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The Passing of Charley
Taran Rampersad, 15 Aug 04

Image of Hurricane Charley, 2004 Charley is no more. But Charley certainly left his mark on the world and the lives of people whom he touched. Hopefully, Tropical Storm Earl finds Charley an impossible act to follow.

Normally, we here at focus on things that change our world in a positive way - a way in which gives us a fresh outlook of where we are heading, of obstacles we can overcome and the technology and even ideas associated with them. This essay isn't too different from these other issues, though Hurricane Charley itself can be labeled nothing more than destructive. How mankind minimized that destruction, though, is definitely worthy of note.

Today, Charley got demoted to a Tropical Depression as it slides into the Canadian Maritimes. However, many will never forget the force with which Charley uprooted trees and families. Yet even this deserves posting here at - not because of the devastation, but the fact that it tested a science that has evolved since 340 BC. Meteorology took center stage over the last few days, and though some predictions were not completely accurate - it undoubtedly saved a lot of lives. The unsung hero, Meteorology.

We can't gauge the value of human life, and there's no diminishing the value of any life lost at any time. Yet, by all accounts, the international death toll for Hurricane Charley is presently 20. A Jamaican farmer, 3 Cubans, and 16 Americans. Hopefully no more are found, and I think I can speak for everyone that we send our condolences to those who have lost loved ones. But let's take stock.

A monstrosity of nature with 145 mile per hour winds made landfall, made it's way across the State of Florida - and the human life cost was less than what most of us see everyday in the news by way of crime or the ravages of wars, the mistakes of accidents or the wills of nations. Uncontrolled by mankind, Hurricane Charley claimed less than mankind claims every day. Without the meteorology we have today, would it have been more? Most certainly.

Yet it is not only the ancient Science of Meteorology that deserves praise. Governmental agencies coordinated at the Federal, State and local levels in the United States - making the public aware, advising the public, informing the public - mainly through inventions of the last century. Television, Radio and the Internet. And this last technology of communication is only slightly older than a decade old - yet there was a weblog that gave a personal account of a meteorologist, even as he crawled out of the he made his way out of the Emergency Operations Center.

I lived in Clearwater, Florida, and my mother still lives in the Tampa area. All of these sources gave me, a foreign observer, insight into what was happening - but more importantly, it gave people direction in how to protect themselves and their loved ones. While the fifteen billion dollars that have been estimated so far in damages in Florida alone is an impressive figure, it's almost a certainty that with the immediate wind howling outside many people weren't too concerned about their belongings. If they were, it's a tribute to their safety - provided by predictions which could not have been made nearly as well 100 years ago. Human life, survival, has a value that many of us don't appreciate until it becomes a personal issue.

Because of the advances in meteorology and the adaptation of technologies to meteorology - most notably so in the last century - many people are still alive. Through emergency planning by varying types of organizations, even after the hurricane many people are rapidly finding normality returning to their lives - from electricity to, perhaps, having a house with a roof. The recovery from such disasters is never fast enough for those affected, and it's quite possible that it never will.

Many areas that have adapted building codes in the past few decades may revise the building codes based on the information that Hurricane Charley inadvertently has given, but these building codes have ever evolved in this way.
I do not doubt that many areas of science and other studies will study this entire incident - and it's this which is important to remember, even on the darkest days.

The Atlantic Oceannographic and Meteorological Laboratory Hurricane Research Division is probably looking over the data from this last hurricane and hurricanes of others even as they constantly re-evaluate Tropical Storm Earl's threat. We see their results every day, and even after certain disaster has been prevented we do not recognize them as we probably should.

We have tools developed and/or applied in the last century - from radar to video from space - even 3 dimensional visualizations. We have the ability to store vast amounts of data for future analysis. And as this disaster has shown, we can use them to save lives at a very high level.

So as we look at the things that will change the world for the better, perhaps this is a reminder to look at things that help us resist change for the worse. They allow us a steady platform from which to launch ourselves through a better world through our technologies and ideas - and are as important to us as the advancement we strive for.

We strive to improve life - but we must never forget to maintain it such that we may improve it. To everyone involved, be they survivors or meteorologists (or both), or Red Cross volunteers or organizers - take a bow. Without people like you, there would be less of a World to change for the better.

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