Hurricane Andrew and Andrew Jr.

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I remember in elementary school having one teacher that had our class chant in unison over and over again, “April showers bring May flowers.” But I have no distinct memory of any significant rain showers during the month of April in any year of my life. In fact, the worst “showers” I have experienced took place during the 1992 hurricane season (specifically August 1992) and during one unique meteorological event in March 1993.

The two events I am referring to are Hurricane Andrew and The Storm of the Century. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has declared Hurricane Andrew sixth most costly tropical system to impact the United States since 1980, causing $49.1 billion in damages (2018 dollars) and more than 60 deaths. NOAA has also determined that the 1993 Storm of the Century (or what has been nicknamed Andrew Jr.) is the most costly winter storm to have occurred in the United States to date, causing $9.9 billion in damages (2020 dollars) and more than 270 deaths in 13 different states.[*]

My journey with Andrew and Andrew Jr. began in August 1992. I had recently finished my undergraduate degree in geology, and I packed up my newly-purchased Chevy Cavalier and drove down to Miami, Florida, to begin my graduate degree in marine geology and geophysics. Having grown up in Connecticut and having attended college in Pennsylvania, I was used to winter storms. And I thought I was escaping these severe winter events by moving to Florida where the sun shines year-round. Very quickly, I learned just how powerful Earth systems, specifically the atmosphere and hydrosphere, could be. Within one week of arriving in Miami, Hurricane Andrew made its way across the southern tip of Florida.

The evacuation notice came my first day of graduate student orientation, but I had already left before the official announcement came. When I arrived in Miami, a group of fellow graduate students were kind enough to let me sleep on the couch in their living room until I could find an apartment and roommate. The night before Andrew made landfall, I was awakened around 3AM by the loudest thunder I had ever heard. I looked outside, and it was the darkest sky I had ever seen. I was absolutely scared (OK – terrified). I jumped in my car, which still had all of my life belongings packed in it from my drive down from Connecticut, and drove to a local hotel where another new graduate student was staying with her Mom. I pounded on their hotel room door and yelled, “we need to get out of here!” They agreed, quickly got into their car, and we drove north together to escape a storm that we knew was going to be bad, although we had no idea exactly how bad.

After spending a week with the graduate zoology students at University of Florida, we headed back to Miami (actually, to the island of Virginia Key offshore from Miami where the University of Miami’s marine campus is located) to start our classes. The damage and destruction was something I had only seen in movies, not even on television. So much flood damage from the storm surge, so many power lines down, so much overall destruction... and yet, the University of Miami started our semester on time with no delay. I still had no place to live, so I returned to the now water-soaked couch I first slept on, in a living room that had wooden floors that were buckled from the water that had filled the house. It took about a month to find a place to live, to finally be able to unpack my car and have a home.

I remember thinking to myself, “wow – this is quite the way to start graduate school! It can only get better from here, right?”

Fast forward to the next semester, Spring 1993. My new friend that I evacuated Hurricane Andrew with and I were enrolled in a course on Carbonate Sedimentology. During our spring break in March, our class of ~10 students boarded a boat with our professor and headed out across the Gulf Stream for a full week of exploring the marine environments of the Bahamas. The currents on the water were strong and the winds were high, but we docked in the Bahamas and had a few days of exciting fieldwork. The island we docked at in the Bahamas was clearly still struggling to recover from being hit by Hurricane Andrew just seven months prior. But the people were extremely friendly and welcomed us.

When it was time to head back to Miami at the end of the week we couldn’t. It turned out that the current was now too strong in the Gulf Stream, and it was too dangerous for our boat to cross this north-flowing current between Florida and the Bahamas. So we stayed another day... then another day... then another day... Running low on food and supplies in an area that didn’t have much to provide to begin with (because, your know, Hurricane Andrew), we joined our professor on a sea plane that flew us back to Miami.

We had no access to the internet or news – we didn’t know about this East Coast storm that was causing wind gusts in the Florida Keys of 109 miles per hour, a 12-foot storm surge in one Florida county, and 15 tornado strikes across the state. It seemed so cruel that the state still struggling to rebuild from Hurricane Andrew was now being hit by a storm the locals called Andrew Jr. But the storm was not just rain and flooding – it ranked as a Category 5 on the Regional Snowfall Index for the 550,000 squares miles of area hit by snow from Maine to Louisiana. It was clearly more appropriate to name this meteorological event the Storm of the Century.

My parents wanted me to come home – they felt that Connecticut would be much safer for me. And yes, there were more hurricanes and tropical storms that came through Miami over the next several years, with more evacuations and more rain and flooding. But I finished my Ph.D. and decided to move back north, because I’d rather face a nor’easter than a hurricane any day! I moved to Virginia to start a job and – you guessed it – Hurricane Floyd came up the coast and hit Virginia that year. Seems like hurricanes and storms follow me wherever I go!

And that friend I evacuated Miami and got stuck in the Bahamas with? We’ve remained friends – best friends for life - as we have stories and experiences like no one else. But we agree that maybe we shouldn’t travel to the same places together...

[*] The personal experiences of the author are supplemented by information from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information articles “On This Day: Hurricane Andrew Makes Landfall” and “On This Day: The 1993 Storm of the Century”


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