Hurricane Dorian stands out as one of the biggest news stories of 2019.
The ominous Category 5 storm threatened South Florida for days. While the region escaped its destruction, the storm stalled over the northern Bahamas, scouring the islands with high winds and storm surge.
On the last Friday of 2019, the South Florida Roundup looked back at the year in news with a panel of editorial page editors from South Florida's major media organizations: Nancy Ancrum with the Miami Herald, Rick Christie with the Palm Beach Post, and Rosemary O'Hara with the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
Here’s an excerpt of their conversation with host Tom Hudson:
RICK CHRISTIE: There were some people who thought that, for example, our barrier islands, like Palm Beach, probably would have been submerged at some point with a Category 5 storm, with wind gusts of 220 miles per hour sitting on top of you. For, what, almost two days?
TOM HUDSON: I still get chills as you're talking about it, so many months removed.
CHRISTIE: Oh, the absolute devastation that would have happened to Palm Beach County, is just, you don't even really want to think about it. As a matter of fact, when we [the Palm Beach Post] were talking with Eric Silagy, the president [and CEO] of FPL [Florida Power & Light], and actually asked him about this, the only time he hesitated is when we asked what would have happened if the storm hit here. He stopped a couple of times – the thought of it was just too much for him to imagine.
HUDSON: We put a lot of trust in those hurricane models and that hurricane forecasting, because this thing sat for days, just 60 miles offshore. We still felt and buffeted some of the winds as the storm took that hard right turn.
ROSEMARY O'HARA: It's amazing, the forecasting that happened with this storm. For days, though, it appeared that a fastball was headed our way and it was a big, looming fastball. Then it hovered and it stopped. And it was like this big Mixmaster hanging over the Bahamas just for days, stirring it all up and whipping it and bringing in flood waters, you know, 20 feet high and tearing homes apart. And here we were, hoping it takes a right turn, and then it does. The forecasting models were a great takeaway from this.
There are two concerns that I think need to be addressed and should be addressed in the upcoming legislative session. One is that we discovered close to 100 nursing homes and assisted living facilities still don't have the generators that they're supposed to have. Do we not remember that 12 people died in Hollywood because the nursing home lost power and people got overheated and died? And the second big lesson that still needs to be dealt with is shelters. We learned from [Hurricane] Irma is that we don't want to get people on the roads too fast because there's not enough gas stations and not enough roads really to get everybody out. So we need to shelter in place. But what we learned is we don't have sufficient shelters and sufficient staffing to make sure that it's safe to go into those shelters.
HUDSON: We're so far removed from the Charlies, the Wilmas, and certainly the Andrews. Irma was a stark reminder for all of South Florida about the potential vulnerabilities and then, of course, what the Bahamas experienced after Dorian.
NANCY ANCRUM: It only seems as if we learn a lesson but not all of the lessons. And so, as Rosemary says, for nursing homes and other such facilities where the most vulnerable are most at risk, to remain at risk is ridiculous, especially in a state such as Florida, especially in a state that should be as progressive and should be smarter than it sometimes at.
Several news organizations in Florida have partnered to report on climate change. The initiative originated with The Invading Sea collaboration that was founded by the editorial boards of the Miami Herald, the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the Palm Beach Post, along with WLRN Public Media. You can find all the coverage here.