetti gastronomy, with American and European forecasters quietly competing for supremacy. The forecasting world is as Protestant as it gets, each analyst his or her own minister of revealed truths. It’s all about interpretation and nothing but interpretation.
Anyone with a reasonable understanding of how models work (and compete) can see where they’re going. But by the time it’s distilled into official information, your local officials fear and dread freelancing interpreters who start bandying one model over the other. (I’m partial to the European model myself, which has yet to fail me: I held off filling our sandbags based on its projections of Dorian safely drifting east.) Obviously in the age of Facebook fallacies there’s plenty of room for nut cases spreading false rumors and ridiculous predictions, so the emergency folks have a point when they prefer that people stick to their official messaging.
And most people, overwhelmingly so, do. Which brings up yet another curious fact about these disasters: at times like these, there’s an almost total, trusting reliance on government, and an almost total absence of skepticism and government-bashing. Maybe diehards won’t admit it, but they hang on every word from their EOC chiefs and the National Hurricane Center. The vaunted private sector couldn’t hold a candle to these government operations–in emergencies, that’s all it would have anyway–and when, after a storm, we have turned to the private sector for relief, the disappointments have been immense. Recall FPL’s nearly criminal negligence of Flagler after Irma two years ago, then its doubly criminal gall to stick us with the repair bill. Keep that in mind next time you feel the urge to bash government or worship the private sector. So hearty thanks to all of you government workers and volunteers.
Thankfully too, it now looks like Dorian is getting Florida’s collective message of dirty words. I’m less worried. Looks like we can go back to the Brown Dog Wednesday after all. And if you really want to know what I think of Dorian, my thoughts were quoted at length and repeatedly in an appendix to a U.S. Supreme Court decision. May the words bring us peace from hurricanes, with or without honor.
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