hurricane winds

When Irma Knocked

Voices From the Future | Tom and Lynda Ciano

When Irma Knocked

The Event:A tropical wave was born somewhere over west Africa on August 26, 2017. In the coming days, it gathered strength from the warm Atlantic waters. The wave eventually became a hurricane, hurricane Irma. Irma grew into an expansive category 5 storm with sustained winds of 185 miles per hour at its peak. It slammed into Cudjoe Key, Florida, on the morning of September 10, as a category 4.

For Lynda and Tom Ciano, Irma’s full-throated arrival at their home in central Florida was unexpected. Forecasters predicted the storm would hug the state’s west coast. But the storm shifted track.

“The radioman said, ‘Arcadia, you’re going to get hit hard,’” recalls Tom Ciano. Arcadia is a mere 40 miles from the Cianos’ Lake Placid home.

“That was a real shock when we heard that on the radio, and the darkness made it worse,” says Tom. “The electricity went out. We couldn’t see anything. It’s one thing to go into a cage with a tiger, and it’s another thing to go into a cage with a tiger when it’s dark.”

For 10 hours, unidentified objects pummeled the house. “It sounded like it was being destroyed,” says Tom, a retired electronics technician.

The Cianos home remained standing, sustaining relatively little damage, but their neighborhood was transformed, as was their outlook on their personal well-being and that of the planet’s.

I was afraid of the hurricane before it hit. I’m really afraid of hurricanes now,” says Tom.

After the storm, cell phone service was nonexistent. Gasoline to power emergency generators was nowhere to be found.

The Cianos say a feeling of isolation comes from not only the lack of resources but the helplessness of authorities and neighbors alike. “There’s no one to help you because everybody needs help,” says Lynda, 64, a retired entrepreneur.

Lynda has been disabled since 2013 and recently underwent treatment for breast cancer.

“When you’re disabled, you feel helpless. During (hurricane) Charlie, I was taking care of people.”

Tom now looks after her and says he had felt a deep sense of responsibility when he prepared for Irma’s arrival. It used to be that there was “a little excitement” when storms were headed his way. “Now, there is terror. Just the hint of something coming here terrorizes you.”

Then there’s the overwhelming empathy for others hit by natural disasters, be it fires, floods, or tornados. Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico just a few weeks after Irma left Florida, shook the Cianos. “We see that, and we sit here crying for them,” says Tom. “I can’t begin to understand what it must have been like for the people of Puerto Rico who went through the hurricane (Maria), and then their real struggles began. I can’t imagine that.”

Which is why they both believe they have little to complain about. “When I think about those people in the fires in California, and what we went through, what do we have to complain about?” asks Tom.

Given the state of storms in the Southeast, the Cianos say they are planning to move to Arizona, Tom’s home state.

“We definitely wouldn’t have to be afraid of hurricanes anymore, flooding, tornados, earthquakes, or any of those things,” says Tom. “Fire would be about the worst thing we would have to worry about. It would feel a lot safer that’s for sure. We have a whole list of reasons to go there, and that’s one of them.”

Both Lynda and Tom think that the Earth has hit a “tipping point” when it comes to climate change. They anticipate hurricanes becoming even larger and deadlier as evinced by the changes they’ve seen during their lifetimes.

“You start watching for hurricanes,” says Lynda. “You become hyper aware of changes in the weather”

“You can’t predict anymore how big these storms are going to be,” says Tom. “There’s nowhere to go because these storms are so big they cover an entire state. Basically, the whole entire state has to be ready. So, there is nowhere to go. That’s a pretty wild thing to think about.”

Tom says he used to believe that climate change wouldn’t take hold until somewhere around 2075 or 2050 at the earliest. But his outlook has changed. “I think it’s happening now,” he says.

“I’m very, very, very scared and concerned. I’m almost glad that we’re near the end of our lives. I really don’t think we’re going to fix this one. I think we’re talking about trying to fix it. I think maybe what we need to talk about is how we’re going to live with it.”

Both Lynda and Tom don’t know what they would tell their grown children if they should ask for their advice. What they belive though is that ‘there’s nowhere to run to.”

You can see that the kids coming up are thinking about these things very seriously,” says Lynda.   “We never gave it a second thought when we were their age, but now we’re giving it a second thought because we’re seeing how much worse it’s gotten in 30 years. I saw that we were going to have an El Niño this year. That’s means we don’t get as many storms here in Florida as usual. And I thought, oh, good. But then the weather man tells us that the storms that are going to develop are going to be really bad storms.

Ten years ago, you knew El Niño wasn’t going to bring storms. You breathed a sigh of relief and went on, but now there’s no sigh of relief.”

  • Written by Robin Tricoles