WEATHER in Ohio and Michigan can get treacherous for a few weeks in the winter. But it seems much more tolerable in view of what folks in Florida and other southern states endure during hurricane season. While their chambers of commerce and tourism bureaus portray their region as a warm-weather paradise, visitors with names such as Dennis and Ivan remind us that all is not sunshine and sandy beaches.
The "H" word is making that clear to millions of people around the country. After a record-setting 2004 hurricane season, residents of the Gulf Coast and southeastern seaboard are running from the whirlwinds once again.
In 2004, Hurricanes Charley, Ivan, Jeanne, and Frances made Florida the first state hit by four major storms in one season since Texas in 1886. Now the 2005 hurricane season - only a few weeks old - already is shaping up as another devastating record-buster.
Not since 1851, for instance, have there been five named tropical storms so early in a hurricane season. It has been 105 years since a major hurricane like Dennis made landfall this early in the season.
Act One in this annual story of death and destruction is still playing. The hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30, and often intensifies as the months pass, with the worst tempests in August and September.
Meteorologists warn that more of the same may be in store for years into the future. They believe that the world has shifted gears into a cycle of increased hurricane activity that may last 20 years.
Much of the southeast's intense coastal development and population influx occurred since the 1950s, when the hurricane cycle was in an inactive phase. The southeast really did seem like a place to escape from harsh weather. Meteorologists say there is strong evidence that the cycle shifted into high gear in the mid-1990s and will rage through the early 21st century.
People attracted to the sunny South should take heed before pulling up stakes in the North. When developers coo about the "Sunshine State," remember than for half the year, Florida really is the Hurricane State.
Winter storms in Ohio and Michigan may be an inconvenience, but they don't force repeated evacuations, destroy homes, and leave entire communities looking like war zones.
With more hellish storms looming in the years ahead, lawmakers and urban planners should get serious about limiting development on vulnerable coastal areas. Homes, businesses, and schools rebuilt after one hurricane are at high risk of being destroyed again as the next storm steamrolls into town.