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Waiting for Irma – A Live Report From Florida!

Hungary Today 2017.09.08.


We all remember Barney Flintstone’s (Béni’s) lovely wife Irma from the Hungarian version of the renowned cartoon series The Flintstones. This time, however, Irma, the hurricane is not going to be gracious and friendly at all. Forecasters predict it to be one of the greatest storms in decades. We are reporting from the west coast of Florida, from the city of Sarasota as preparations are underway to deal with this monster storm.

Hurricane Irma continued to strengthen throughout the past week to an “extremely dangerous” Category 5 storm, prompting states of emergency in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Florida — with the powerful storm forcing evacuations in the Florida Keys, the Miami area and other parts of south Florida.

To leave or not to leave?

The worst part of an approaching hurricane is the wait. We are sitting ducks here in Sarasota as well. Should we pack up and leave our house behind? There are scores of reports every day inundating us with information, a lot of it totally superfluous, but some can be important. Overpaid meteorologists keep guessing as to Irma’s path with nothing concrete to be nailed down.

Bottled water is nowhere to be found, gasoline is scarce, flash lights are long gone, propane gas tanks are sold out. Today, I filled up 30 sandbags at a distribution point, carried it home and placed it around the back of our town house around the lanai, which is more exposed.

Some demography experts say that there are as many as 30-35 thousand Hungarians living in the area between Tampa and Venice. These Hungarians stay in touch with each other discussing protective measures and possible plans to evacuate. We even reach across the state and talk to our Hungarian friends in the Miami area. President Trump promised to help. There also may be some assistance provided by the Hungarian government this time.

Indeed, if we can count on any outside assistance from overseas, it is the current government of Hungary that we can rely on as they typically care more for Hungarians across the globe – both in the adjoining territories in the Carpathian basin and overseas – than the opposition.

Irma’s maximum sustained winds had increased to near 185 mph, which is near 300 km/hour. Our beautiful Lake Balaton often had major storms that demanded a number of lives and caused major damage. But, my sailing buddies confirm that we never had wind speeds of 300 km/hour associated with any storm in recent memory.

Flooding is another major problem that hurricanes may cause. We have all witnessed the impact of Hurricane Harvey recently in the Houston area. It was devastating! This time, Irma’s impact may be equally devastating.

So, we are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. The best for us would be if Irma turned sharply North when it reached Cuba and the Florida Keys and stayed off the continent entirely sparing even Miami and the Gold Coast. However, we cannot be certain if for some odd reason, the last minute Irma had a hysterical fit and turned northwest towards us.

Outside of the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Irma is the strongest hurricane in the history of the Atlantic basin according to agency records.

“Puerto Rico has not seen a hurricane of this magnitude in almost 100 years,” Carlos Anselmi, a National Weather Service meteorologist in San Juan, told The Associated Press.

The forecast for Irma remains tricky during the weekend as it approaches South Florida Saturday night into Sunday. The storm is expected to make a turn to the north as a trough moves into the region, according to forecasters.

On the picture Irma’s size and path are nicely shown as it is approaching the state of Florida and the United States on Friday

Authorities said the storm has already dumped up to 10 inches of rain on parts of the Caribbean, causing landslides and dangerous flash floods and generated waves of up to 23 feet.

While Irma’s potential impact on the U.S. mainland is not yet fully known, Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency Monday to ensure “local governments have ample time, resources and flexibility to get prepared for this dangerous storm.”

The major problem with Florida is that the state comprises low-elevation land that rarely exceeds 10 meters above sea level. Here in Sarasota we are sitting only at about 22 feet (7-8 meters) above sea level. So, flooding is a constant problem. Even when it rains hard in July and August, during the wet season.

Assessment and future considerations

With global warming and rising sea levels, we now all need to contemplate if it may be prudent to move to higher elevation areas outside of the state. But that means we leave behind 300 days of sunshine a year, plus millions of beautiful palm trees and the azure blue/green warm water along thousands of miles of white sandy coastline. So, we need to weigh the positives versus the negatives when contemplating a permanent move from here. And the fact that there are no ice, no snow, no shoveling, no shivering here weighs heavily into this equation.

There is an old saying: if you have your hat on, that is why you are in bad shape, and if you don’t, then that is why you are having a problem.

Life is a roller coaster of ups and downs. We ride through it as we ride through this storm – with ambition, hard work, discipline and determination.

And for us, the lesson learned is that when we hear the name “Irene”, “Irmaaaaa”, or “Katia” shouted in Florida or at any location around our globe, we need to get our butt in gear and get ready for some fury hoping that our house is still there when we return from designated shelters and there will be a rainbow over the horizon once the storm passes.

Adam Topolansky, Sarasota, Florida


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