Do You See a Squall in your Crystal Ball?

Six weeks into hurricane season, and barely a sprinkle. Forget the so-called weather experts, it's time for some real forecasting.

A psychic named Elizabeth foretells the future from her home in Broward County, so her metaphysical abilities are not tainted by the trauma experienced by anyone who lives/lived south of Miller Drive. In fact, Elizabeth is infallible. Her preliminary prediction is a lock, as guaranteed as sunrise: "It's going to be hot and humid," she says, deadpan. A South Florida resident for the past seventeen years, Elizabeth is a voracious reader. She reads cards and auras and crystals and palms. She deals with the past, present, and future. She answers questions. She calls out names and numbers. She has been gifted since she was eight years old. "At times we will have heavy winds this year. But no hurricane. You know those heavy winds we had last week?" she says ominously. "I had wind of something coming in from the Bahamas. This year people will think a hurricane is coming, but it won't. Not like Andrew."

Which brings me to Mrs. Marks. "You should've come to see me last year," the Dania-born, self-confessed "true Floridian" asserts. In early 1992 one of her clients asked specifically about storms. She told him a hurricane was coming. Then she spread out a map and pointed to a section of Florida near the Everglades: southern Dade County. "And it's going to be a big one."

A day before the hurricane another client called. "I'm in Homestead," the customer explained, "and I'm wondering whether I should evacuate." Mrs. Marks gave a two-word answer: get out!

Like most of my sources, Mrs. Marks has been licensed by the county as a psychic, working from her early-Seventies concrete-block house (it suffered minor Andrew damage) since 1976. She lights up a Salem and looks me in the eye. "I definitely feel another hurricane this year." She says it will hit farther north and that it won't be quite as big as Andrew. "As far as density, it won't be as strong," she adds. "But the panic will be. Like the TV says, prepare now. You don't have to be psychic to know to prepare."

Besides what the seers saw for me, I did pick up a tip or two -- try calling the obstetrics ward at your favorite hospital. The number of births will indicate changes in barometric pressure that could foretell a 'cane, although it might be too late by then. I also discovered some real statistics, always helpful in determining probabilities. A study covering 1886 to 1987 and concentrating on a 75-mile radius of Miami indicates that we should expect a Category 1 storm once every 3.5 years. A Category 2 should come around once every six years. Category 3s are due every eight years. Andrew-size blowers come in once every fourteen years. And the really superlarge huge ones can be counted on once every 30 years.

That info came from a source at the National Hurricane Center in Coral Gables. The phone number there begins with the digits 666.

Bob Gregorka is the oddsmaker at the Sands Casino in Las Vegas, and he's well-known for posting lines on unusual wagers. The odds on a repeat of Andrew are seven to one, meaning that if you bet $100 that a Category 4 will tear through here and one does, you get back $700 (plus insurance settlements). But Vegas casinos aren't posting such lines. "No," Gregorka says, "most of us frown on putting odds on negative things where people get hurt." (For this article, he deduced the odds based on hurricane statistics.)

Some prognosticators refused to prognosticate for me at all. Bob Sheets, noted Andrew hero and director of the hurricane center, says he doesn't have a hunch. "We don't do that." He also has no scientific reasons to guess one way or the other. "We make no such predictions. No one is skilled in making such predictions."

Try telling that to Mrs. Marks.
Another nonparticipant is a man who makes his living handicapping pari-mutuels. He asked not to be identified, to not be associated with this report in any way. "I'll read your story when it comes out, and I'm sure it will be funny," he says. "But it's not something I can joke with you about -- the odds? No, it's not funny. Several of my family members lost their homes in Andrew. We're still recovering. It's not something I can talk about.

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