Thirty years ago, life changed over the course of an August weekend.
A swirling mass off the coast of Africa had struggled to develop until it was on South Florida’s doorstep. Then it intensified so quickly that Hurricane Andrew rushed ashore less than 24 hours after a hurricane warning had been issued for the Southeast Florida coast.
With 27 years since a major storm and 13 years since the last significant threat, South Floridians were taken by surprise. A normal Saturday morning suddenly became belated preparations, with cars lining up at gas stations and plywood flying off hardware stores’ shelves.
By late Sunday, the track of the storm began shifting from its original forecast toward Stuart and was aiming for Miami.
Then the sun rose on Monday morning to illuminate thousands of shattered lives. Andrew had ripped off roofs and imploded houses, tossed boats ashore, uprooted trees, buried roads in debris and left more than 1.4 million people without power.
Fifteen people had died during the storm. In total, 65 deaths were attributed to the storm and its aftermath. More than 60,000 homes were destroyed and an additional 100,000 damaged. Only in retrospect was Hurricane Andrew measured as a Category 5. The storm had ripped the radar off the roof of the National Hurricane Center in Coral Gables.
Florida’s collective memory was split that 1992 weekend into “before and after Andrew.”
In the wake of the storm have come many positive changes: Hurricane forecasting has become more precise, emergency managers have improved communication tools for coordination and — thanks to major changes in Florida’s building codes — homes are more storm-worthy.
But over the same time period, 9 million more people have moved to Florida, 4 million more housing units have been built in the state and sea levels have risen. Meanwhile, residents opt out of watching TV news, preferring to get their information from disparate and opinionated social media silos.
So, the hot, sunny, calm days we’ve had so far this summer make those of us who lived through Andrew nervous. We keep an anxious eye on the weather systems in the Atlantic and stay prepared.
We know from a terrifying experience 30 years ago, that life can change over the span of a weekend.
— Mary Kate Leming, Editor