by Art Levy
Updated 8 months ago
Broadcasting during Hurricane Andrew, I said some of the smartest things I ever said in my life. One of them was, ‘OK, folks, here’s what I want you to do. I want you to get a mattress off the bed. I want you to get in a closet or in a hallway or in a bathroom and get your family under that mattress.’ I heard from so many people afterward that, after the storm passed, when they came out from beneath the mattress, that they looked up and saw the sky.
Miami is one of the most amazing cities, in some ways the most amazing city. It’s the only city in the United States, and maybe the only major city in the world, where there’s no dominant culture. You go from one place to another and you actually switch cultures. I love that. I think that’s what makes the city magical.
Florida is an extraordinarily vulnerable place. We have paved it, primped it, posed it, but not prepared for the damage that we’ve done to the natural environment. We have not treated our fragile environment with the care that it requires and deserves. There are efforts to address these things, but I don’t find the efforts to be up to the scale of the challenges.
When you read the morning paper, you might not read every detail of a story that you weren’t interested in, but you would glance at it. It was a routine thing to have a breadth of knowledge. Now, people gravitate toward what they want to hear. That’s evolved very dangerously, I think, into people feeling betrayed if they don’t hear what they want to hear. To some degree, this is the issue of our times. If you can’t communicate, how do you have a democracy?
Sea-level rise due to climate change is affecting some things, but we’re just at the very beginning stages of that being implemented.
I had a lot of offers to do a lot of things after Andrew, but I felt I had to stay. As much as I wanted to go to New York — I always loved New York, the people in New York and the energy there — I felt like I had to stay because I was so connected to the people in Miami. I think leaving at that time would have cheapened what everybody went through and my part in it. There was also a lot to do. I was appointed to committees by the governor and the insurance commissioner. There were problems to solve.
You have to think about driving down the highway with a leaf on your hood. A leaf can sit on the middle of the hood and you can go 70 mph and that leaf doesn’t move. So, if you’re in the middle of a building, top to bottom, left to right, that’s a very good place to be, as opposed to being on the edges, where you get super-strong winds. In the middle, you get next to nothing, so that’s where my apartment is.
I wanted to be a disc jockey, and I got a chance to do that when I was in high school at a little local radio station in Melbourne. I got them to hire me for no money, just paying for my gas to get out there, to work on the weekends. But the first time I was on the air, I was just there answering the phone, and the program director hands me the AP copy and tells me to read the news. I needed a radio name because Bryan Norcross, first of all, it’s kind of hard to say because of the two n’s together, and I also thought it was just a totally uncool name. So, on the spur of the moment, I came up with Barry O’Brian and I was ‘Barry O on the Radio’ for my first couple of radio jobs.
Forecasting hurricanes is a complex, technical business. You can’t expect the public to understand the nuances of the spaghetti plots, the nuances of the differences within each of those lines. The lines are not all equal. I don’t try to forecast where hurricanes are going. I let the National Hurricane Center do that. My role is to communicate the forecast, explain it, and explain the uncertainty.
Another good decision during Andrew was when we left the studio. We ended up in what became to be called the bunker. It was actually a storage closet off to the side of the studio. The action of us getting up from our desks and going to our safe place made a lot of people take action. It really hit home that, holy crap, if they’re doing it, it really must be serious, and we better do it, too.
The part about being on television and performing and being kind of a public person was never an appealing part of it. My reward is when I tell a good story and I’ve led people through a narrative that makes sense, and they have learned something or gained something or found value in what I’ve presented.
There’s just no reason to think, based on history, that any part of the Florida coast won’t eventually get hit by a significant storm. In coastal Miami- Dade County, it’s stunning and frightening when you think about the number of people who are concentrated in this narrow, vulnerable area.
Growing up in Indialantic, we lived only three blocks from the ocean, so four or five days a week, I would be at the beach. Now, I live in Miami Beach, and I almost never go to the beach, which people find amusing and amazing, but when I do go to the beach, just the feel of the water, especially on a day when the waves are big, that really takes me back. The world has changed a lot in the last 50 to 60 years, but just going in the ocean and remembering the feel of riding the waves, that’s my connection to being young.
Read more in Florida Trend's January issue.
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