MIAMI – So what is the difference between a typhoon and a hurricane? Nothing.
"Typhoon" is the title given to tropical cyclones in the Western Pacific. Super Typhoon Haiyan that recently decimated the Philippines had estimated sustained winds of 190 mph.
What causes a Typhoon to form is the same thing that causes a Hurricane to form; ocean temperature of at least 80 degrees, thunderstorms, a disturbance like a tropical wave and little or no wind shear.
Winston Churchill once said, "The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see."
In other words, history has a funny way of repeating itself so we best not forget the past.
With images of the Philippines bombarding the news, many people have asked me if a Haiyan could happen here? Surely they say, conditions are different in the Western Pacific that allows such a powerful storm to develop. Unfortunately, my response was not what they wanted to hear.
Storms like Haiyan have and will continue to form in the Atlantic Basin. There is very little difference between a Haiyan and an Andrew. The end result is the same, destruction, especially for coastal communities.
When we think of devastating hurricanes of recent memory, Katrina is certainly at the top of the list. But let's not forget the strength that other hurricanes achieved which impacted the U.S. since 1900:
1992 – Hurricane Andrew. Winds 175 mph.
1969 – Hurricane Camille. Winds 190 mph.
Note that 3 out of the 5 hurricanes listed above (Wilma, Andrew and Labor Day storm) directly impacted South Florida. We are the only state that is susceptible to storms from the South, East and West.
Philippines, Disaster Waiting to Happen
As Super Typhoon Haiyan approached the Philippines there was no doubt this was going to be a massive killer. The suffering and devastation would be too much for some to comprehend. How could so many suffer so much in today's day and age? The answer is simple. There are over 7,000 islands in the Philippines. However, only 2,000 of those islands are inhabited with 96 – million people. Here in the U.S. we usually have to evacuate one or two coastlines from storm surge. In the Philippines there are thousands of coastlines to evacuate. This unique geography makes the task literally impossible. The only thing residents could do is find some higher ground like clinging to a rooftop in hopes of escaping the rising ocean. That combined with substandard buildings and widespread poverty meant that the victims of Haiyan were left to fend for themselves against the ocean and winds that leveled everything in their path. This was the kiss of death for many. The sad thing is that there is no government intervention sufficient to match the level of devastation this storm has cause. The suffering, pain and death will go on for some time.
Hurricane Andrew destroyed over 60,000 homes and left 175,000+ homeless in Dade County. Andrew exposed weaknesses in building codes, emergency preparedness and government planning. Since then, our construction codes have changed and emergency planners know what to do and when to do it. Hurricane forecasting has improved dramatically and most residents of South Florida are aware of the dangers. However, there are many who refuse to believe they are vulnerable. Yes, many of our buildings are mini bunkers but the lack of preparation on the individual's behalf could still cause suffering here in the event of a catastrophic storm.
Avoid the Rush
Now that this hurricane season is nearly behind us may I suggest we take advantage of this down time to slowly prepare and think about the future.
Fact – We live in hurricane country. Florida averages more hurricanes than any other state.
Fact – Preparation is better than panic. Why do you have car or homeowners insurance? Because you're concerned about what could happen and you're trying to protect your investment. May I suggest that investing in non-perishable food is an insurance policy to protect you and your family. I believe that everyone should have at least 2-3 weeks' worth of food storage on hand.
Fact – If we do not learn from history, then history will repeat itself.
Seeing the plight and human suffering in the Philippines has caused me to think about what is most important. Self reliance is the key to overcoming adversity. It doesn't take much. If you spend a little here and a little there on supplies you'll be surprised how quickly it all adds up. We live in a tropical paradise. But what makes us a paradise is also what makes the most powerful storms on the planet.