Before Floridians could figure out how to pronounce Isaias, he was long gone, raging along the I-95 corridor through the Carolinas, Connecticut and across the border to Canada.
By Wednesday, the furious tropical storm had claimed at least seven lives and had left in its wake a very long trail of misery — flooding, tornadoes, toppled trees and tangled power lines. Millions of people along the Eastern Seaboard, trapped at home by the coronavirus pandemic, suddenly had no electricity in the heat and humidity of August.
It could have been us, but it wasn’t. We were lucky this time.
Across South Florida, an epicenter of the pandemic, disaster fatigue was evident. The reaction to Isaias was “I-who?” followed by a collective yawn.
As the storm churned in the Caribbean and appeared to take aim at South Florida, many could not believe that in the midst of a pandemic, a hurricane was bearing down on us. The storm’s hurried formation left little time to prepare, and many people didn’t, even though the storm at one point was 40 miles from the Fort Lauderdale coastline before it swerved on a more eastward track.
The state closed its COVID-19 testing sites and some counties opened special-needs and pet-friendly shelters. Citing social distancing rules, the state and FEMA offered hotel rooms to storm evacuees, a program called non-congregate sheltering. Palm Beach County issued a voluntary evacuation for mobile homes and unsafe structures.
The destruction and death across the Middle Atlantic states is terrible. But Isaias (which translates as God is my salvation), may have been just the warning Floridians need. Even a coronavirus pandemic is no excuse to be blase during hurricane season. And for those who may have lost track of time during this disorienting health crisis, here’s a reminder: Nearly four months remain in this 2020 hurricane season, which will officially end Nov. 30.
Yes, four months to go, and we’re not even halfway through the alphabet list of named storms. The easier-to-say Josephine is next, followed by Kyle, Laura and Marco. No kidding. Marco.
“I was very taken aback at how calm Floridians were about this storm,” wrote Jen Scherff, business development manager of Viera Insurance Agency in Brevard County, in a Sun Sentinel op-ed column. She said there were the usual jokes on social media like a meme showing a single palm frond on the ground and the words: “Hurricane Isaias. We will rebuild.”
Now’s the time to take stock of your hurricane supplies, such as fresh drinking water, nonperishable food, a portable weather radio and batteries. Check your insurance policy’s deductible. The standard deductible is 2% of the coverage amount, or $4,000 on a $200,000 home.
Homeowners may assume that their insurance policy will cover any flood damage, but that’s not true. A stand-alone flood policy is needed for flooding and storm surge, two of the most destructive forces in a hurricane. As Scherff noted, public access to sandbags is complicated by COVID-19, forcing people to bring their own tools and fill their own sandbags.
The state-run Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund opted out of participating in additional reinsurance for this hurricane season, citing $12.3 billion in assets on hand to pay claims this season.
If many Floridians ignored Isaias, it wasn’t the fault of The Weather Channel.
The Atlanta-based cable outlet, which has built a trusted brand through 40 years of storm coverage, squandered some of its hard-won credibility by labeling its Isaias coverage “Covidcane 2020: Bracing for Disaster” in eye-catching red hues. The graphic appeared throughout the weekend.
Memo to The Weather Channel: After years of living through severe storms, we’re highly skeptical of TV overstating a storm’s potential impacts to keep us tuned in. Stick to your solid, fact-based coverage and we’ll be OK.
The Viera agency warns homeowners to not wait until a storm is on the way to seek an insurance policy. That’s because carriers issue binding restrictions as soon as a storm is named and warnings are issued. No new insurance policies can be sold until restrictions are lifted.
To keep matters in context, the lack of storm planning by Floridians is understandable. We are in the throes of a life-threatening pandemic, and we have become accustomed to powerful, life-threatening Category 4 and 5 hurricanes capable of catastrophic damage — such as Michael in north Florida two years ago.
In Florida, at least, Isaias was a minor distraction. But that’s still no excuse. Get a plan, people. The next one’s coming.
©2020 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)