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Fantasy Hurricane League helps blow away stressful storm season realities with Cat 5 amusement

IT’S DRAFT DAY and “Bob from FPL” is on the clock with the first pick.

With the concentration of an NFL general manager, Greg Mihalko studies the 45 names on the board, wondering which players will have the speed, intensity and impact to make his team a champion.

“I’ll take Emily,” he says, turning his attention back to his liquid draft.

Mihalko, a.k.a “Bob from FPL,” has no idea how much punch Emily will pack. She doesn’t exist yet. But she’s coming.

As any South Florida storm-season veteran will tell you, hurricanes and tropical storms always come. And there’s nothing you can do about it except be prepared and attempt to douse any anxieties with a sense of humor.

Welcome to the North Palm Beach Fantasy Hurricane League, a playful storm-chasing exercise meant to tame the stressful realities of hurricane season, which kicks off every June 1 and ends Nov. 30.

It’s like fantasy football. But instead of picking proven impact players like Christian McCaffrey, Justin Jefferson or Ja’Marr Chase, you’re basically guessing that Arlene, Franklin, Nigel and the 42 other named tropical Atlantic and Pacific cyclones will end up being impact players this hurricane season.

Jodi LeClaire holds the board at the North Palm Beach Fantasy Hurricane League's seventh annual draft April 22 at The Snuggery in Palm Beach Gardens.

Instead of following your players in action on ESPN, your go-to sources are The Weather Channel and the National Hurricane Center.

No one roots for destruction or death. “It’s all about wind speeds and landfalls,’’ said league commissioner Steve Cianfrone, a North Palm Beach computer network engineer who founded the league in 2017.

Points are given for storms with the highest wind speeds, for each hurricane category a storm reaches, and for storms that make landfall in the United States, in Florida and in Palm Beach County.

You can get bonus points for October and November storms and for each full week a storm stays a hurricane. You can even lose points if your storm fails to reach hurricane force or fails to make landfalls as tropical storms.

As league rules say, points are based exclusively on storm data from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, which runs the National Hurricane Center.

Jodi LeClaire updates the board at the North Palm Beach Fantasy Hurricane League's seventh annual draft April 22.

Unlike sports fantasy leagues, the North Palm Beach Fantasy Hurricane League is played in a huge cone of uncertainty.

Drafting impact players listed in alphabetic order is basically a crap shoot. No one ever knows which named storm will turn into a hurricane, or if and where it will make landfall.

“There needs to be a combine where hurricanes can demonstrate skill-set prior to the draft,’’ Vincent Cianfrone, Steve’s brother, joked.

It helps to play with a sunny disposition, as do many enthusiastic participants with whimsical storm-spirit team names like “Gentlemen Start Your Generators,” “Kat 10,” and “Apocalypse.”

There are no formal uniforms, but Commissioner Cianfrone wore a “Party Like It’s Hurricane Season” T-shirt on Draft Day and another player sported a shirt with a hurricane swirl above the words “Evacuation Plan 1. Grab Beer 2. Run Like Hell.’’

“Hurricanes are going to happen anyway. There's nothing you can do to prevent it, so why not just have some fun,’’ said Lori McCarthy, a nurse whose team is “Hair of the Dog.’’

“Gentlemen Start Your Generators,” Steve Cianfrone’s team (yes, the commissioner is allowed to have a team), won the 2022 championship with 25.5 points — 7 more than second-place finisher “Apocalypse.’’

His biggest impact player was Ian, with 11 points: four for reaching Category 4 status, four for making landfall as a Category 4 and three points for having the strongest winds (155 mph) of the season. (Ian was later reclassified as a Category 5 hurricane.) His second biggest impact player was Nicole, with 6 points: two for being a Category 1 storm with a Florida landfall and four bonus points for being a rare November storm.

At an awards ceremony in February at The Snuggery, a cozy Palm Beach Gardens watering hole that doubles as Fantasy Hurricane League headquarters, Cianfrone was presented with a plaque embossed with the familiar menacing satellite image of a hurricane.

He wasn’t the only one to take home a trophy. The last-place finisher, “Balls Deep,’’ received a miniature gold toilet, its open lid embossed with that same hurricane satellite image.

If any money exchanges hands, as happens with most fantasy sports leagues, Fantasy Hurricane League officials aren’t saying.

Steve Cianfrone of "Gentlemen Start Your Generators" won the 2022 Hurricane Fantasy League championship.

On April 22, about 30 longtime friends gathered for Draft Day around a beer-splashed stable at The Snuggery. A Pittsburgh Steelers banner hung on a nearby wall, but no one in the room cared about football that afternoon.

All eyes were on the large Fantasy Hurricane League draft board and its 45 narrow blocks of storm names. Most of the 22 teams are local but some people picked for teams with out-of-town owners unable to appear in person.

The draft order was determined by numbers pulled from a hat. It went three rounds, with many, many more liquid rounds consumed along the way. Each team picked two storms per round, for a total of six.

Over the three rounds, the same storm will end up being picked by several teams. The key for team drafters is to somehow pick the six storms that will rack up the most combined points.

Some teams base their picks on thoughtful analysis of storm data and patterns from previous hurricane seasons. Cianfrone, the reigning champion, won’t divulge his strategy.

One team, “Flying Screaming Monkeys,’’ picked Max — because the storm had the same name as the team owner’s dog. Others picked names of friends and family.

“I ranked storms this year considering humans I know with the same names and how those people would personally perform as a hurricane,’’ Vincent Cianfrone, Steve’s brother, said in an email from his home in Oklahoma.

“For instance one of my top five requested storms was Veronica,’’ he continued. “The Veronica I know is especially windy herself, so she seemed an appropriate higher rank.’’

Vincent Cianfrone’s team name is “Zamfir-Simpson Pan Flute,’’ a mashup of the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale and Romanian Pan Flutist Gheorghe Zamfir, whom Vincent said he admires for “his legendary musical stylings.’’

Lori McCarthy checks out the trophy for last place.

The 2023 hurricane season got underway June 1. The next day, Arlene emerged in the Gulf of Mexico. The reaction by Fantasy Hurricane League teams was the same as it is every time a new storm shows up in the tropics, with one participant telephoning or texting another with the news.

"Did you see what's forming in the Atlantic?’’

“Yep. Who has the storm?”

It’s all in good fun, but at the same time the participants are well aware that hurricanes are no laughing matter. Many team reps have experienced at least one. Growing up in Oklahoma, the Cianfrone brothers endured tornadoes.

That’s why they turn to the Fantasy Hurricane League for some much-needed levity.

“It sounds silly, but, honestly, we're all a little bit scared,’’ McCarthy said. “At least we have each other and we can blow off steam and you can try to laugh through it. Because what choice do you have? It's coming whether you like it or not.’’

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About the author

Joe Capozzi is an award-winning reporter based in Lake Worth Beach. He spent more than 30 years writing for newspapers, mostly at The Palm Beach Post, where he wrote about the opioid scourge, invasive pythons, the birth of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches and Palm Beach County government. For 15 years, he covered the Miami Marlins baseball team. Joe left The Post in December 2020. View all posts by Joe Capozzi.


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