An Eye Near the Storm


There are perhaps few as qualified to serve as a connection between Northern and the Florida hurricane saga than former NMU President John Jamrich. Not only does he reside in Jacksonville, but Jamrich earned his undergraduate degree in meteorology from the University of Chicago. He served as a forecaster for the U.S. Air Force during World War II and continues to keep close tabs on weather-related developments. Even a veteran observer like Jamrich is impressed by this recent meteorological phenomenon: a devastating three-punch combination of hurricanes Charley, Frances and the fast-approaching Ivan.


“It is historic to have three come so close and at that strength,” said Jamrich, in a phone interview from his home. “You have the convergence zone located a little north of the equator at this time of year, plus extensive thunderstorms rolling off the Sahara Desert and coming on to the Atlantic. These factors provide the spin for tropical storms that pass through the Caribbean islands frequently during the summer. You may see 12 to 14 tropical storms, but for them to develop into the strength these have and in such close sequential order is very unusual.”


Jamrich and his wife, June, said there has been relatively little drama to report in Jacksonville. About 150,000 city residents lost power initially and that number had dwindled to 15,000 as of yesterday. The storms’ visible reach extended about 35 miles south of their residence in St. Augustine, where a golf course was left with 100 toppled trees and substantial flooding.


“That’s how close it came to us,” he added. “We were lucky to be in a semi-clean alley, so to speak. We chose to stay in our home through it all, but we did take some advance precautions. We accumulated the things we deemed necessary – charcoal, a propane burner, canned goods, much water, and a variety of food items, including several cans of Spam. What we did here is what we did when we lived in Venice as far as the house is concerned. We installed some portable, bolt-on aluminum plates over windows in the second bedroom and adjoining bathroom in one corner of the house. This is our ‘fortress,’ we hope.”


Jamrich said heavy traffic from those evacuating impacted areas was restricted primarily to the main interstates, 95 and 75.


“We’re not directly on those main routes, so we didn’t notice much impact in terms of driving, but we did notice a little consequence of the evacuations,” he said. “Several gas stations across the state have pumps covered because they have no more gas available. When you have two-and-a-half million people leaving and coming back, you expect them to run out of gas at some point. Our governor issued an executive order prescribing who will get gas and where. The state has set up portable gas distribution pumps at rest stops along the highway.”


Jamrich was planning to call a fellow NMU retiree, former Dean of Students Lowell Kafer, to see how he fared. Kafer lives in Stewart, which took a direct hit.


When asked to compare two forces of nature – a Florida hurricane and a hearty U.P. blizzard – Jamrich laughed and replied, “Hurricane-force winds of 70 to more than 100 miles per hour are much more substantial than the 40 to 50 mile-per-hour variety you might have with a winter storm. At least you can just stay indoors and watch it pass by. But driving in a blizzard is another story. My wife and I had several white-knuckle drives through whiteout conditions. We were reminiscing about one in particular on M-28 on a trip back from Lansing. She had to open her window, stick her head out and guide me so I stayed near the side of the road.”



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Updated: September 9, 2004