Calm Before the Storm?

Tropical storm Fay rolled through central Florida towards late afternoon today.  Schools were called off – this is their first week back – but I reported to work.  I wish I wore wetsuits; I could have used them while splashing through puddles.

The concept of a “calm before the storm” is probably centuries old.  I pondered the phrase as I toured the park this morning waiting for the first bands and squall lines of Fay to swirl out across the state.  The stillness is always eerie and heavy with a sort of expectation.

The strange thing is this: we haven’t always had the technology to know that a hurricane is on the way.  I tried to imagine what it must have been like for early settlers in Florida and even the native cultures here like the Seminole to weather these large and powerful storms.  Did they know something was different?  What about a morning like today’s would have given away the signals that something stronger was on the horizon?

Animals always seem to know when major events are imminent.  Perhaps native Americans and early settlers – with their lack of TiVo and the internet and Starbucks – were keen enough observers of the natural world to notice the lack of animals that is so characteristic of the “calm”.  The anoles that typically run around my feet when I leave the apartment were absent this morning.  The tree frogs didnt call out to wake me as the sun rose.  The hawks and osprey so common on the lightpoles and wires along my route to work were suspiciously out of sight. 

Can you imagine what it must have been like to shelter from hurricane winds inside a modest cabin or a more rustic shelter used by tribes?  All I can think of is the screech and whistle of the wind and the thrashing of sabal palm and saw palmetto fronds against the sides of the shelter as you stared wide-eyed into the darkness inside.  The raindrops would probably spatter and spray into the gaps in the boards and the hides and soak the ground at your feet.  The lightning crashes would be rapid, intense, firing repeatedly in a pattern you’ve never witnessed from an ordinary afternoon shower. 

And then the doldrums of the hurricane’s eye might tempt you outside to have a look around at the upended scene of random projectiles tossed about by the wind and scattered across your homebase.  That would be a decided positive about weathering a hurricane in a less technologically advanced time.  The projectiles would probably be a little less deadly.  No metal trash can lids flung against trees or telephone wires sparking against the ground.  Perhaps even an amount of the flooding we sometimes see would not exist; without so much pavement the water would perhaps have more of a place to retreat too. 

It would be an intense experience to say the least.  I’d still like to know, and perhaps some anthropologist can tell me – if these people knew that intense storms were due for an arrival and how they dealt with the altered world inside a hurricane.