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Norcross: Reflecting on South Florida’s past, future

Local 10 Meteorologist saw a lot of good change; need more in next 10 years

2005: Hurricane Wilma makes landfall in Florida as a Category 3 hurricane, killing 25 people and causing around $10 billion in damage.
2005: Hurricane Wilma makes landfall in Florida as a Category 3 hurricane, killing 25 people and causing around $10 billion in damage. (U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – 2020! It always seemed impossibly far in the future. Now, unbelievably, it’s here.

In fairness, for most of my life, 2000 seemed outlandish as well. When a credit card showed up in the late 90s with an expiration date of 2002, the numbers looked exotic – like something from Star Trek.

But, 2020!

Fifty years ago, a number-one hit song by Zager and Evans contemplated a future dystopian world “In the year 2525.” They wondered if humankind would survive the technological changes to come. What will the world be like? How will we live?

At that time, my mind lumped 2020 and 2525 into the same unknowable bucket. Well … a version of that unimaginable time has arrived.

Now that we’re so far in the future, it’s odd that I clearly remember 1995 like it was yesterday. South Florida was still shaken by the bomb that Hurricane Andrew threw into the false reality that the no-hurricane-70s-and-80s would continue.

South Dade was only beginning to recover. The insurance system was in freefall. And politicians from Miami to Washington were grappling with the new reality that government Band-Aids would not keep people, property - indeed, the essence of our communities - safe from the tropical threat that comes with living along the coast.

In some ways, our government did step up – making our emergency management systems more professional and more responsive. And building code officials in southeast Florida rose to the challenge – led by Miami-Dade County.

Today’s insurance system is still standing, but built on pilings made of toothpicks. Government has not done its job to provide a stable, realistic construct upon which an affordable, practical insurance system could be built.

By 2000, we were well into the post-Andrew South Florida reality we live in today. We weathered Hurricanes Wilma and Irma with inconvenience and some serious difficulties to be sure. But as a region, recovery was quick and life went on.

Climate change was a thing in 2000, of course, but like the year 2020, it seemed impossibly far in the future. Now, the calendar and the climate have collided. The future is here – 2020 has arrived and the climate crisis is evident for all to see.

In South Florida, our increased focus on the existential threat from rising sea levels is an extremely positive development. We cannot pause. In fact, we have to think harder and deploy more resources before nuisance flooding becomes destructive inundation.

And meanwhile, hurricanes are in the forecast. We don’t know when, but we know that South Florida will be impacted by a hurricane. The history book includes more hurricanes affecting our coastline than we’ve experienced recently, not fewer.

A hurricane’s eye came over downtown Miami at least seven times in the first seven decades of the 20th Century. And none have done that since 1964, although Katrina came very close in 2005.

Living in South Florida has always meant living with hurricanes and, now, we add rising seas in a world that’s warming frighteningly fast. The resiliency of our cities will be tested in the ways we never imagined 20 years ago.

I propose that we resolve in the coming year to: treat ourselves better (lose some weight); treat each other better (smile more and drive better); and treat our natural environment with the respect that it deserves.

We live in a glorious but fragile place, that is threatened as never before. We also live in a time when solutions are on the table. Let’s find the courage to let old ideas go. The future is here.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!


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