Hurricane Dean: The Waiting Game
Posted by Tony & Cheri on August 18, 2007
Now it seems just to be a matter of time. Latest reports show Hurricane Dean to be a Category 3 hurricane. Category 5 is the strongest. Category 3 is the first step towards being a major storm. Radar shows it has moved into the Caribbean, past the outer islands of the Lesser Antilles, and is bearing down on Jamaica. It has left a lot of rain, wind damage and flooding in the first islands it has encountered. However, you wouldn’t know if you’re in Playa. We had a little rain last night, but mostly it was a partially cloudy day with warm breezes coming in off the sea.
Nobody knows yet where or if Dean will make landfall on the Mexican coast. Even our chosen weather guru, Dr. Jeff Masters at www.weatherunderground.com won’t predict the movement of the storm for more than a day or two out. If it makes landfall in Mexico, it won’t be for at least another 3-5 days, leaving us all wondering where it will be.
The National Hurricane Center still projects that Dean will gather strength, become a devastating Category 5 and make landfall somewhere near Playa del Carmen late Monday night or early Tuesday morning. A number of weather institutions have also offered various computer program projections. The latest of those show that Dean could move north through Cuba and miss Mexico (poor Cuba – as if they don’t have enough problems already); move through the straits between Mexico and Cuba and head north to the US, making landfall in Texas or Louisiana; go south of Mexico through Belize; or of course hit us directly head on with Playa del Carmen as ground zero. In short, we have just enough facts to be scared but not enough to know for sure what will happen.
Since Dr. Jeff leans towards the National Hurricane Center predictions as having the highest historical correctness, we are planning on dealing with a big storm in the next 72 hours.
Yesterday we loaded up the Big Bastard with up all the plywood we think we’ll need at the hotel, our house and at the homes of our staff. Today we went shopping for other emergency supplies. It seemed like this morning everyone in town had the same idea. The streets were literally bumper to bumper, and all of the major stores like Walmart, Sam’s, Mega and Soriana were filled with people. Our unscientific observation seemed to show that most Mexican nationals were buying food, and most individuals who were obvious tourists were carting away cases of beer. Priorities, we guess.
The problem we encountered was not only the crowds but the lack of many of the supplies we were looking for. Mexico consumerism is no match for what we remember back in the States. It’s not common to have a wide selection of goods here. In this case, we were looking for some basics, i.e., flashlights, batteries, duct tape, etc. Unfortunately there was no chance of one stop shopping. We went from store to store, gathering a little bit of what we could find, and then on to the next location. In reporting back in on our progress to the hotel, Genaro—one of our wonderful receptionists—pointed out to Cheri that “Mr. Tony” had been saying for months that we should be preparing for the hurricane season, and that next time we should all listen to him. Cheri was willing to concede that this was one time that Tony was right.
We also had to laugh at the nature of Mexico’s priorities. In Sam’s Club, we went searching for large emergency lights and backup flashlights. We figured it being the height of the hurricane season, they should have plenty in stock. (After living here two years, WHY we would think that is beyond us!) They didn’t have a single flashlight. Not because they were sold out, but because the shelving space was being used for more important items…Christmas decorations. Yes, it’s only August 17, but here in Playa del Carmen you can already buy your inflatable plastic snowman lawn decorations or choose from 20 different nativity scenes. Just don’t go looking for a flashlight during hurricane season.
Eventually we found most of the stuff we needed. We then turned our attention to our reservations. Last night we sent an email to those guests who would be arriving before or during the hurricane. We tried to be as honest and forthright as we could in explaining our concerns about the situation. We encouraged people to stay home and cancel their reservations.
This may sound a little strange for a hotel to ask people to stay away, but we felt it was our responsibility both to our guests and to our staff. We didn’t want people coming down and huddling in darkened rooms during the middle of a major hurricane. And we didn’t want our staff to have to show up to work to help those people. We figure our employees would rather be home with their families trying to protect their own homes rather than our hotel. We offered people a chance to switch their dates and had a very positive response. We have also refused to accept any new reservations which would have guests arriving before or during the time Hurricane Dean is expected to hit this area.
Unfortunately for us, one of the real disappointments in this storm has been that good friends—family, really—had to cancel their trip down to visit with us. They were scheduled to arrive Saturday. Carlos Calvo is one of our dearest and oldest friends. He and Tony have been buddies, brothers, martial artists, bullfight aficionados and general hell raisers for many, many years. They have seen each other through births, deaths, marriages, divorces and more than a few bottles of Mezcal. Carlos was coming down with his lovely lady Christine and his adorable kids, James and Gabriella. We had really been looking forward to spending time with them. Unfortunately it won’t be this time. The good news is that like many travelers, they are discovering the airlines are showing a great deal of empathy and allowing people to change their reservations without financial penalty. Carlos, if you’re reading this, we miss you guys and we send all of you our love.
The mood here in town is still quite upbeat. Local Mexican nationals we have spoken to are showing very little concern. The Mexican media is somewhat legendary for printing exaggerated opinion style stories rather than facts. Right now locals are hearing that the storm will pass north of Mexico and won’t hit Playa del Carmen. This is very similar to what happened during Wilma, when everybody laughed it off until 24 hours before it hit shore. Those of us who had access to real information knew better.
Among local ex-pats, there is a greater sense of awareness, but still no feeling of panic or danger. Everybody is in the same mode of going about their business collecting their plywood and their provisions. The plywood isn’t being hung yet. Our personal plan is to spend Sunday securing the hotel and the house. Monday will be ‘wait and see’ time. Hopefully by then we will have already gotten the news that the storm will be bypassing Playa del Carmen. We figure we’re actually doing better than in our former life in San Francisco in one way. You can see a hurricane coming from very far off, but earthquakes happen with no notice. We’ll take the hurricanes, thank you very much.
We will continue to update our blog. When and if the storm hits, it is likely that all power will be lost, making it difficult for us to contact the outside world. We plan on firing up the gas generator and trying to utilize the computer that way, but since our cable modem doesn’t work in the best of times in Mexico, it’s going to be a shot in the dark….literally.
To our friends and family around the world, don’t worry. We are fine, happy and sure that this will pass quickly. We’ll “talk” to everyone soon.