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Warmest regards: Fearing the cone of uncertainty

Published September 06. 2019 06:41PM

By Pattie Mihalik

Here’s the song we’re singing in Florida:

“Tis the season

to be fearful.

Fa, la, la, la, la

Hope we’re not doomed.”

I for one can put the fear of hurricanes out of my mind — until one is about to hit.

Let me tell you what happens here in Florida when weather forecasters tells us to be prepared because the hurricane hitting the Bahamas might next pay an unwelcome visit to Florida.

First, everyone panics and rushes to the supermarket to get food and supplies.

Smart folks, knowing it was hurricane season, prepared ahead of time. I wasn’t smart. Judging from the empty shelves all week in our supermarkets, many of our area residents must have waited for the last minute.

When Hurricane Dorian was on the horizon, I got up early and rushed to the supermarket for water and nonperishable food. I thought I would beat the crowd.

That was a joke.

Empty shelves greeted me. No water. No bread. Not even any Spam.

Who in tarnation wipes out pallets of Spam?

People panicking just like me, obviously.

One clerk told me people came at 4 a.m. and wiped them out of water and many food items.

Getting gas in my car was a lot like the bumper games at an amusement park. Cars were moving in all sorts of crazy directions, trying to get a turn at the pumps.

There were no clear paths in or out of that big RaceTrac station. No matter what way I tried to move my car, the way was blocked by other cars.

Finally, I inched out slowly and headed for home, wondering why people were acting so crazy. I figured bad news for Southwest Florida must have been announced while I was at the store.

The last advisory before I left said the hurricane was expected to hit eastern Florida.

So why was everyone panicking?

When I turned on the TV I learned why.

Much of Florida, including us, was in “the cone of uncertainty.” While we weren’t expected to get a direct hit, nothing was certain for us until meteorologists learned what way the hurricane would turn once it left the Bahamas.

At 6 a.m. the next day, one despicable weather channel (in my opinion) ran a headline across the top of the screen saying Southwest Florida was in the path of the hurricane.

Talk about fear and panic. The shelves of the grocery stores remained empty for another day as people prepared for the long haul.

We have a brilliant and much-loved meteorologist who was our county’s emergency manager for more than a decade.

Thankfully Wayne Sallade went on our local social media and said that report was not true. He urged us not to listen to those more concerned with keeping viewers than with accuracy.

Based on all the information he was able to gather, Southwest Florida would mostly get hit with wind and rain from the hurricane, “and maybe not even that,” he said.

But he did say everyone would only know for sure once the hurricane made its turn after it left the Bahamas.

Before that happened, many feared the cone of uncertainty.

They had good reason to worry. In 2004 when Hurricane Charley was predicted to hit Miami, it made an unexpected turn instead and slammed into our county, causing much devastation.

Ever since then, the words “cone of uncertainty” strike fear in the hearts of those who lived through that experience.

I will tell you this. A hurricane, even just the threat of one, brings out the very best and the worst in people.

On the positive side, one of our community leaders started a special website devoted to the hurricane. Anyone in need was encouraged to post there. Others were encouraged to reach out to help in whatever way they could.

It worked beautifully.

One older couple posted that they had no family and didn’t have anywhere to go if they had to get away. Nor did they have anyone to help them prepare.

One family immediately invited them to come share their home. Others offered to help them board up their home, if that became necessary.

That was the good we applauded.

Then there were others who thought only of themselves. When they arrived early to buy water, they didn’t just take what they needed. They took several pallets of water to stockpile for themselves.

That meant those who came after the greedy shoppers had no water to buy.

One woman defended her action of “grabbing every bottle that fit into her SUV” by saying she had planned to share with anyone who didn’t have water.

I received a few panicked calls from northerners who have homes here. Even after I assured one woman her home would be spared because the hurricane wouldn’t hit us, she kept crying in fear.

“I watch the newscast and cry,” she said.

To tell the truth, so do I. I can’t watch what happened in the Bahamas without crying for those who lost everything.

At noontime on Monday, there no longer was reason to fear the cone of uncertainty. We only got wind and rain.

While we are all relieved, we know there will be other hurricanes to worry about.

I didn’t used to worry about hurricanes until I moved to Florida.

Unfortunately, it’s part of the price we pay for living in paradise.

Contact Pattie Mihalik at

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