Hurricane Irma — aka “the largest Atlantic hurricane ever,” “the monster storm” and “killer hurricane” after its first deaths were recorded — is destined for Florida.
All of Florida.
Irma, a category 4 or 5 depending on the moment, is bigger than the entire state.
Days ago, Governor Scott declared a state of emergency for the entire state and urged Floridians in the southern part of the state to evacuate. This afternoon, a radio broadcaster indicated Scott was now wanting all 20 million Florida residents to evacuate. I’m not sure if he was kidding.
But evacuate where? After the hurricane barrels through this state, Irma’s aiming for Atlanta and beyond. Georgians are being told to evacuate too.
Was it just Tuesday when a co-worker and I mutually joked that Irma was so big because she was angry at being named Irma. (I’m sure a storm named Sara would be tall but slender and gentle.) But when I went to the grocery store that evening to pick up a prescription and saw the lines of panicked people and emptying shelves, I got a little worried.
Since there was no water, I purchased wine, thinking that Jesus could always reverse his miracle and turn wine into water. The idea seemed funny to me then.
As did a co-worker’s grocery store experience in which she found only gallons of “baby water” on the shelves.
“I didn’t even know ‘baby water’ existed,” she said to me. “What? Do they steep babies in water or something?”
That amused me, as did the number of cars at the gas pumps I encountered at 5:20 Wednesday morning, when I topped off my tank.
By the time I headed to work that morning, every gas station I passed had lines of cars wrapped around the pumps and overflowing into the roadways.
The following hours and days — no matter the time of day — have lines of desperate drivers at the pumps or gas stations empty of fuel and hopeful drivers. My son, who drives a diesel truck, inadvertently caused mayhem when he pumped diesel at a station that had diesel but no more gas. As he pumped, drivers pulled off the road to line up at the pumps, misled by his apparent success. They found no gas.
The news depicts Florida Highway Patrol vehicles escorting fuel tankers to restock stations. I’ve driven by seemingly abandoned stations with pumps covered with red bags and yellow tape to indicate they are empty. I’ve also seen vehicles with multiple gas cans strapped to their rears or tops. Hoarders? Hogs? Or just desperate people? Or do they know something I don’t know?
Panic has set in.
This morning as we listened to talk radio, a woman called the broadcast, crying. At first, we thought it was a joke. Then we laughed, thinking her ridiculous as she expressed her fear of this storm. Yet I had tears slipping down my cheeks.
Today the skies are sunny and the temperatures are pleasant. It is the calm before the storm, and I can imagine previous times when people weren’t aware that a storm was approaching until it arrived.
My husband’s been reading about notable hurricanes and the devastation they caused in the past. For example, the Okeechobee hurricane of 1928 killed thousands of people, many who never knew the storm was approaching. We have the knowledge that the storm approaches and the privilege to plan accordingly.
We in Florida know that hurricane season runs from June through November. We know that September is prime time for storms, and we’ve been coached through all sorts of media to prepare in advance. Buy batteries, water, non-perishable foods. Fill bathtubs with water. Keep a battery-operated radio handy. Charge your cells phones and power sticks.
And despite all the awareness and warnings, we’re still in panic mode and asking ourselves if we’ve prepared enough.
Of course, we have visions of Harvey still fresh in our minds. And we thought Harvey was big? He stalled and rained havoc on Texas. Irma promises less rain but a different type of devastation. Who imagined a storm that would threaten the entire state?
And so the store shelves and gas pumps are repeatedly filled and emptied. The highways are crowded. We are called off from work, and instead of a simple goodbye, we urge each other to stay safe. How will our lives will be changed by Irma?
We wonder if we should have purchased plywood to cover the windows and realize it is too late now. We consider the items outside our house, imagine them as missiles powered by Irma’s winds, and tuck them into the garage. We view the trees and park our vehicles away from those most likely to fall. We make sure we have tarps available should we need them.
And we wait and wonder and, yes, entertain some worrying thoughts.
This is the “calm” before the storm named Irma.
Updated reports this evening show Irma moving westward. Who knows where it will hit?
In the locker room at the health club Thursday morning, I jokingly mentioned that I had purchased wine instead of water — mentioning that Jesus could change it into water. And one of the women said, “It’s a good thing you’re not Baptist or you might have a problem with that.”
“Oh, that’s why I switched,” I retorted, still joking.
“Well, it’s all imaginary anyway,” she said.
“If you mean lines dividing one Christian branch from another, then I’d agree,” I said.
But I feared she meant faith, religion, belief in a God entirely.
I cannot imagine facing an Irma or any of life’s trials and storms without knowing that God has me in his hands. Today I had the day off at the command of the governor, which gave me the opportunity to prepare for the storm — not just my house, but my heart.
And I kept thinking of the hymn “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” that includes the lyrics “his eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches me.” It reminds me of Matthew 6:25-26:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (NIV)
I’m reminded that I am valuable to my Father in heaven and that he loves me and sees me right where I am, storm and all. I hope that you know that too.
As Scott Krippayne sings, sometimes God calms the storm and sometimes he calms his child.
That is the true calm before the storm today. May you know it too.