If you want to see God laugh, tell him your plans.
It is Saturday and Hurricane Charley has been here and gone. I was luckier than Servo5678 in Orlando, but we both had more storm than we had expected. Charley was supposed to be a class 2 storm, scheduled to hit Tampa on the southwest coast of Florida on Friday afternoon, September 13, and then blow north into the Panhandle. Instead, it strengthened into a class 41, turned east after landfall, hit Disney World squarely in the entertainment section, and did its final damage here on the east coast before heading to the Carolinas.
Tampa authorities were primed. Early on Thursday they began telling residents of the area to evacuate. Fortunately, there are a lot of hotel rooms in Central Florida because of Disney World, SeaWorld, Universal Orlando and the rest of the tourist industry infrastructure. Central Florida was supposed to be safe, almost as safe from hurricane damage as the Daytona Beach area on the east coast just north of Cape Canaveral. So everyone in the Tampa region packed the kids, the dog, grandma and the computer into the car and headed for Orlando. At the end of the day, the Orlando area was the hardest hit.
When I took the dog out for his walk early Friday morning I noticed a strange thing. Normally the squirrels are browsing at the base of the oak and pine trees. But this particular morning they were running frantically across the lawns of the neighborhood, investigating bushes. It dawned on me that perhaps they were looking for a safe place to spend the next 24 hours, knowing instinctively that the big trees would be dangerous later in the day.
This was reinforced when I drove out of my subdivision just before 7 am. To reach the main crossroads I have to drive along a wooded road; here I saw several armadillos investigating the roadside ditches. Night feeders, they are rarely seen during the day; I suspect they, too, were uneasy and searching for a secure spot.
By 3 pm Charley had changed direction and was headed our way. The closing of schools and government offices in our county had been announced on Thursday evening. Now private businesses and other agencies, including mine, were doing the same. We put a "Closed for Charley" notice on the door and left.
Driving home took longer than usual. There were long lines at the gas stations. It had been sunny in the morning; now the sky was overcast. At home I filled plastic containers with water, blew up an air mattress so I could spend the night on the floor of a walk-in closet, moved all the patio furniture into the garage, made everything as secure as possible, and hunkered down to ride out the eye of the storm.
The outer bands of Charley started blowing around 8 pm. I was working in my home office, which is sheltered by some pines in the back yard. I could hear pine cones thudding onto the roof, each sounding like a horse clomping around up there. The television was tuned to an Orlando weather station, showing Charley’s progress across Florida. By the time the storm hit the east coastline, 50 miles to the south, it had dropped to a class 3.
The electric power went out just after 10 pm. It was impossible to stay in the walk-in closet. I had Bronco on his leash to stop him from running away if any of the big windows came crashing in. Fox terriers are not calm dogs, even at the best of times, and he was in a panic, scrambling over me as I lay on the air mattress.
Storm advice is to stay away from windows and my house has an open plan. I finally spent the rest of the bad time in a small hallway, closing all the doors that opened into it. I ventured out with a flashlight at 11:30 pm. The entire street was carpeted with leaves, glistening in the rain whenever lightning flashed. I’ve never seen blue or green lightning before, but I did last night.
There is a huge live oak in front of my house and three tall pines. Off to one side is a sycamore. This lost half of its branches, some of the bigger ones driven into the ground to a depth of more than a foot. The other trees lost only leaves and needles. It was the same throughout the neighborhood; we have mainly live oaks so there were not too many uprooted trees. "Solid as an oak" was well-illustrated.
Whenever an oak was damaged, it was with a mighty crash. Live oaks branch out into several main trunks not far above the ground. There is an openess to their canopy. I cannot remember ever seeing a mature live oak uprooted; what generally happens is that one main trunk will splinter off. This in itself is often as big as a normal tree.2
Bronco and I took our usual walk this morning. Many of my neighbors were out, too, assessing the damage. It was like the morning after a big party, as if we all had hangovers.
One other interesting item: the odor in the air reminded me of a sawmill. So many branches had been torn off the trees that the scent of raw wood hung in the air.
1The famous Andrew that totally destroyed much of the area south of Miami in 1992 was a class 5. Charley is the strongest hurricane since that time.
2In the entire subdivision of approximately 200 homes and perhaps 500 - 600 live oaks, only three of these giants lost one of their multiple main trunks. Other smaller trees such as mango, avacado, and grapefruit were pulled out of the ground, roots and all.