Do You See a Squall in your Crystal Ball?

Professional psychic Patricia Marks and I are sitting in the spotless living room of her house on Bird Road in West Dade. Clad in a colorful print housedress, her brown hair pulled back, she's telling me I'm intuitive (which I think is good) but that I'm too softhearted (which I think is bad).

A deck of Tarot cards rests on the coffee table, pastel fish figurines decorate the shelves of a room divider. Against one wall, a jukebox stands idle. -- Ms. Pacman machine awaits a player. From a framed black-and-white print, Marilyn Monroe is smiling quixotically, looking outward for dragons or maybe just taking it all in. It's as if she's contemplating the future, or perhaps the reality of that camera-caught moment. Hard to tell. I wish I could read her mind.

Mrs. Marks probably could, although that's not her specialty. Her mother was a psychic, she's a psychic, and, Mrs. Marks says, as a child she naturally assumed that everyone was psychic. "Like if you're born blind," she explains. "You think everyone is blind."

These days Mrs. Marks specializes in personal problems. "Psychics are like doctors -- they specialize. I'm not good with world things. I keep hearing about Bosnia. What is it?" Nonetheless, she once had a strong negative feeling about something going on in Virginia. Found out there was a terrible fire. Another time she had a feeling about a terrible storm.

It was called Andrew.
Which is why I'm visiting Mrs. Marks today. I want to know: What does hurricane season have in store for South Florida this time around?

William Gray, the noted hurricane forecaster (also known as the noted hurricane forecaster William Gray), has warned darkly that 1993 will bring more, bigger, and badder hurricanes than last year.

And Andrew was a mere Category 4. What if something even worse.... The trauma! The Miami Herald has already used "The Big One" headline. The Even Bigger One? The Big Big One? The Really Superlarge Gigantic Massive Huge Big One? Add that to the list of crises South Florida will have to weather should Gray's prediction of seven hurricanes send the worst winds our way before November 30. No electricity. No refrigeration. No plumbing. No showers. No traffic signals. No street signs. No garbage collection. Beanee-Weenees for breakfast.

This year, though, we are prepared.
One aspect of the absurdity of human existence is the fact that we always seem to display our best getting-ready-for-disaster abilities after the terrible event we're girding for has already occurred.

Thus, a year after Andrew, we are so damn prepared that there'd better be a big storm this season. Otherwise we will resent having made the preparedness effort, lose the respect for nature's power we gained from the Andrew Experience, and, much worse, look like a bunch of yellow-bellied fools blown pell-mell by the slightest breeze.

Far easier to predict than a storm has been the media's response to this first storm season post-Andrew. Two weeks into the official May-through-November hurricane derby, the Miami Herald published its fourth special "how-to" section, which, along with that paper's ongoing, Pulitzer-friendly daily coverage, reiterates the basic theme of run for your freakin' lives! The special section includes a note: "[This] continues our efforts to provide needed help and sell full-page ads to Wrol-Up brand shades and shutters."

Local television, too, is sounding the alarm. WSVN-TV (Channel 7) has aired a special to go along with its daily reports on its local-news show, plus a hotline (759-7777) that provides daily updates on the weather in the Caribbean. WLTV-Channel 23's Juan Fernandez cheerfully explains that his station provides tips ("freeze jugs of water and leave them in the refrigerator to keep it cool when the power goes out") on a daily basis and in specials. WSCV-Channel 51 ran a five-part series and also produced its own special. WPLG-Channel 10 has offered multiple airings of its Hurricane Survival Kit. WCIX-Channel 6 has been chiming in with broadcasts of Hurricanes: What Every Kid Should Know. This accompanies Channel 6's Your Hurricane Survival Guide. The station also proudly features closed-captioning on storm-related programming.

All eyes, of course, are on WTVJ-Channel 4, which covered Andrew so well that NBC made a movie about it. (NBC owns Channel 4, but surely that's a coincidence.) Bryan Norcross and crew have published a 26-page booklet to go with a series of Ready, Set, Hurricane specials; the Ready, Set video is being sold in local stores. And Channel 4 also proudly features open-captioning (through WLRN-Channel 17) on all storm-related programming. "If, God forbid, another hurricane comes," says a spokesman, "a lot of people don't have the closed-captioning boxes." Appropriately, the station now leads each nightly newscast with Norcross screaming, "Run for your freakin' lives!"

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Greg Baker