Weather Bunnies

At Sea — December 2004
By Capt. Bill Pike

Weather Bunnies
What’s wrong with storm coverage on TV these days.

Illustration: Joseph Daniel Fiedler
 More of this Feature

• Part 1: Weather Bunnies
• Part 2: Weather Bunnies continued

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• At Sea Index

It was 2 a.m. Mullet Mansion, my old stilt house on the Gulf Coast of north Florida, was enduring its third slug of wicked weather in as many weeks, the first being a tricky little tropical storm and the latter two being big, full-blown hurricanes. From what I could tell, the winds outside were shrieking at a constant 60 mph, with gusts of 70 mph or more. And things had been going on like this for dang-near six hours.

I was exhausted. I’d already braved buckshot-like rain several times to adjust and re-tie mooring lines on the Scrumpy Vixen, the cherished vessel I keep berthed in a boathouse at the end of our long dock. Because the boathouse is open on all sides, the Scrump continued to suffer the weather’s assaults, leaping like a wild horse tethered in a stall. Moreover, the cat’s-cradle-like assemblage of lines and counterweights that safely restrain her under normal conditions was stretched to the limit. I’d added all the extra mooring lines I could find—there was nothing left to do. And yet the storm went right on wailing like a banshee.

“Shoulda pulled the boat outta the water like we did with the other storms,” I told my wife, B.J. She shot me an anxious glance as a fearsome gust whistled through the eaves. “Yeah, but nobody was forecasting anything like this,” she replied.

Questions assailed. Based on the last update from the National Hurricane Center Web site at 11 p.m., the sputterings of my Icom IC-M32 handheld VHF, and what forecasting expertise I’d gleaned from years at sea, I was almost 100-percent sure Mullet Mansion was on the western or “less-destructive” side of the storm. But how far west of it were we? Had the storm stalled? Had it taken some inexplicable jog out there in the blackness? Had tornadoes spun off? Waterspouts? In the interest of addressing these speculations, I tracked down the remote control for the TV—by some nifty twist of fate, Mullet Mansion still had electrical power.

I tried the Weather Channel first, albeit with misgivings. While I hoped to get some genuine nuts-and-bolts info—perhaps even a real-time radar or satellite image—I had no illusions about the quality of serious weather coverage on TV these days. Twice over the past few weeks B.J. and I had been constrained to abandon Mullet Mansion for the relative safety of my mother-in-law’s home farther north. And during these decampments, we’d watched hours of hurricane coverage on TV in an attempt to keep tabs on our waterfront home. Most of it had been pretty sorry stuff.

“Florida is reeling from this hurricane season,” announced a perky, attractive blonde in a provocatively tight sweater. To a tired, unshaven, sopping-wet, middle-ager like me, tensely sitting in a little house, right next door to a big hurricane, the appearance of the young woman was vaguely incomprehensible, almost bizarre—she looked like a Playboy bunny dressed up for a sorority party. B.J. and I listened as she told us the Weather Channel was on “Storm Alert” before treating us to some video footage of cleanup efforts in the Bahamas, a dose of commercials for gardening products and (ironically enough) homeowner’s insurance, some more video footage of people in daytime South Florida buying plywood, cutting plywood, and securing plywood over their windows with cordless drills, and finally a longish “36-Hour Forecast” that indicated conditions were generally on the mend.

Next page > Part 2: The menacing music wore on as the young woman intro’d yet another video segment. > Page 1, 2

This article originally appeared in the November 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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