Last year came Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne. Nine months later came Grace Mae, twins Reagan and Ryan -- and Elizabeth, 7 pounds, 7 ounces.
"I got an early gift for Father's Day," said Rick Lovell, 28, an air conditioning technician. He believes the child, his first, was conceived when Jeanne, one of the 2004 hurricanes, rolled overhead as he and his fiancee, Jacqueline Callas, waited out the storm without electricity at his home in Port Saint Lucie on Florida's east coast.
Their black-haired, dark-eyed daughter, born June 16 at Martin Memorial Medical Center in Stuart, is in good company. Some hospitals in areas traversed by the four hurricanes that buffeted Florida last summer and fall are reporting a spike in births of 20 percent or more. The ill winds of 2004, it seems, also brought the stork.
"People are always ready to share their hurricane stories," said Katie Douglas, a certified nurse midwife who helped deliver Lovell and Callas's daughter. "The best one I heard is the hurricane party with the bottle of wine -- and the lights went out. The next thing they knew, they were in our office." In part because of the baby boomlet, the Jensen Beach group of obstetrician-gynecologists and midwives that Douglas works with is trying to boost staffing by adding another midwife, she said.
The first hurricane to plow into Florida last year was Charley, on Aug. 13. In May, the number of pregnant women checking in to Peace River Regional Medical Center in Port Charlotte began climbing. To accommodate the mothers and their new offspring, rooms in the pediatric unit had to be used, said Danielle Dreher, the hospital's marketing director.
"We were so wrapped up in taking care of folks that it really didn't occur to us, the reason for the increase," she said. "One of the nurses remarked, 'You know how these kinds of things happen nine months after a major disaster.' That's when the light bulb went on." In May 2004, the hospital in southwest Florida delivered 76 babies. This May, there were 102 births, perhaps a record. "I don't think we'd ever seen triple digits," Dreher said.
On the other side of the state, Kelly Breedlove, director of obstetrics at Holmes Regional Medical Center in Melbourne, said the hospital and a sister facility in Cocoa Beach had been seeing similar increases in births timed to Frances and Jeanne, the pair of hurricanes that landed on Florida's Atlantic coast within three weeks of each other in September.
In May 2004, "we had 166 babies; in May of 2005, 199 -- a 20 percent increase," Breedlove said. One day in June, she said, "we had 18 babies in a day, close to a record. We've had to staff up, bring in additional nurses."
Wayne Griffin, associate director of the counseling center at the University of Florida, said the surge in births was because of a basic and predictable human instinct.
"In the face of uncertainty, intimacy is a way we connect with other people," the mental health counselor said. For some people, a departure from normal life, such as fear of nature's fury or being in a power blackout, can serve as a catalyst for closeness, he said.
Unlike most natural calamities, hurricanes typically provide plenty of warning that they are coming, giving people time to prepare but also worry. When the storms move on, there usually is great relief.
That is what Lovell remembers feeling, he said, at the time that he and Callas, a waitress, believe they conceived Elizabeth.
In Tallahassee, Florida Department of Health officials had heard anecdotal and news reports about the hurricane babies but did not yet have statewide statistics.
Birth certificates are reported by health departments in the state's 67 counties to the state's Office of Vital Statistics, where they are compiled and analyzed.
An unscientific survey, though, showed that not all hospitals in areas of Florida battered by the 2004 storms were experiencing a bumper crop of infants. At Baptist Hospital in Pensacola, a Panhandle city pummeled by Ivan, a Category 3 storm, administrators and doctors had been bracing for a surge in births this month and last. It never materialized.
"With Ivan being so devastating, apparently people had other concerns," hospital spokeswoman Karen Smith said. "When your house is destroyed and you live in a shelter, you are not busy making babies." In contrast, a weaker, slow-moving hurricane such as Frances sets up a different dynamic.
"We were indoors for five days," recalled Breedlove of Holmes Regional hospital. "Some people had no power for 12 days. So there was a lot of downtime."
The hurricanes led to 123 deaths in Florida, the destruction of about $42 billion worth of property -- and now, some of the state's newest residents.
Dreher, of Peace River hospital, said: "After all the stress and the sorrow we went through, it was nice to have that culmination."