Outwitting A Florida Tropical Storm

When you’re from the Seattle area, traveling in the rain is a given. In fact, bring it on. But Florida’s tropical storm warnings are enough to give even the hardiest Northwest visitor to the Sunshine State pause. They’re unpredictable. They have names; we don’t anthropomorphize our weather in Seattle. They’re discussed in unfamiliar terminology: “storm surge”, “category”, “sustained surface wind”. Also one term we did understand – “isolated tornadoes”.


Our plan was to travel from the Tampa area to Key West via the Gulf Coast, but Tropical Storm Colin was approaching and the local TV weather forecasters regularly updated color coded Florida maps with any number of predicted paths, all having storm surges and sustained surface winds that may get to hurricane level. Announcements for Gulf Coast sandbag staging areas began to accompany the news. As did dire predictions that it was an early tropical storm season and things could be bad. Outside Floridians were going about their everyday business – heading to the beach, golfing, playing tennis as though disaster wasn’t about to strike. We did what any sane Pacific Northwesterner would do – headed to the store to stock up on water, batteries and supplies. There we found nonchalant Floridians buying ingredients for an evening dinner party.


Were we overreacting? Should we go or should we not? We contacted the two hotels we’d booked for the trip. The clerk at the Everglade City Hotel in rural Everglade City seemed unaware a system named Colin was about to hit them (at least it was according to one of the myriad of color coded storm maps we now monitored by smartphone). She assured us their air boat tours (our only reason for spending the night there) wouldn’t be going out in the event of a weather related disaster. The Parrot Key Resort in Key West responded with their cancellation policy, “If Key West is within the shaded portion of a Category 1 hurricane or higher within 72 hours prior to arrival, we allow cancellation without penalty.” ?????????

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The only thing that seemed to be clear was the date and time the storm would hit the Tampa area – the day we planned to drive south. We packed the car with our small stash of emergency supplies, re-routed our trip through central Florida instead of via the coast and left in the early morning before the storm arrived. It was dark and gloomy (also muggy and hot) for most of the drive. We had to pull off the road for two torrential downpours that so obscured vision it seemed unsafe to drive for all but the semi-trucks who added to the visibility issues.

The history of naming extreme weather events goes back to 1887. And this one never lived up to its reputation, which apparently happens a lot and is the reason Floridians carried on as though “Colin” (they get to a first name basis with their weather visitors immediately) was just dropping by for a cup of coffee.




Key West’s Gypsy Chickens

They’re everywhere strutting among the tourists and locals; crowing, pecking at bugs, and scratching in the landscape. Key West takes free range chickens literally. And in Mallory Square, their famous shopping and sunset attraction, the town’s 2000-3000 feral chickens fully appreciate that they’re protected by local ordinance.


Given the community’s isolation early settlers brought domestic chickens with them for meat and eggs. In the 1860s when Cubans began moving to Key West, drawn by the tobacco and cigar industry that once dominated the town’s economy, they brought “Cubalayas”, their cockfighting chickens. As improved transportation infrastructure connected the Florida Keys to the rest of Florida, Key West residents no longer needed to raise their own chickens and many were released. By 1970 the town outlawed cockfighting and the Cubalayas were left to fend for themselves. The small lean chickens called Gypsy Chickens that currently wander the streets of Key West are the result of interbred domestic and Cubayala cockfighting fowl.


They’re the subject of artists; the towns many art galleries feature chicken inspired paintings and sculpture. Chicken themed key chains and coasters can be found in tourist trinket shops. Even an entire business, Funky Chicken Store, features the local chickens. They’re valued for keeping the local cockroach and scorpion population under control. However, they also tear up gardens and crow in the early hours and periodically, fed-up residents try to convince the city council to amend the local ordinance and fines that forbids cruelty to the Gypsy Chickens.

Cruelty apparently doesn’t including humane trapping. Problem chicken can be trapped and taken to the Key West Wildlife Center. From there they get transported to farms in central and north Florida where their aggressive behavior is valued – they’re ideally suited to pest control.