Very early Friday morning, Tallahassee, FL, where I live, was hit by hurricane Hermine, a category 1 (weak) hurricane. Since then I have heard it described as "devastating," and compared to hurricane Katrina (the 2005 hurricane that leveled immense damage on Louisiana). I have seen pictures of boats tossed up on shore, and houses waist deep in water. I have also heard the question "Why would anyone live in a state that is constantly being destroyed by hurricanes?"
While Hermine certainly caused flooding and destruction, I don't feel that the media's depiction of Hermine is consistent with the experience of most of the people that lived through the hurricane. Hurricane destruction tends to be worst right on the coast, and in flood zones, and thats is were the media takes all of their aftermath photos - where the destruction is worst. Most Floridians don't live in those areas. I would like to give a less sensational perspective.
Hermine was the first hurricane to hit Tallahassee directly in about 30 years. Tropical storms are fairly common, but direct hits from hurricanes - not so much. Local schools were closed on Thursday and most businesses closed around noon on Thursday in preparation for the hurricane. Only a few costal areas were evacuated. We didn't start to get wind or rain until Thursday night, and went to bed like normal that night expecting minimal damage from a storm with such low magnitude. The kids slept through the hurricane. Firebird and I got up to check on things a few times, but for the most part we also slept through it. When we woke the following morning we had no power, and this was the view outside our bedroom window;
We had a lot of fallen tree limbs in the yard, some quite large, and small twigs and leaf litter everywhere. Initially it seemed like the damage was pretty minimal. It wasn't until we went in the front yard that we started to understand the extent of the damage. This was the view from our front yard;
Then we went online (thanks cellular data service), and this is what the power outage map looked like;
More than 70,000 people were without electricity, and those with wells (rather than municipal water supply) were without water too (the well pumps need electricity to work). Trees were laying on power lines and across roads. Electric poles had been toppled, and live power lines were laying in the street. The city was projecting that it might take days to restore everyone's power.
We ventured out of the house the day after the storm to get some food, and stopped at the first place we came across with power - Walmart. None of their refrigerated or frozen food was for sale - the backup generator to keep the refrigeration going had failed, and a ton of food was wasted. Likely hundreds of thousands of dollars of inventory. We grabbed some food that didn't need cooking or refrigeration and headed straight back home.
In our neighborhood and around the town we found that the damage from the storm was extremely variable. Some houses looked like they suffered from nothing more than a thunderstorm, and some, like our neighbor's, looked like they had been hit by a hurricane far stronger than Hermine.
As of this writing it is Monday night, about 4 days after the storm, and 18,000 people are still without power (down from 70,000). Some wells were damaged or are still without power and as a result those residents are still without water. My family was one of the lucky ones - we regained power about 24 hours after the storm, and we are doing fine, but for others, recovery from the storm could take weeks or months.
So, was Hermine "devastating"? Should we be comparing it to Katrina? No and no. For a category 1 hurricane Hermine caused a surprising amount of damage. Category 1 hurricanes are not much stronger than tropical storms, which are not much stronger than bad thunderstorms. I expected Hermine to cause the kind of damage that we saw in our own yard - lots of broken and fallen limbs. Herman caused a lot more trees and power lines to fall than her category would have suggested, and I believe as a result, we (meaning the residents of Tallahassee) were not as prepared for the extent of the damage as we could have been, and neither was the city itself. That being said, comparing it to Katrina is completely inappropriate - Katrina was truly devastating, it, and the flooding that resulted from it destroyed the homes of thousands of people and came close to destroying one of our country's oldest cities. Hermine knocked down a lot of trees, damaged several homes, and made us lose power for a couple of days. While it will probably take several months for Tallahassee to fully recover from Hermine, the damage from the storm is ultimately temporary.