Friday, August 31, 2012


We've been quite busy this past week preparing for and cleaning up after the first significant storm to affect the Keys since I started at Kona Kai back in January of 2011. The experience is definitely different than being a spectator back in Ohio. There is actually much more talk about hurricanes up north than down here where the storms are actually likely to cause damage.

I don't know what it is, but when I lived up north, it almost seemed like tropical storms and hurricanes are like a form of entertainment, a sort of "reality TV" that people relish. When northerners get together with friends, we would exchange all sorts of information gathered with various resources (TV, Internet, other people, etc.). If you are interested in climbing the social ladder and get known in the community, you will be certain to develop a reliable reputation when it comes to weather analysis and predictions and take part as much as possible in hurricane hysteria. Endless speculation and weather maps on TV and the Internet fuel the madness and it becomes a topic of conversation with almost everyone.

Any northerner worth their salt keeps up on the very latest when it comes to strong storms that won't affect them and has in their home the tools necessary to prepare them for some serious talk of the weather. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images North America)
Talk about weather generally provides folks with a favorite topic of meaningless conversation because people, after all, have to talk about something. Local weather, however, only often provides relief from a few minutes of potentially-awkard silence. That's where hurricanes are clutch: interactions with people we only marginally know or care to be talking with become much easier, with at least a half hour of meaningless material that can be drawn upon. Conversations usually progress something like this:

"Hey there Rupert!
Oh, hey Sancho.
How's it going?
Good, how's it going with you?
So didjya hear about that hurricane?
Yeah, everybody's been talking about it...but isn't it technically a tropical storm?
Oh, yeah, that's right...what's required for it to be a hurricane?
I dunno, I think it's gotta hit above a seven on the Richter Scale or something.
(excitedly)You think it's gonna turn into a hurricane???
Yeah, probably.
Me too - and a big one at that. I think it's gonna hit Florida square in the chops with damage like they've never seen!
I dunno...I bet it'll be big too but my money's on it hitting Texas.
But Florida's right in the cone!
Yeah, but I was watching the latest update ten minutes ago on my smartphone and they said this cold front's gonna be coming down and blow it off course to the west; I've got this app from a little-known but extremely reliable military weather site that gives me updates on the storm every hour.
Whoa - I've gotta get that!
You think people are gonna evacuate?
I know I would but there's always a bunch who stay...why in the world do they do that?
I dunno but I hope the levees are gonna hold wherever it lands.
Man, you know they ain't gonna hold.
I wouldn't be so sure, my best friend's sister works for a guy who has a connection over in Washington and I guess they had the Army Corps of Engineers reinforcing them all over the coastlines since Katrina.
Well, it'll be interesting.
Alright man, catch you later!
K, later!
(phone rings) Basco! How's it going? Yeah man! I was just talking to Rupert about it and he said..."

Down here in the Keys, you won't usually hear talk like that from residents, who are used to being "in the cone" when a storm is more than four or five days out, and although people are keeping tabs on it, there's no major hype.  If the storm is still projected to affect the Keys when it is three days away or less, then people start making preparations and talking a bit about it. Isaac was a great example of how being "in the middle of the cone" several days out is often more a cause for relief rather than fear, as long-term predictions are frequently off the mark:

"Isaac will become a Category 1 hurricane with 90mph winds, the eye heading right over Key Largo!!!" Nope.
Here at the Gardens, we keep most all of the plants in good shape for storms year-round through smart plant selection and proper pruning. While we do have some plants that don't fare well in storms with high winds, we keep these plants to a minimum and if possible, keep them pruned to a low height. When Isaac came through, the main storm fortunately missed us to the west, but we did get a couple days of high winds. While some plants were damaged, we emerged largely unscathed and mostly had a lot of leaves to clean up. Even if plants do get damaged here, they are very resilient and recover relatively quickly, even from the brink of death.

This sea-grape was ripped out of the ground and onto its side during Hurricane Wilma in 2005. The staff doubted it would recover but it has been a full 20ft tall tree for some time!
The only notable damage occurred to our banana plants, which are herbaceous - they don't have wood so they lack support. Veronika and I cut out the banana plants that had fallen over and then cut them up to make a "banana leaf salad" that will feed the remaining upright banana plants - it decomposes quickly and is a pretty ideal sustainable method of fertilization. You just have to watch out for the sap from the plants while doing this because it will badly stain any clothing that touches it.

A few banana plants that blew over in our fruit garden after Isaac.
Another part of our preparations for the storm was shuttering all of the glass on the buildings here. It's a bit of work getting them up and taking them down, but it's better to be safe than sorry when it comes to hurricanes.

Veronika putting up shutters over the glass doors of our front office.
We basically slide each shutter up into the groove above the windows/doors and then secure them using wing nuts after aligning holes in the bottoms of the shutters with screws that stick out from a track installed on the window ledge or deck, which you can see to the right of Veronika's feet. Although preparing for hurricanes is a good bit of work, it is quite fun, too, in that everyone gets to work together directly; it's a great team-building exercise. After we finish prepping the Resort, we go around to the houses of any staff who need help putting their shutters up, which I thought was really cool and makes the people who work here feel less like "staff" or "employees" and more like "family."

After the storm passes, we all come back together at the Resort and Gardens as soon as possible to get everything cleaned up. Since this storm didn't hit us too hard, we didn't have many major things to clean up besides the banana plants but there were plenty of leaves and other small debris covering the gardens.

Taking a break from our cleanup efforts to pose for a photo as we all struggle to stay upright in the clearly still-strong winds.
Although this wasn't a huge storm, it was still incredible to see how quickly preparations were made for the storm and how quickly things were cleaned up afterwards.  Only one full day after the storm passed, we were back up and ready for visitors!

The weather seemed just as urgent as we were to get things back to beautiful. One day after Isaac passed, you wouldn't even guess a storm had come through.
I'm glad I had the opportunity to learn and run through many of the aspects of hurricane preparation, weathering and cleanup in a relatively small storm, which will hopefully be the last for the year. The weather continues to be wonderful here and we're looking forward to a picture-perfect Labor Day weekend - hope the same is true for you!

Rick Hederstrom
Associate Director

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