One day after Hurricane Andrew tore its demolition-derby path east to west across Miami-Dade, Hugh Willoughby drove from his damaged South Miami house to a Home Depot by Mall of the Americas near Doral. Street lights were working, so there was power. He bought roofing supplies and was soon atop his home nailing on new shingles.
But if the far-larger Hurricane Irma rakes a possible course from south to north along the county’s spine, Willoughby — an atmospheric scientist — fears things won’t be so simple this time.
In that worst-case scenario — still very much an “if” at the end of the day Friday — Irma brings substantial and extensive damage to Miami-Dade on a scale that might make Andrew pale by comparison, he said. That’s like having Andrew’s fearsome but compact hurricane wind field, and the destruction it wrought, extend across most of the length and breadth of the county.
“The worst case is pretty bad,” Willoughby, a professor at Florida International University and Andrew expert, said. “The scary thing is, we may have more widespread damage. We are talking winds much like the damage in Andrew, only more widespread.”
To be sure, Irma’s track remained highly uncertain, and forecasters say its course would not become clear until virtually the last hour Saturday. With a jog in the storm’s path either to the east or west, Miami-Dade could experience another strong but lesser storm like 2005’s Hurricane Wilma, perhaps. But it would not in that case be a cataclysmic Andrew writ large.
But that nightmare possibility is what’s kept Willoughby and millions of anxious South Floridians glued to the National Hurricane Center’s forecasts and predictive models for the better part of a week. Anyone who believes Miami-Dade experienced the worst a hurricane can deliver 25 years ago better think again, he and others say. South Florida’s vaunted subtropical climate is perfectly capable of delivering far worse.
Photo credit: Al Diaz, Miami Herald staff