Hurricane relief and nonprofit transparency

Like many Floridians, I am nursing a bit of survivor’s guilt about Hurricane Dorian and the Bahamas. If Dorian had not lingered for so long over the Bahamas, Florida likely would have received a much harder hit from the storm.

I have seen a lot of efforts here to provide assistance to folks in the Bahamas, which is not surprising. The Bahamas are less than a day’s trip by boat from the coast here, and our cultures are thoroughly intertwined. Just today, we were at an ice cream parlor where they were giving a fraction of their revenues to aid the Bahamas. That’s a theme in businesses up and down the A1A.

But I am hearing other stories as well. We ordered a safe for our home this week, and one of the chaps delivering it had been a military contractor for a while and still has friends doing similar work. He said that after the hurricane, many of these ex-military folk were traveling to the Bahamas in their own boats and planes, bringing food and other supplies to help people out. He said the government there was turning them all away. One of them even received a citation as a business interest for landing there. I was stunned. In the US, when the likes of the Cajun Navy shows up after a storm, no one ever turns them away. In the US, the Coast Guard recruits civilians and their boats for search and rescue missions.

This is the second time in recent memory where hurricane relief seemed to be overwhelmed by corrupt dealings (the other is Puerto Rico, which has involved indictments). It makes me wonder where all of this money being raised by charities is even going.

When you donate money to an established charity with a mission that may be urgent, but not as incredibly urgent as hurricane relief, you have a whole lot of transparency. But are standards lowered when a charity has raised a bunch of money quickly and has to demonstrate it going somewhere? How do you even make an intelligent decision in this context?

Waiting on Hurricane Dorian

My phone has been blowing up with messages and calls from concerned friends and family members asking if we are safe from Hurricane Dorian. We are safe. We evacuated to Georgia, but are hours away from the coast here too.

We left our house on the beach in Flagler County, Florida, last Wednesday when we learned Dorian had already become a major hurricane. I wish we had stayed another day to prepare our house better and be more thoughtful about what we packed, but Dorian had not become the slow-moving beast that it is now. I’ve felt physically ill for the past few days watching what is happening in the Caribbean and seeing the storm defy models and move toward the Florida coastline. Thank goodness Flagler County invested tens of millions of dollars building a new sea wall and got the project done quickly.

We’ve set up shop at Rodney’s parents’ lake house on Lake Hartwell, which is on the border of Georgia and South Carolina (where Clemson is – and, boy, are the people here ready for some football). This place is magical to Elise. And that’s nice, because it is taking her mind off of the storm potentially damaging our home. I can’t imagine how events like this seem through the eyes of a child.

We’ve been going out on the lake, visiting a place she calls Treasure Island. Treasure Island is one of the many little islands in Lake Hartwell. We usually have it to ourselves, but as it is Labor Day, there are some families camping there.

Last year, Rodney’s parents planted a treasure map in their garden and told Elise to dig up some worms there to go fishing. She found the map and followed the directions to a treasure chest they had actually buried on Treasure Island. This involved loading everyone up in the boat and going there, hiking through the forest on the island looking for clues, and finally breaking out a shovel. She is sure to remember that adventure forever. It’s definitely her special place.

We also got Sherlock a life vest for boating trips. It is ridiculously adorable. He’s barely a year old, but loves swimming and running around on the boat. He’s honestly a little too comfortable on a boat. Even at high speeds, he tries to break lose and be at the very front. Thank goodness his life vest has a handle on top.

Elise and I have been going on a lot of nature walks in the woods here. This is some of the most beautiful territory in the United States, and it offers a lot of opportunities to put our studies of biology and ecology to good use.

My mother-in-law said that Elise looks like a miniature version of me in that picture, and it reminded me that I have a picture of myself in basically the same pose. It cracked me up. This is from my days at Baylor in Texas.

After reading Jane Goodall’s book on observing wildlife, Elise has been talking a lot about sitting in one place and observing the habits of animals there. On one of our hikes, we found this rather large den that Elise wants to stake out at night. There is no persuading her how bad of an idea that is. Be careful what ideas you put into your children’s minds, folks!

We also found a silkworm village to observe. At least observing them did not involve potentially getting eaten.

Last night, we were going through old family pictures, and came across this one of my old English Mastiff with Elise as a baby. Safest baby in the entire world in this picture! (Yes, Duke really was *that* huge.)

The maddening innumeracy of hurricane models

These are two cycles of models for Hurricane Dorian taken merely 24 hours apart. Do you notice something about them?

There is zero overlap between them. There is no mathematical way that the folks running these scenarios are representing the actual range of possible outcomes.

The consequences of these mathematical failures are huge. Yesterday, reporters nationwide were telling people in Florida that one of the most catastrophic storms in the history of the State of Florida was about to make landfall. Today, they are telling them that they are in the clear and the storm might hit the Outer Banks instead. Both claims are absolute bullshit from a quantitative perspective.

Why can’t the federal government hire a single quant from Wall Street to model hurricanes?

For those seeking solid information on Hurricane Dorian

Levi Cowan, a graduate student studying tropical cyclones at Florida State University and obviously one of the brightest young scientists in this country, does some incredible videos on hurricanes. He is on Twitter at @tropicaltidbits and has a website, tropicaltidbits.com. He’s posting a lot of the reconnaissance data on the hurricane as it comes in, so sometimes you know about increases in intensity and changes in direction before the National Hurricane Center officially releases it (and the Weather Channel subsequently reports on it). A lot of the data you are seeing released on TWC is already stale.

Here is his latest video. Hurricane Dorian appears to be an exceptionally dangerous storm for the Bahamas right now and has the potential to be one of the worst storms in Florida history. I am praying that it stays off the coast, but if it doesn’t, Levi has an excellent explainer here on why. I am feeling a little sick watching this, to be honest.

As much as Floridians like to mock the spaghetti models, the amount of time Dorian lingers after hitting the Bahamas and how close other systems allow it to get to the coast (initial conditions for impacting Florida) are subtle differences with tremendous consequences. Please keep Florida in your prayers.

It absolutely blows my mind that Governor DeSantis is not evacuating the coasts right now. The window for South Florida is closing soon, and North Florida will be right behind it. Very bad decision, in my opinion.