Tuesday, July 12, 2005

NOAA's Arc

Like many of my fellow Florida residents, I have a good friend named NOAA. Yes, that's spelled correctly; it's a bit different than the Biblical Noah. Early last year, I didn't know a thing about NOAA, but I made his acquaintance when fall rolled around. By September, I was visiting him several times a day, along with thousands of fellow Central Floridians. He never turned us away, but he didn't spare us from the harsh truth, either. When the hurricane trio bore down on the Orlando/Kissimmee/Celebration area, he warned us with unflinching honesty.

Of course, NOAA isn't always right. Sometimes his predictions are just a bit off, and other times they're as accurate as Serena Sabak's psychic visions in the "Weekly World News" (Elvis's alien love child will real himself and marry Michael Jackson in a same-sex ceremony in Hawaii!). But, like any weather forecaster, you have to cut him some slack. After all, Mother Nature is fickle, and NOAA's scientific gadgets are sometimes no match for her whims.

So just who is this "NOAA?" Or, more accurately, what is it? It's an acronym for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a government agency that became all too familiar with Floridians during the Hurricane Hell Season of 2004. Before that time, I thought that the worst of the storms never made it as far inland as the Disney World area. Now I know that we can get hammered.

The National Hurricane Center section of NOAA's website can be found at www.nhc.noaa.gov. It features all sorts of useful information, including radar and path predictions. I've already logged on obsessively this year as Hurricane Dennis taunted and teased Central Florida before focusing his wrath elsewhere. Now I'm keeping an eye on little sister Emily, although the three and five day "cones" (path prediction maps) have us pretty much out of her range.

I never thought I'd learn the different wind speeds that transform a tropical depression into a full-fledged hurricane. I was totally ignorant of the difference between a Category 1 vs. a Category 4. Believe me, I could have lived the rest of my life quite happily never needing to know.

But now that I'm a Floridian, this knowledge is as common as a Chicago South Sider knowing that Crawford and Pulaski are the same street. I can rattle off a list of hurricane survival supplies in my sleep, and I know the exact dates on which hurricane season officially begins and ends (June 1 and November 30). I know that this year's prediction is 15 storms (ugh!), and I can tell you that the remaining storm names for this year are Franklin, Gert, Harvey, Irene, Jose, Katrina, Lee, Maria, Nate, Ophelia, Philippe, Rita, Stan, Tammy, and Vince. Of course, I hope never to meet any of them!

Dennis brought us some rain, but not much more than our usual summer thunderstorms. Unfortunately, the storm savaged several other areas, from Jamaica and Cuba to the same parts of Florida that got battered by Ivan last year. It seems odd to pray that a hurricane won't hit us, knowing full well that if it turns in another direction, someone else will most likely feel its wrath. Dennis racked up a nasty death toll, killing 40 in Haiti, 16 in Cuba, 1 in Jamaica, and 5 in the United States.

Emily's arc could still change, but so far it looks like we're relatively safe. But she and Dennis will probably have lots more siblings; it's not a good sign that we've already had five named storms this season.

Still, even with the hurricane danger (plus the highest number of lightning strikes in the United States), Florida has plenty of advantages that far outweigh the risks. I love the warm winters, the sunshine, and palm trees. There are pools and theme parks galore, and the ocean is less than an hour's drive away. Better yet, Celebration is right next door to Disney World; to me, Florida is the best state to live in, and Celebration wins top honors as my favorite town.

I neglected NOAA this winter and spring, but now that it's summertime, I'm quickly renewing our acquaintenance. Like a patient and loyal friend, he's right there waiting for me. He may not always tell me what I want to hear, but he always speaks the truth (or at least, what he thinks is true).

It's going to be a loooooooooooong hurricane season.

Learn more about Celebration on my website: www.celebrationinfo.com

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