Story 19. Andrew
The summer of 1992 would be over soon, and there had not yet been a single tropical storm or hurricane to affect the United States. For much of the season, an atmospheric phenomenon called wind shear, brisk winds of different speeds and directions at different altitudes, kept tropical weather systems from developing over most of the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean.
Not surprisingly, Phoon was getting restless. “I can’t even drum up a decent storm these days,” the hurricane-maker said in frustration. “Here it is already August and I haven’t had a chance to upset a single human along the entire North American coastline.”
Thermo had spent the summer flying over the U.S. taking temperature readings. He too noticed the lack of tropical activity in the Atlantic, but he also knew that a quiet start to a hurricane season didn’t mean it would stay that way. In 1989, only one hurricane impacted the United States before late September, but that was the month Hurricane Hugo slammed into Charleston, South Carolina as the little thermometer watched from a distance, unable to help. Even now it still made him sad to think about the 34 humans who died in that hurricane and the 100,000 who lost their homes. Thermo knew there was plenty of time for Phoon to raise its ugly head before the Atlantic hurricane season was over.
Finally in mid-August, Phoon saw an opportunity. “Aha!” it exclaimed, perking up. “The shearing winds are gone! Time for a little fun!”
At his television weather office in Miami, Florida, Steven Woods examined his data and maps closely. “If the wind shear dies down any more,” he said to a colleague, “anything that pops up over the ocean will head right toward South Florida.”
That was precisely what Phoon was thinking. And if this creator-of-hurricane-havoc had any say in the matter, humans would soon see a storm develop north and east of the Caribbean Sea. “All my pieces are finally coming together,” boasted Phoon, watching the falling air pressure and the rising wind speed.
Thermo watched the scene unfold from his bird’s eye view in the sky above. He radioed Dr. Key in Mauna Loa, Hawaii and told him, “Phoon is getting stronger. I think there’s going to be a hurricane soon. I have to do something.”
“Thermo!“ Dr. Key raised his voice. “You know that Phoon is too strong for you! Remember the last time you tried to stop it. Your fight against Camille almost cost you your life!”
“That time Phoon was already a major hurricane,” Thermo argued. “If I can do something before this storm strengthens, I’ll have a better chance.”
Dr. Key was adamant. “I have told you before; it would be a losing battle. Concentrate on the task I have assigned you! Do your job, son!” And with that, Dr. Key signed off.
Thermo was indignant. “How can he expect me to stand by and do nothing?” More than anything, Thermo did not want to see a repeat of what Hurricane Hugo did three years before. “I at least have to try.”
Even as Thermo spoke these words, Phoon had already strengthened into a Tropical Storm, an opportunity to take on an alter ego, a sort of split personality. “You can call me Andrew!” Phoon shouted to the sky. “Now let’s see if the first storm of the season can make up for lost time!”
Thermo decided to try the same tactic he had used years before when Phoon had called itself Camille. “Here goes!” he cried, and turned his engines on high, buzzing over the Caribbean Ocean. Trying not to be seen, he poised his jets over Andrew and blew as much wind as he could muster across its top, trying to mimic the wind shear that had kept the storm from developing earlier.
Phoon felt the sudden change in wind direction and howled, “It’s that little thermometer again! Will he never learn?” Looking up, Phoon spotted Thermo trying to blow the top off of the storm, a goal that he was, in fact, starting to accomplish.
Phoon clearly sensed the difference. Feeling more pressured and increasingly off balance, the tropical storm began to stumble. But Phoon was not about to give up. “I’ll get you, you mechanical pest!” shouted Phoon-turned-Andrew. With a giant cloud-band tentacle, Phoon swatted at Thermo, almost knocking him out of the sky.
“Close!” Phoon shrieked. “But not close enough! Shall we try that again?”
Phoon took two more swipes at the jet-propelled thermometer, narrowly missing him before Thermo reluctantly decided he’d better get out of the storm’s way. Thermo sighed to himself as he flew out of the tropical monster’s reach, “I only hope my wind shear was enough to make a difference.”
It wasn’t. Almost as soon as Thermo was gone, the now livid Phoon began to gain strength, channeling all of its anger into building Andrew’s energy.
Thermo glanced away from the scene as a rickety old aircraft lumbered toward Phoon’s new personality. He expected to see Phoon lash out at it as well, but then remembered Dr. Key had once told him the Hurricane Hunter planes only took readings in a storm; they had no power to diminish it. “Maybe that’s what Dr. Key is trying to tell me,” he considered.
At his South Florida TV station, Steven Woods was watching Andrew’s growing fury via radar images and photos from satellites looking down on the Atlantic. For a split second he caught a tiny foreign blip on the screen. “A UFO?” he wondered out loud, but as quickly as it came, it was gone. Besides, Woods had bigger fish to fry. Andrew had swiftly strengthened to a hurricane.
“We’re going to broadcast around the clock,” he told his colleagues. “Even if it hits us, we’re going to stay on the air.”
Phoon’s angry rampage swept over the Bahamas, and its interaction with the islands weakened the hurricane a little. “Just a speed bump!” Phoon shouted triumphantly, and soon Andrew was stronger than ever. “Look out, South Florida!” Phoon bellowed. “You’re next!”
As Phoon’s fury swept into Florida, Thermo took refuge out of sight inside Steven Woods’s TV station. He watched as Woods maintained his vigil all night long, updating viewers on Andrew’s progress, and advising viewers how to survive the hurricane. The non-stop coverage lasted a full 23 hours.
Thermo had felt defeat before, but this time, reality was genuinely sinking in. “I am little,” he admitted to himself, “and nature is not. I tried to help, but I only made things worse.” As he watched Steven Woods continue his round-the-clock broadcasts, Thermo marveled, “Look at him. There is nothing he can do to stop Phoon, but he is doing his job the very best he can. And that’s what makes him a hero.”
At last, Thermo understood what Dr. Key had been saying all along.
In the real world, Andrew, the first named storm of the 1992 Atlantic Hurricane Season, became a tropical storm on August 18, very late for an “A” named storm. Not long after, the storm began weakening because of increased wind shear from the southwest. Hurricane Hunter crews could no longer locate a well-defined center in Andrew, and measured rapidly rising air pressure readings. Almost as quickly, Andrew regained strength after wind shear decreased over the storm, quickly becoming more organized and reaching hurricane status on August 22. The center of Andrew raked Homestead Florida with sustained winds of 165 mph. Although Miami did not receive a direct blow, there was severe damage throughout South Florida, making Andrew, at the time, the costliest hurricane to strike the United States. After moving over Florida, Andrew made a second landfall in southern Louisiana with winds of 115 mph.
The meteorologists in the Hurricane Hunter fleet are nothing less than meteorological heroes. Those that flew missions, particularly before 1990, literally risked their lives in older planes. The modern fleet of hurricane planes now has very little chance of going down, even while monitoring the most powerful of storms. There are two groups of Hurricane Hunters; one is a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and another is from the U.S. Air Force Reserve.
Bryan Norcross, aka Steven Woods in our fictional story, was a true broadcasting hero, monitoring Andrew from its inception off the coast of Africa until it crashed into Florida on the 24th of August. At one-point Norcross broadcast an epic 23 hours non-stop to warn and advise South Florida residents. Bryan Norcross has been a hurricane expert at The Weather Channel since 2010. Check out his book on his experience in Florida, My Hurricane Andrew Story.
The Climate Guy
The text and artwork are copyright by Guy Walton. I would like to get this book published. Please drop me a note if you are willing to help.
My friend Alyssa Josue drew the art.
To see the rest of the World of Thermo stories click: http://www.guyonclimate.com/category/worldofthermo/