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Still-boarded windows reveal much

A surprising number of houses and businesses remain boarded up around Pinellas County, even though the center of Hurricane Ivan never got closer than 250 miles.

What do those still-boarded windows symbolize?

Probably that some property owners didn't trust forecasters' predictions that Ivan would steer away from the Tampa Bay area and strike somewhere along the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

Everyone learned a sobering lesson from Hurricane Charley. That storm had been forecast to hit the Tampa Bay area, but made a sudden right turn into Punta Gorda. The hurricane also strengthened suddenly from a Category 2 to a Category 4 storm.

Both developments provided solid proof to Floridians that hurricanes are unpredictable forces of nature that still are not well understood. Forecasters, with all their training, experience and computer models, can provide only an educated guess about their paths and strength.

Perhaps the boarded up windows indicate that Pinellas residents now are fatalistic about hurricanes. Though no storm this summer has made a direct hit on the county, Pinellas continues to show up in the wide cone of risk on the forecasters' maps.

Property owners may figure that if this one doesn't get us, the next one might, so they will just leave up their plywood or storm shutters. With storms coming so regularly, who can blame them?

Some property owners may have found the process of securing their homes against a hurricane so time-consuming and exhausting that they intend to do it only once and let that suffice for the season.

Fire officials are warning residents not to do that. It is dangerous to live in a boarded up home, they say, because if a fire breaks out, escape will be difficult. They recommend _ and this is good advice _ that property owners remove their plywood or shutters between storms.

Safety is one concern in a boarded up home, but there is another: Living or working for weeks in the darkened, cave-like atmosphere of a boarded-up home or business can be depressing and discombobulating. This is the Sunshine State, and without the light we don't feel right.

Finally, if our still-boarded buildings mean that we are fearful now, that is not necessarily a bad thing. Much of Florida has been spared the impact of a landfalling hurricane for so long that people had grown nonchalant. Better to feel we must armor our homes against the awe-inspiring power of hurricanes than to thump our chests and risk our lives in a one-sided duel with Mother Nature.

Diane Steinle can be reached by e-mail at