Hurricanes Blow

Coping with the aftermath of an intense storm season

Even if you don’t live in a coastal community, you likely know that 2017 has been an unusually active hurricane season. And it’s not over yet. The Atlantic hurricane season begins on June 1 and continues all the way until the last day of November, with September historically being the most active month. That’s five solid months where there will be storms in the Atlantic. Whether or not they make landfall is what concerns us, for the most part. Regrettably, this year three Category 4 or 5 hurricanes have done just that in the US.

On August 25th, Hurricane Harvey slammed into Texas at a devastating 130 mph, followed a mere 16 days later by Hurricane Irma packing the same 130-mph winds as it scrubbed across the Florida Keys. That was followed by Hurricane Maria, a Category 5 storm that struck Puerto Rico in September – the latest in a devastating Atlantic hurricane season.

The work that goes into hurricane prep, along with the anxiety of the waiting, weigh heavily on all in the storm’s projected path. It’s called the “Cone of Uncertainty” and it means the storm can hit anywhere within, for example, a 400-mile path. We’ve also seen storms take a last-minute turn, pounding areas that weren’t even in the projected path.

So, in typical Florida fashion, we begin a week of hurricane prep. It’s all people talk about. It’s the only thing on the news. Some proactive people are right on their preparation, gathering supplies immediately, while others (a lot of others) wait till the last minute. Several days before we all have to hunker down and ride out the storm, home improvement stores are stripped of plywood, 4 x 4 posts, generators, bottled water and flashlights. And don’t even try to find a bag of beef jerky (a hurricane staple). There are also lines out the door at every neighborhood liquor store. As the saying goes, “If we’re gonna lose power, we don’t want to be sober, too.”

And lose power, we do. This is usually the worst part. Perhaps we never truly appreciate how many things in our lives depend on the flow of electricity until we lose it. I’m also quite sure very few understand the frustration of walking into a room and turning on the light switch when you haven’t had power for three days. And you make that mistake, flicking that switch, day after day, cursing the Power Gods. Every. Single. Time.

A sign damaged by Hurricane Irma.
A sign damaged by Hurricane Irma.

During Irma, Media 1 lost power for only two days, but seven of our employees didn’t get electricity back for a solid week. Many Floridian businesses were forced to close for the entire week, with no ability to operate.

Quick fact: The week after the storm, in Orlando alone, Craigslist ads were flooded with almost 1,000 generators for sale. (You might wanna keep those generators, chumps, the season isn’t over yet!)

Amidst devastating property destruction, commercial signage took a beating as well. Here in Orlando, signs must be engineered to withstand a wind load pressure of 130 mph. That number increases as you get closer to the coastlines, maxing out at 180 mph near the southern coast.

Still, sustained winds over a 24-hour period take a toll on signs. Pylon signs, from what we’ve seen, take the most damage: broken, blown over, or just plain not there anymore. Of these structures, acrylic pan faces are the biggest offender (but I bet you knew that already, huh?). Plastic that bows in and out of a minimal retainer edge with a typical Florida sea breeze pops right out when hit with a 120-mph gust. The scattered debris of plastic shards and slowly dying tree limbs decorate most of our roads. As emergency management workers descend upon the state doing the important work, the sign companies are called upon to pick up the pieces as quickly as possible. While it does generate more work for businesses like ours, we’d prefer, of course, to avoid the devastation in the first place.

So that’s it for now, everyone. I have to get back to helping make Orlando beautiful once again.

This column is dedicated to those who lost their lives in this year’s devastating storms. The impact of these events, including the tragic loss of human life, extends beyond what we can cover in this space. Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected in a greater way than most of us can fathom. – Dale

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