Ringing phone alerts us to storms in Florida

Published February 13, 2007

It was early that Friday morning, and I had no idea killer tornadoes had ripped through Central Florida.

Then the phone rang.

My nephew in Charlotte, N.C., had spent all morning watching TV news. He was concerned for my safety.

Sound familiar?

There were no emergency sirens on the morning of Feb. 2. But throughout much of Tampa Bay, phones were ringing.

Maralyn Nell-Boysen of Inverness was away on a cruise in the Bahamas. When she returned home, there were 27 messages on her answering machine from friends and relatives concerned about her and her four cats. My wife received three calls from out-of-state friends. Chances are you did, too.

Being in Florida is like living in the middle of a meteorological bullfighting ring. Bad news, usually weather-related, happens regularly. And when it does, our voice mails and computer in-boxes fill with messages from caring but geographically challenged relatives and friends. Many non-Floridians don't know the difference between Dade City and Miami-Dade County. South and Central Florida, it's all the same to them.

All they know is that if the news in Florida is bad, they should call. They worry about our safety but also are quick to suggest there is a price for all that 70-degree weather in December and January.

Don't expect logic from somebody buried under 10 feet of snow.

One of the few good memories from the four-storm hurricane season of 2004 was of conversations with friends I hadn't heard from in a long time. They wanted to know how we were coping with Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne and when we were getting out of Florida.

You can judge the threat of an impending storm by the frequency of out-of-town calls you get. We didn't hear from quite as many friends last year, but that was just fine.

The phones lines run north, too. In March 2005, when Atlanta and its suburbs were gripped with fear after an accused rapist shot a judge, court reporter and sheriff's deputy and escaped, I buzzed an old friend to ask if he was driving around with a loaded shotgun in his pickup.

"You know I'm always packing," he replied without hesitation.

The world looks even crazier in high-definition. The chaos is so clear and constant on the 24-hour channels. The upside is the voice on the other end of the line, the friendly reassurance that despite the miles and months apart, folks still care.

Andrew Skerritt can be reached at (813) 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602.