When faced with the threat of an oncoming hurricane or tropical storm, my family stocks up on canned goods, bottled water, bread, crackers, peanut butter & jelly, and candles. All of our vehicles are filled up with gas and Dad breaks out the trusty tabletop televison. It’s an old antenna-and-battery-operated black and white, but no logical Floridian is going to ride out a storm without some form of access to weather updates.
In the summer of 2004, Florida was hit with back-to-back hurricanes. Charley, Frances, and Jeanne are the three storms that pounded the state within 6 weeks and Polk County in Central Florida took the destructive brunt of all of them. Jacksonville, as seems to be part of the routine, caught the spiral outskirts of each of the hurricanes and suffered tons of wind damage. The newly re-opened Jacksonville Beach pier was wiped out. It’s since been rebuilt. Again.
Living in this beautiful state during hurricane season can make a person a little anxious. Every little puffy cloud that swings over from the shores of Africa is intensely tracked and measured by every meteorologist in the Southeast. Neurotic people, such as myself, check for updates on an hourly basis. I’ve got NOAA’s Hurricane Center on my favorites button. Because it makes me feel like I know what the H-E-double hockey sticks is going on. Except I don’t, really.
I only know that when the barometric pressure drops, my head starts to pound and my right thumb gets locked in place at the joint. I have the gimpy thumb of an old lady, arthritis and all.
Anyway, back to 2004. It was a good introduction to the tropics for me. I had made it through Hurricane Floyd in 1999, but I was about 90 miles inland. This time around, I was only 12 miles inland and in a flood plain. Charley wasn’t too much trouble for us here in Jacksonville, but Frances had other plans. This is the storm that taught me about “breathing walls” (when the wind pushes so hard against the outside of the house that the walls actually bend inward – it’s all kinds of frackin’ creepy). I also learned, and you’ll be glad to know, that the sound of 30-foot tall trees cracking and falling down all over your backyard will wake you from a dead sleep. Which is helpful when you dodge a tree that could come crashing through your living room roof but instead, thanks to the reverse wind direction, is sent crashing down onto your picket fence. By the time Jeanne blew through, nobody cared about cleaning up. We would wait until the end of the season, the end of November. Why bother anymore?
Florida eventually recovered and the price of orange juice and strawberries did, too.
After each and every cleanup, I took some photographs of Elle standing next to our downed tree trunks and blown-over limbs and twigs and holding a sign that stated CHARLEY, FRANCES, or JEANNE. Because nothing says “Mother of the Year!” quite like sending your child out into the windy and dangerous tail of a tropical storm while loose tree branches sail through the air just waiting to impale something.
Another genius move? We (as in the whole family) sit out on the back porch watching the trees sway back and forth and we oooh! and aaaahh! at the sound of trees smacking into the ground. It is hilarious to see us all squeeze our way through the half-open sliding glass door when the wind gusts blast a branch or two towards our heads. Imagine a handful of adults and the kid scrambling to get inside in 3 seconds and find an available bathtub or closet in which to hide. We panic in such a way that we can’t tell the difference between a wind gust and an oncoming tornado. Dad says “If the tops of the trees are blowing to the right or blowing to the left, it’s a wind gust. If the tops of the trees are swirling around in circles, RUN!” My family is a mess (and Dad is the more experienced Floridian, having survived Category 4 Hurricane Donna as a young lad. I believe him about the swirling tree tops.).
So why am I talking about hurricanes in January? Uh…no reason. Except I found these photos from Tropical Storm Fay back in 2008. It’s good to show those who are unfamiliar with tropical weather how a little dinky tropical storm can cause so much damage. As you can see, I still sent my kid out into storm. But that wasn’t the tail end. It was the eye. We were only halfway done and it was a long, long, very long day trapped indoors with no electricity, no internet, no air conditioning.
I noticed the neighbor’s tree a few hours into the storm. It was leaning towards their garage and their driveway, both filled with cars or other machines. Our landline was working during a point in the storm so I was able to call them instead of having to run across the street in the wind to warn them about their tree. Working in the rain and the gusts, they used their truck to pull the tree down in a safe direction so that it didn’t crash down into the driveway, the street, or the house.
Florida has been very lucky these past few years. Every new hurricane season begins with the experts’ predictions and guesstimations. For two years, they’ve all been wrong.
Which is good because I don’t know for sure that Jacksonville Beach has enough money to rebuilt yet another pier.