The Weather, Except in Cuba

August 29, 2004

Charley was positioned just below La Habana province of Cuba, spinning in the weird counter clockwise manner of all hurricanes. Then it charged northbound. Its winds blasted through Old Habana’s narrow cobblestone streets at up to 140 mph.

From space, Charley looked like a hurried erasure job to rid the island of its western end.

It seemed like the U.S. media had the same idea, by the lack of reporting on the severe weather system the week of Aug. 8.

All sorts of hell breaks loose when nature huffs and puffs and tears down your house. Hurricanes are big bad wolves and roam the Atlantic Ocean, offshoots of West Africa’s weather system, in single file between June and November.

They begin as a string of puffy pearls of danger that start their cross-Atlantic trip as pre-tropical storms. But people in the Caribbean nonetheless cast a dreaded eye on them every few hours. They know what kind of trouble starts as a wispy ballerina and ends up growling at the door and windows.

The Weather Channel tracks hurricanes, and typhoons as they’re called in the Pacific Ocean, with an A-team of weather hawks who don’t care where the weather is happening as long as it’s happening.

But the major networks and cable stations play to a different audience, it appears. They think that people don’t care about a hurricane unless it’s about to strike the U.S. That’s possible, but in certain areas of the U.S., not probable.

While Charley roared off the southwest coast of Cuba and began its awesome climb up the latitudes through Cuba itself, forcing more than 150,000 residents to leave their homes, none of the alphabet networks or their local stations noticed.

Except to warn that Charley may hit Florida. That’s sort of ironic, considering that close to one million Cubans live in Florida.

And many, if not most, of them have strong ties to Cuba, whether through family or memories. Both have a way of holding on tight to your heart. But it’s not only in Florida that people care.

“Politics is politics, but family is family,” said Eduardo B. Carballo, superintendent of the Holyoke schools and one of the better known Cubans in Western Massachusetts. “There’s an iron curtain between us and Cuba, but we’re still concerned about what happens there.”

Carballo, who has aunts and uncles in La Habana as well as family in Miami, followed Charley’s rip-roaring trip through Cuba on Spanish television stations Univisin and Telemundo.

You could also read about the hurricane in the Spanish and British press.

Those of us who have survived hurricanes are keenly aware of their might. It may look like fun to go surfing as a hurricane approaches, but we know it’s stupid, because it’s a known danger.

Charley cut through Cuba and killed at least four people. It left other destruction in its wake, too. Buildings collapsed, electricity went out, trees succumbed to the winds, entire neighborhoods were flooded.

But you wouldn’t know any of this unless you read about it in the news media outside the U.S.

Weather connects us in one part of the world to another. The winds that blow in the Caribbean are felt here. So should the news.