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[Aroid-l] Hurricane Wilma-- A Yankee Eyewitness Account

  • Subject: [Aroid-l] Hurricane Wilma-- A Yankee Eyewitness Account
  • From: ted.held@us.henkel.com
  • Date: Fri, 4 Nov 2005 12:38:23 -0500


I happened to be shuttling back and forth between Miami and Fort Myers, Florida during the days leading up to the hurricane. By chance, I was in south Fort Myers the day it hit. Being from Michigan, this was my very first hurricane. Maybe people would be interested in a Yankee's impressions.

Hurricanes are terrific things, in the sense of being awesomely powerful. We had roughly 125 mph winds in Fort Myers, which I understand is Category 3. I think the "eye" came ashore about 20 to 30 miles south of where I was. But the serious part of a hurricane like this is a hundred or two hundred miles on each side of the eye. Big.

What happens is that the storm comes and you look outside and all sorts of rain and debris is flying flat, horizontal. Within the general wind are waves of wind gusts that are more furious, even, than 125 mph sustained winds. In that context, the leaves of trees are just thrashed and whipped back and forth. Its a wonder that anything is left standing. Certainly, any little, fragile aroid is going to be in deadly peril of having its leaves torn away in two minutes. I have seen winds of this sort in Michigan, in connection with tornadoes. But a tornado passes its rage in 10 minutes. A hurricane of this type lasts for hours. Hours of unrelenting, raw power. Plants are humbled. People and animals are humbled.

Of course, all during those hours you have no electricity. You sit in the dark, occasionally peeping outside to see the same weather. There's not much you can do except wait it out. No one but a fool would venture out in it. You can't stand up. And all sorts of junk is flying around that would hurt you if it landed on your skin. It's is actually boring after a while. Just something you would want to experience in a tent or in an exposed place.

And then it's over. I ventured out as soon as I saw squirrels poking around, looking for all the palm nuts and other goodies that litter the ground. I figured the squirrels knew best and that turned out to be a good indicator.

After the hurricane, the air is absolutely clean and fresh. I was pleasantly surprised by the effect and I don't think it was simply relief at being able to move around after being cooped up for the past three or four hours. I made a hour's walking tour around the area to see the damage, such as it was, knowing all the while that the poor souls on the east coast were getting it worse than we did.

A few trees down. Water levels up at least a couple of feet (we were about 10 miles from the coast). Palm leaves and small plant debris was all over. One traffic light was blown down. Almost all the street signs were down.

All in all, however, the amount of destruction was far less than I had expected. Florida trees are actually quite tough, I concluded. Michigan trees are not suited for this degree of abuse. Most of the downed trees I saw were recently-planted ones. I saw a large group of water birds (ibis) hunkered down in a group in a field. They had evidently assumed this formation and endured the storm in that way. Soon, they were up, resuming their normal foraging, this time in areas not previously under water.

If you want to collect air plants of the genus Tillandsia, go after a hurricane. You can pick up as many as you want from the ground.

In the coastal areas of Florida are billions of invasive Australian trees called Melaleuca. They are a plague. Normally, they have a papery bark that makes their trunks look shabby and ragged. The storm stripped these bark shards completely, leaving pinkish-colored trunks. I don't think they will be disturbed by this, but the color change in a stand of Melalueca is notable.

Within an hour or so, you hear the sound of chain saws cleaning up. Various workmen and utility crews are bustling around tending to the wounds. Florida is pretty familiar, evidently, with what has to be done. And it gets done, perhaps more slowly than it might. But life will return. And the aroid tubers will sprout anew. And the Philodendrons will put out new shoots.

Excuse my indulgence, but I thought these observations might be of interest to those who see hurricanes only on their TVs.
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