There are many things to be learned from a hurricane. The first is the fragility of human life in the face of nature.
Amid hurricane winds and giant surges of water, we are minuscule and powerless. And journalists can learn many lessons on how to do this noble job, which can help us to separate hard facts from disinformation.
I was in Southwest Florida last week following Hurricane Ian, which made landfall with winds of 155 miles per hour – two under the requirement for a Category 5 storm. And I saw the enormous destruction it left in its wake. The danger of a hurricane is based on its infinite capacity to move things around. I saw boats on the streets, water covering homes, power cables resting on benches, empty lots where businesses and mansions once stood, and I felt that terrible sensation that some evil giant – he even has a name – was kicking everything around him.
When my TV team and I went to Fort Myers Beach, one of the areas hardest hit by Ian, it looked like a movie set for one of those end-of-the-world films.
I was impressed, because of its size, by a yacht about 80 feet long that had been swept up by the surge and deposited on a road, on top of a crushed white truck. They were just some of Ian’s toys. How is that possible? Incredible, if I had not seen it myself.
But the hardest hit was on those who lost almost everything. I saw a couple with two small children wandering around the disaster area. Their building – without a roof, running water or electricity – still stood. But their neighborhood was gone. They didn’t say much. The children did not cry. They were stunned.
The meteorologists – with increasingly precise computers – warned us two or three days before Ian’s savage dance that it would make landfall in a corner of Florida that had been protected from hurricanes since a storm for 101 years. But his one landed like a vengeful lover. In its wake, everything is a superlative: billions of dollars in damages, more than 100 dead, and years to rebuild.
And despite all this, they still come.
It is difficult to understand why Florida is so attractive after hurricanes like Ian, Michael in 2018 and Andrew in 1992. But over the past five years Florida has received more transplants from other parts of the United States than any other state. Just in 2020, for example, Florida’s population grew by 404,000 people.
It is, let’s say, the power of the sun. When other states are frozen in winter, in Miami, Tampa and Orlando we’re in shorts and t-shirts. During the pandemic, many people understood that you live better near a beach, a garden or a park than in a tiny apartment without a lot of natural light. And if you have to work from home, better if it’s an open, airy and sunny place.
Of course the price of homes and rents have soared. Florida now has the highest cost of living in all of the United States, according to a recent CBS report. The average rent in Miami is $2,930 per month, about the same as San Francisco and Los Angeles, according to the report.
Apparently, the hurricanes have not dissuaded millions from moving to Florida. But those who come run the inevitable risks. We’re ground zero for climate change. A report by the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization noted that “climate change is expected to increase the proportion of major tropical cyclones worldwide.” Translation: We must prepare for more hurricanes in Florida.
My job is in Miami. I have lived here since 1986. It would be very difficult to move an entire Spanish-language TV network somewhere else, for many reasons that go beyond the climate.
That’s why I have no choice but to pay my hurricane insurance – increasingly expensive – and remain well informed.
And this is where the lessons of journalism come in. Every time there’s the danger of a hurricane, I follow – religiously – the forecasts from the National Hurricane Center and two great meteorologists who are almost never wrong – John Morales (@JohnMoralesTV and Albert Martínez (@AlbertEltiempo) on Twitter. John, Albert and the other meteorologists at the NHC take care of me even if they don’t know it. They tell me if I have to protect my home, if I have to evacuate with my family and when an important storm is expected to make landfall.
Well, what I do when I choose John Morales and Albert Martinez to guide me during hurricane season is exactly what we should all do on our social networks. We have to follow people who know and provide trustworthy and safe information. That separates hard facts from lies and fiction. The social networks are plagued with disinformation, absurd theories of conspiracies and bot armies. Because of their aggressive and brutal tone, it always looks like we’re in hurricane season in Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and all the other social networks.
I learned this lesson from Ian: Chose wisely whom to follow on the social networks. In Florida, during hurricane season, it can save your life. (Thanks John! Thanks Albert!)