Irma. A Storm on a Planet
Lots of planets have storms. The Great Red Spot is a storm on Jupiter that has lasted for at least 200 years and it is the size of the Earth. Mars has planet-sized dust storms. Venus has lightning storms and Saturn also has storms.
I've never experienced the full force of a hurricane, or a cyclone as we call them here. I had the chance, but I left.
In 2004 my husband and I were in Orlando, Florida, nearing the end of our amazing first trip to the USA. We'd seen Oshkosh airshow for the first time and we have been there another 6 times since. I joke that we saw the Icons that represent the USA: the White House and Disney World. But that isn't the point of this story.
We were staying in Orlando, not far from Disney World. We'd been there, and to the Kennedy Space Centre. The day before we were due to leave we visited the Kermit Weeks Fantasy of Flight aircraft museum. It was the day before Hurricane Charley was due make landfall in Florida. It was expected to cross right over Orlando.
The sky was clear. The day was calm and warm. We knew the Hurricane was coming, we had our flights booked to leave the following day.
Kermit Weeks museum was amazing, and not just because of the aircraft. His hangars were literally hurricane-proof, ridiculously solid on a normal day. In 1992 when and Hurricane Andrew barreled through, the collection was housed in Miami. The guide tells the story of the damage and destruction of the museum and its collection. We toured these hangars the day before a hurricane arrived.
There was a strangeness in the air that day. Not just the calm before the storm, but dread, fear, expectation. We were leaving, so we'd be fine.
We returned to the hotel, full of holiday makers, many departing early. The forecasts had moved landfall forward. Our flight times (early afternoon) were now at risk.
The sky was growing darker. The whole world seemed on edge.
We called the airline and moved our departure to earlier in the day. Our flight was now at 6am. We had to be at the airport at 4am. We had to get up at 2am, to get to the airport and drop off the hire car. We didn't sleep much.
It was raining heavily and windy when we drove to the airport, the roads were busy, but not clogged. There was chaos at the airport. For the first time we could not get seats together for a long flight. It didn't matter. Getting out was important, not just for our own safety, but because we would be in the way if we stayed.
We left. Charley arrived and left damage across Florida. Wind speeds of 171 km/h were recorded at the airport we had just flown out of. We had a nice sunny day in San Francisco.
If we had stayed, or been unable to leave, we probably would have survived. We would have hunkered down in the hotel, or at worst at the airport, and left when we could. But we didn't belong there.
This Hurricane Irma is on another level. There are people deciding to stay. I fear for their lives this storm should not be challenged. Leaving late when you could have left early, or not leaving at all when the risk is high is more than reckless it is irresponsible. People will have to save you, or pull your body out of the debris. If your circumstances mean you absolutely can't leave, or your job is to stay, you deserve the full attention of the rescue and recovery services. If you choose to stay when you can leave, you are just in the way.
Irma might have a quaint name, but it is a monster and doesn't care. You are in its way too.
*"biggest storm ever" will depend on how you measure it. If you are under it, the distinction is irrelevant.