One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.William Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida
As longtime readers know, our family lives in Fort Myers, Florida, where Hurricane Ian made landfall this week. Words cannot express how much we appreciate those of you who reached out to say you were following the storm and keeping our family and community in your prayers. We have been absolutely overwhelmed with messages from friends and family offering a place to stay or help cleaning up. Even complete strangers who have followed my online musings across the years have reached out and offered to help, which just blows my mind.
I have also had some haters and trolls, no joke, reach out to mock our community’s suffering, which frankly has provided some comic relief to our family during a difficult time. (What else can one do when faced with absurdity than laugh?) One woman from high school – that I have not physically seen since we were 17 years old (we are now 42) – texted me that she hopes I “stay miserable.” Incidentally, this woman ranting on social media about how it was unfair that she was forced to take care of her own children – “I pay taxes, I should not have to be responsible for my kids during the day too,” her actual words – during Los Angeles’s permalockdowns inspired my post Teachers are not Your Babysitters and Schools are not Your Daycares. That post has been read and shared by tens of thousands of people, and I still get fan mail virtually every day from teachers telling me that I said everything they have ever wanted to say out loud about deadbeat parents and the predictably stunted intellectual and emotional development of their children. That was also my husband’s response when I read him her texts: “Who cares? That chick is a walking Child Protective Services case. Imagine how batshit crazy she is that she’s even doing this with her time.” I feel bad for the people stuck dealing with her in real life, but there obviously aren’t that many, that she has resorted to directing her venom at someone who barely knew her as a child. Like, seriously, get a life.
Another chap seemed to think the storm surge was a hoax and demanded photographic evidence of the destruction, like there’s somehow a shortage of that in the world right now. (Hooray, InfoWars!) Not to mention all the political trolls, trying to hijack feeds about how specific neighborhoods fared or rescue efforts, reciting canned lines about how the people in Florida deserve to be wiped out because DeathSantis, climate change, evil capitalists, or something. Our culture has broken so many people, seemingly irreparably. They live in a world of manufactured drama, hate, conspiracy theories, completely irrational schadenfreude directed at strangers on blue screens. They obsessively stalk people who do not know or think about them. “You clearly do not like me, but I need to insert my toxicity in your situation. And then I need to talk about how I am so virtuous and superior for behaving this way. How this is your karma.” I hope they all get the padded cells / psychotropic drugs / exorcisms that they require; thank God for block features is all I can say.
But overall, our family has been surrounded by genuine love and happily resourceful folks. I am so grateful for that. Believe me, I will not forget it, and I 100% will be there for you when you need it.
Anyway, it has been difficult to keep everyone posted with the details of where we are and what we have endured, so this is one instance where keeping a blog can be very useful. It’s a platform to provide the longform narrative to everyone that one cannot provide via text or social media.
I am not going to bury the lede here: We left town days before the storm reached Fort Myers; our Zone A neighborhood was not flooded by the storm surge because our seawall held up; and our house was not damaged at all by the wind (even the roof is fine, miraculously). It is a longstanding joke in our family that I have a two-year real estate itch, thus ensuring that we move every time I get bored with a new location. But when we get back home, I am going to plant the biggest kiss on that beloved fortress. And I am going to hug every one of my royal palms, which are also still standing after the storm. My gardens are trashed, including my huge collection of plumerias and smaller fruit trees. But y’all know me, I will enjoy replanting everything. As my daughter likes to say, “Mommy’s garden is her church.” She’s not wrong – I will restore my Eden.
Okay the longform:
It has been a surreal past couple of months, not going to lie. Before Hurricane Ian hit, our family was already planning to leave on an impromptu trip to Colorado. My father mysteriously developed some serious heart issues, which his doctors could not explain the origin of and thus were confused about how to treat them. A solution of sorts seems to have been worked out now, but we were at such an emotional boiling point after six hospitalizations within a short period of time and many emergency medical procedures that we had decided to take off work and drive out to Colorado. This had the added benefit of allowing our daughter to see our beautiful country, which is the perfect complement to studying American history and geography. (No matter how much I try, I can never flip the homeschooling switch off, lol.) It’s not easy for workaholics to step away from the keyboard, but family comes first.
We ended up delaying our departure by a day-and-a-half to prepare our house for a major hurricane. At the time, the National Hurricane Center was projecting Ian would be a category 1 hurricane that would hit the Panhandle, possibly even as far west as Louisiana. This is a very big deal, because Floridians do not take minor hurricanes seriously, and for good reasons. Our homes are built to super strong hurricane codes, so a category 1 is a nothingburger in terms of damage. Furthermore, we have a bona fide monsoon season that takes up half the year in Florida. Most of our afternoon squalls are worse in terms of damage and flooding than a minor hurricane – they just aren’t cyclones in terms of how they behave.
All this is to say, our preparations seemed like madness to many of the people in our area. Bolting the heavy metal accordion shutters into the cement walls of our house. Sandbagging the area by the pool. We made many trips to Lowe’s.
Being a data nerd, I saw obvious problems with the National Hurricane Center’s projections. My level of trust in federal agencies is generally low, but I can tell you, I will never trust the NHC again after developing a granular understanding of how bad they are at manipulating models and, frankly, how downright innumerate the people who work there are. I totally understand how the climate cult came to be now and why they need a pseudo-religious fervor to keep it going.
All of the time the NHC spent hyping a storm taking out Tampa – a city that has not had a major storm in over a century, and for good reasons if you understand the basic topography of Florida and currents – could have and should have been spent talking about how this storm was going to be a repeat of Charley, which made landfall just above Fort Myers two decades ago. Charley was also a category 4 / nearly category 5 storm, but because of how it was positioned, did not involve storm surge.
The NHC had no good mathematical reason to think the storm would hit Tampa. They work with two big hurricane models – the GFS and the European model. All the NHC does in the early stages of storm development is split the difference between the two models. GFS, which had been flat-out wrong days earlier regarding the path and intensity of Hurricane Fiona (which also caused spectacular destruction that many people were unprepared for because they Trusted the Science) had the storm headed for the Panhandle. The Euro insisted and did not waver that it was going to hit the Fort Myers area, following the path of Charley within mere miles (which is exactly what happened) and that it would be catastrophic (which it was). What did the NHC do when faced with two models predicting wildly different storms based on wildly different and path-dependent assumptions? They did what they always do – split the difference. The storm would hit Tampa because Tampa is physically equidistant to the Panhandle and Fort Myers. They really do give away PhDs as prizes in CrackerJack boxes now. Coming from a background of financial and economic modeling, I knew right away this was insane and absurd. I decided we would prepare our house for pure hell on earth, which was a fortuitous decision. I told everyone I talked to – cashiers at the store, gas station attendants, everyone – that the big one was coming.
Of course, the media latched on to the NHC’s prediction that the storm would hit Tampa because a storm hitting a low-laying area with millions of people that had never seen a major hurricane in over a century was ratings and political gold. So many people would die because they refused to accept that climate change meant storms of the century. What never happens would finally happen and they get to say “the Experts told you so, dumb Trumpkins [even though Tampa is a super liberal area].” The real human cost of this is that the place where the storm was obviously going mathematically was not preparing. THE NHC DIDN’T EVEN HAVE FORT MYERS WITHIN ITS CONE OF UNCERTAINTY BEFORE IT HIT.
This is also how the NHC and the media behaved with Charley, which likewise “caught them off-guard.” Charley was supposed to be The Lesson, the evidence you cite as to why you should always trust a major storm to turn. And what was The Science saying? Ignore the turn. Good enough for government work. It’s like the clowns with the coronavirus models all over again.
Anyway, when we left Fort Myers, I fully expected that we’d lose everything we owned and I was trying to make peace with that reality emotionally. We live right on the water. I figured the storm would likely become a category 5 because the water is bathtub warm now and it did not have much land to pass over (not to mention the fact that western Cuba is not mountainous anyway). We were fucked.
To make matters worse, the only car we have now is the Maserati my husband lavishly gave me for my birthday back in May. We had traded in my SUV to buy another SUV, which we had special-ordered from BMW and it was still in production. The trunk of an Italian sportscar would barely accommodate our clothes for a week, let alone anything of value. I know these sound like poor rich person problems, and they certainly are. But I am not an heiress; I have worked my ass off to emerge from a blue-collar background. I could replace all of the materialistic stuff in the house, but I was not thinking about that at the time. I was thinking of our collection of landscape paintings painted by my husband’s grandmother. I was thinking of the china and silver that had been in my husband’s family for a century. I was thinking about books written about his grandparents when they were in a concentration camp. I was thinking about the footlocker my grandfather took with him to World War II in Europe, where he was one of the brave folks who stormed Normandy. I was thinking about the art brought back from Chile and Argentina. My thousands of books. The enormous telescope I built so my kid could see the universe. The artwork my daughter made as a young child. Sonogram pictures. Years of homeschooling curriculum painstakingly researched and selected. I put what I could in the safe, but my God, I wanted to cry as we locked the door and walked away, picturing all of that being washed out to sea. We had purposefully selected a house in a neighborhood willing to pay for the construction and maintenance of a sea wall, but who even knows what a superstorm brings?
Because my father had been in bad health, I had spent the previous weeks as close as I have ever come to “praying without ceasing.” Sometimes I would take a long, hot shower just to be alone and put my entire attention before God. With the hurricane coming too, it felt like the end of my personal world. I couldn’t sleep. Couldn’t really eat. I felt like I wanted to puke. Watching my hurricane predictions slowly unfold, it felt a lot like the slow-motion crashes in 2008 and 2020, where I was a Cassandra of sorts.
But the fact of the matter is, what I thought were unanswered prayers about my dad’s now-improved health and the storm were actually leading our family out of harm’s way. I made myself obedient even when I didn’t want to. I made myself open for signs when I thought my attention should be directed elsewhere. I offered up my “stuff” in a state of absolute trust. And I think it mattered.
My mother keeps repeating in disbelief that she cannot understand how our house made it, especially given its location on the water. The storm certainly breached many seawalls – in fact, it threw the sea wall around the Yacht Basin down the street from our house blocks into downtown Fort Myers. Our house might as well have had a forcefield around it, she remarked. I do not question this. I did not test God. Not once did I try to bargain my way out of this. I feel like Abraham for once in my life.
One other surprising – though I guess it should not surprise me at all – thing through all this has been seeing how strong our daughter is. Not once did she cry for her things. She wasn’t scared for our livelihood. All she cared about was how the storm would impact other people. As we prepared the house for the storm, all she wanted to do was help. I have never been so proud of her as I am now, and that’s saying a lot.
We are going to stay in Colorado for another week or so and then return to Florida. We don’t want to use precious resources (like gas on the way home) needed by first responders or otherwise interfere with recovery operations. When we get home, we will get to work and help out where we can. I have spent a lot of time using my Google-Fu to help people in our town and relatives of people in our town connect to each other and know who is safe and who needs help. As much as I hate social media, it does have some important uses.
Fort Myers is one of the best communities I have ever lived in. I have lived all over the country, and experienced many natural disasters in that time. I lived in a town that survived the Sacramento River flooding, two major earthquakes, flooding in Kentucky, tornadoes. I know what it takes to come back from extreme destruction, and Fort Myers definitely has what it takes. In a society where people live online, I know all my neighbors. In a society that is becoming increasingly godless, I belong to a church that is ready to hit the streets and feed the hungry. This too shall pass, and we will all be better for it.
God is good, all the time.