Local resident gives first-hand perspective of hurricane
By Kevin Morter
For The Daily Press
Editors note: Delta County resident Kevin Morter has worked in local media and spent many years living in the area of Florida that is being impacted by Hurricane Ian. The following are his thoughts and perspectives as the hurricane hits Florida.
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ESCANABA — John’s worried.
And if John’s worried, I’m worried.
I don’t need to be, I’m about 1,800 miles away from the problem. But John is one of my best friends, a brother really, and he’s in the middle of it. It is a Category 4-becoming a 5 hurricane named Ian that is set to wreak havoc over southwest and south central Florida over the next few hours. John is in a serious position of responsibility. He is the chief of police in a beautiful resort town near Tampa that has already been told to evacuate. I texted him Monday to let him know he and his wife (and Dobermans) are in our thoughts. He told me they are preparing for the worst, and hoping for the best, which is what everyone does when a hurricane is headed your way. John is the best cop I’ve ever known. In Naples, he was the public information officer, SWAT commander, driving coach, and emergency management guy. FBI trained, crucible tested, and a kind and understanding human being. He takes his job very seriously, but has a terrific sense of humor. He was my partner working for Indycar when that circus was in Florida racing at St. Pete and Homestead, and we had a ball.
His wife and the dogs are secure at his brother’s house in Naples, where I met John and lived with my wife for 20 years. There, we made it through a number of hurricanes and tropical storms. Charlie in ’04. Then Katrina the next year. It swept from Ft. Lauderdale to Naples as a Cat.1 and then went on to infamy as it entered the Gulf of Mexico, sacking New Orleans. And there was Wilma, which hit just south of us on Marco Island as a Cat. 4 That one hurt my neighborhood with roofs and palm trees scattered about the ground like a four year old’s bedroom. Then, just as Pam and I decided this wasn’t the place to retire, Hurricane Irma said “Not so Fast” and spanked us with a very high Cat. 3 that caused thousands of dollars worth of damage to our house and took 87 lives in the process.
My friend Dave is a Michigan boy who has a morning radio show in Naples. He is the reason I moved there in 1999, hiring me as a news director/anchor at a cable station he was running. I texted him Tuesday night to see how he was as soon as it was reported that the storm had slowed, turned east, and got stupid. He texted that they were seeing some “really crazy shut.” Thank God for auto-correct. Then he called me, because for friends, this was too important to text. He told me they had eight tornados within a two hour period. He was heading into the studio then because he had no chance of making it in later. I mentioned “That’s Jim Cantore weather”. He said “Cantore’s here! This might get ugly this time. Real ugly.”
So why should you care? You shouldn’t, I’m sure you have enough to worry about. But since few Floridians are actually from Florida, chances are you spend time there or know people or family who do. I knew a number of Michiganders and Ohioans down there. They say the south ends at about Orlando, and everything below that is basically people from the East Coast (NY, Mass, Jersey, the Midwest, etc) or Cuba. And every section of the country has it’s own weather problems specific to a certain area.
But a hurricane is really something to see. I have waited them out at home, and I have evacuated to safety. We had exceptionally strong “Bulletproof” screening to protect our home with metal shutters over the windows. When Irma hit in 2017, my wife, an ICU nurse, was scheduled to work at the precise moment Irma would make landfall right in our laps. She had to go to work. Florida is a “right to work state” and if you missed a shift because you were doing something frivolous like evacuating your family, you were fired. Period. And every hospital you applied to would know it. So, I went to stay at a shelter within the hospital she worked at to be supportive and bond with 400 people I had never met. And bonus, our friends on the block stayed at our house through the storm because, as I mentioned earlier, we had awesome protection. They had a wonderful 24 hours, while my wife worked and I caught the worst cold of my life.
The damage however was immediate and stunning. On the ride home the next day, there were trees down everywhere, shingles and roof supports blown blocks from their homes, and minor flooding in lower areas. Here, a winter storm becomes blizzard when winds reach 35 miles per hour. For a hurricane, it’s 75 mph for a Category 1. Hurricane Ian is poised to surpass 4 (130-156 mph) before it hits John and his fellow citizens at Cat. 3, which is a measly 111-129 mph. But there are a lot of other things to look at. For instance, some “victims” will be luckier than others depending on the lottery of where the storm actually makes landfall. The eastern or right side of the storm is more likely to produce stronger wind and high storm surge. The western or left side of the line will produce more rain. Storm surge is the biggest killer at work here. Florida is flat, so a storm can roll right across the state like a wave. You, sitting on my shoulders, would be the highest point in many counties. So a five foot surge could roll for miles through streets and highways. And reports are they are expecting 18-foot surge from Naples to Venice, and believe me, you would rather be at those beautiful Italian cities than their American cousins in Florida. And it’s swampy, so the water table is already just below the dirt in many places. This one is a beast, so it could drop as much as 10 trillion gallons of water on the state. Thats about 15 million Olympic swimming pools full. But what you don’t see on the news is what life after a hurricane is. Power could be out for millions for at least three or four days. At minimum. And we’re talking about Florida in September, so humidity is a real issue. Here’s a scenario I’ve lived through more than once. Power is out and you’re trying to sleep. There are no breezes or wind to speak of, and 97% humidity with a temp of 76 at two o’clock in the morning. Life can be miserable for days in that type of sweaty oven. I actually slept in our pool on a cheap floating chaise with a small leak. That was after I cleared out the branches, leaves and debris left over from our now worthless pool cage. And if you didn’t fill the car with gas, and got a few cases of water (beer) and ice, you would be in line for hours. But the neighborhood came together, mainly because my wife had the only coffee pot that would work on an outside grill. And that vacuum pot cranked every morning.
Here’s something to think about: 1 inch of rain equals 10 inches of snow. Somewhere within the “Cone of Death” a municipality will receive 10 inches of rain. That would be 100 inches of snow up here and wouldn’t that be a pain. Some will receive much more. Since Andrew in 1992, most if not all Florida homes are built out of concrete, not wood. “Stick” homes wouldn’t have a prayer in a strong Cat. 3 let alone a Cat. 4 or 5, and would become a major hazard blowing around during the event. Roofs are, of course, wooden frames, which is why they make for great TV.
Dave has been out of contact in Naples since last night. Cars there are already under water in many areas, and the storm is sitting off the coast moving at a walkable pace. About 9 miles per hour, and the slower the storm moves, the more water builds up behind it and is pushed onto the shore. Waves are breaking over the pier there and some idiots are trying to body surf. That activity will probably end with a plank across the head. But don’t expect help, because for the most part, safety personnel stop answering calls when the wind hits 45 mph. It’s well over 100 mph in areas from John’s beachfront city to many miles south of Dave in Naples.
John is to busy now for me to contact him. The last 24 hours has been good to him and his fellows, as the path changed and his city is no longer looking at a direct hit. But, he’s only worried about the storm surge, because as I mentioned, that is the real killer. He has to clean up his whole city and maintain law and order before he can even pick up his own back yard. If he still has a back yard. Or a front yard or a house for that matter. He’ll contact me when he has the chance and we’ll talk about whatever happened. And about Indycars and Formula 1. And if I’ll make the St. Pete race in March. Damage will be mostly cleared by then and life will get back to normal. Until the next one.