Based on the barrage of hurricane coverage the media bombarded us with on the eve of Ernesto’s landfall, the storm should have brought storm surges, high winds, power outages and mass pandemonium to South Florida. It didn’t. Ernesto brought rain, but not enough to flood. It brought wind, but not enough to blow cars away. And while it brought some power outages, overall, the lights stayed on in Miami.
Considering this, one cannot look back at the school’s response without wondering whether or not it was too much. Whether or not the shutters were put up, the furniture moved in and the classes cancelled were really necessary. The school certainly thought so, and with very good reason. After all, when Katrina hit Miami last year, the university waited until the very last minute to cancel classes, right as the storm was ensnaring students unfortunate enough to have late classes that day.
Katrina caught everyone by surprise. So, the university decided not to take anymore chances. One year later, as soon as Ernesto started making the news, they prepared for it with a degree of urgency, professionalism and utmost concern for student safety, only to see the storm whimper by. The school is now in a precarious position – they’ve called off class too late, and now they’ve called it off too early. To put it simply, they’ve been thrown off.
Interestingly, the school’s response is merely a reflection of South Florida’s overall response to the storm. At the same time the university was piling up sandbags in the UC, Miamians were raiding grocery stores and gas stations for water, fuel and other supplies. As classes were being cancelled, the Keys were being evacuated. And after the storm, as students felt cheated out of two days of class, residents started wondering just what to do with all the extra gas they bought.
South Florida is enveloped in an overwhelming state of over-preparedness and paranoia, a state of mind completely different than it was before Wilma. Hurricane Alley is in a cycle of trying to predict everything too soon – anything that even remotely resembles a low pressure system in the Atlantic is potentially our next Katrina, with news coverage to match.
Hopefully, in both the school’s case and the city’s case, the dud that was Ernesto won’t affect storm preparation in the future. Ernesto may have pulled a fast one on Florida, but if there’s one constant in hurricanes, it’s that they’re unpredictable. The next storm could just as easily be another Wilma as it could be Ernesto. In any case, everyone in the storm’s path should continue their preparation routines throughout the rest of the season.