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Within 24 hours, Hurricane Irma will strike the state of Florida causing untold destruction and mayhem. Millions of people are nervously awaiting the storm’s arrival. Including the family of our own meteorologist Rebecca Kopelman.

Rebecca works with Terry at KGAN TV and is the morning meteorologist…you can see her in the mornings and during the noon show. She is also one of the meteorologists who is a contributor to and frankly we consider her a member of the family.

This puts a very personal spin on Hurricane Irma.

As a Florida native, Rebecca fully understands what her family is up against. She remembers when Hurricane Wilma came howling through, and does not underestimate the damage these superstorms can inflict. From Iowa, she’s been helping her family members navigate the barrage of information flowing from all forms of media.

“I just have been trying to verify what they’ve been hearing. They want the news from someone they know. They trust me. They are down there and not sure if what some of what they’re hearing is hype or not. I am guiding them through what I am seeing…giving them an expert perspective,” Rebecca explained.

Rebecca’s dad, Allen Kopelman, is riding out the storm at his home north of Miami. He lives in Broward County…straddling the towns of Margate and Coral Springs. The Atlantic Ocean is approximately twenty miles away.

Allen has lived in Florida since he was a small kid. He’s a veteran of hurricanes. He has a box in the house that’s replenished before each hurricane season containing fresh batteries, flashlights, and a radio. His extra strength hurricane shutters are built to weather the toughest storm. He has a newer roof, and installed a customized garage door that’s heavier and stronger than the average door and anchored in concrete.

Allen has also stocked up on food, water, and other supplies. “Now I’m just sitting around and waiting for Irma!” he said. He’s been hearing about the potential for nearly a week.

The grocery stores have been emptied.

There are long lines for gasoline. Allen’s friends say there’s so much traffic heading north it takes to two to three times as long to drive anywhere. But he’s staying put. And so are many of his friends.

“Only about ten to twenty percent of the neighborhood has left,” said Allen. “The rest of the neighbors are walking around checking on each other to see who is here and who left. That will help us keep track of everyone after the storm,” he added.

“Why do you stay?” I asked.

Allen paused to consider the question.

“People ask me a lot why I don’t leave,” he replied. “I have a business. I just can’t leave. A lot of people who left from Andrew couldn’t get back to their homes right away. You see when you leave and your home is in an area that’s messed up, they are not going to let you get back in. So you are worried about looting. You are worried about losing everything.”

During one of his walks today he saw city crews cutting coconuts from the trees. Any tree. Whether on public or private property. Coconuts in a hurricane can become missiles. So crews are working proactively to try and eliminate any additional dangers.

Another precaution. Cracking down on potential looters. All drawbridges are being raised today and fixed bridges are patrolled by law enforcement. If you can’t produce a driver’s license with a valid address for over the bridge…you aren’t going.

Pharmacies are also being overwhelmed. Allen stopped by a drugstore the other day because of a sinus infection. The pharmacists were filling four times as many prescriptions as they usually do. In fact overflow prescriptions were being handled by stores in Orlando and flown by plane back to the Miami area.

The other impact from Irma is the number of people seeking safety at storm shelters. Unfortunately pets are usually not allowed so animals are being dumped off at humane shelters. Extra humane shelters are being set up. “I understand a plane flying out had 500 dogs on it,” said Allen.

Rebecca knows her family is taking the best precautions possible to safely ride out the storm. But it’s her grandmother that has her worried.

“It’s not easy because my grandmother is on the beach. She’s lived on the beach for 40 years and has seen many storms including Andrew and Wilma. She won’t leave and That’s really difficult. I am worried about her if the surge gets too big,” explained Rebecca.

Right now the European model tracks Irma more into southwestern Florida towards the Florida Keys. From there it travels up through the spine of the state. That small westward jog in the track is very important for the highly populated areas in and around Miami. The maximum winds which could gust to 160 mph would most likely stay to the west…assuming the track does not shift back east. It would also reduce the storm surge by several feet. Still, it will be a major storm with the potential for wind gusts of up to 120 mph.

That’s some good news for Rebecca’s immediate family, but she still worries about her friends who live throughout the state.

“The one thing that’s disheartening is that the storm is going to affect all of Florida. I have not seen that before and I can’t imagine what that’s going to be like,” she said.

With 80 percent of the state of Florida likely to experience tropical force winds…and with over 50% of the state likely to experience hurricane force winds (74 m.p.h and plus), Rebecca’s fears are quite justified.

But all she can do is wait and hope from more than 1,000 miles away. We are with her.


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