Three years, seven months, and twenty-two days. That’s how long I lived in Florida before experiencing a hurricane.
On September 10th, we were set to be hit with a Cat 3, maybe 4 hurricane along the Gulf coast of Florida, with storm surge ranging from 6 – 15 feet between Tampa and the Keys! And winds? At least 100 mph. That was Irma, headed straight for us. And, as adventurous as I am, riding out a hurricane certainly isn’t an adventure I would choose.
Still, I didn’t evacuate. At 25 feet above sea level, my home isn’t in an evacuation zone, so I opted to stay. And honestly, I wasn’t afraid. But I was in the minority, it seems.
FREAKING OUT IS UNNECESSARY
About a week before the hurricane hit, people went nuts—hoarding bottled water, gas, canned goods, plywood, batteries… Of course, all those things are essential to hurricane prep, but the mad frenzy that took place and the stories I heard of fights over supplies and rudeness at the gas pumps… that sort of stuff is just unnecessary.
With all that going on, I waited until a day and a half before Irma came to buy what I needed. My employer closed the office on Friday, so that afternoon, I headed to Walmart to shop the leftovers. Some aisles were slim pickins, but overall, waiting till the chaos simmered down was soooo much easier. Everyone was civil. I found plenty of non-refrigerator food, candles, and even a grill lighter (albeit the last one). Then, at the gas station… no line. And no gas shortages either. Waiting = no stress.
PREPARATION IS KEY
Despite not stressing, I did take all the warnings seriously. If I’d been told to evacuate, I would have. And even though I wasn’t, I prepared for the worst. Everything I could charge was at 100%. My car was parked as close to the road as possible, in case tree limbs made the parking lot impassable. I slept on the couch for two nights because there’s a large tree right outside the windows over my bed. Waking up to a broken glass and a branch on my face? No thank you. I even had an overnight bag packed along with a few prized possessions and important documents. Oh, and The Weather Channel blared on my TV for two days – except for a much-needed sanity break when I watched a Hallmark movie to lighten the mood. (No shame!)
WAITING IS HARD
Honestly, preparing was easy. The hard part was waiting!! Not that I wanted Irma to hit; I just wanted it to be OVER. Life was in limbo as Irma inched closer to our Sunshine State.
Anticipating that I would lose power, I ate all my cold and frozen foods first. By Sunday afternoon—Irma’s ETA—my fridge contained only apples and carrots and water. Even my ice cream was gone! I did good. Time to live off bread, cereal, peanut butter, tuna, and some other random stuff that wouldn’t go bad anytime soon.
And then the winds picked up.
WIND IS TORTURE
True statement. Sunday afternoon, the wind picked up. Noticeably.
By 7:30 pm, it was pretty dang intense—so much so that my power clocked out. According to my brother in Michigan—also glued to The Weather Channel—the gusts were up to 65 mph at that point.
Those gusts definitely worsened overnight. And, without the noise of TV or air conditioning, that constant whooshing was all I could hear. All night. Nonstop. I wasn’t afraid, but it was hard to focus on anything else. Somehow, I managed 6 or 7 hours of slightly interrupted sleep, waking up around 9 am. Still windy. BUT, it had died down. I could tell. And, I could see what was going on out there! Tree debris everywhere. Flooding in ditches. Still no power, but also no damage that I could tell. Whew!
CABIN FEVER IS REAL
That Monday afternoon, the rain finally stopped, and the wind—while still a consistently strong breeze—was no longer a hindrance to being outside. I was stir crazy! Desperate to get out, both for sanity’s sake AND to find out how the rest of Sarasota fared. So, I made myself presentable (after living in a sports bra, gym shorts, and hoodie jacket for two days), hopped in my car, and headed downtown.
I spent the rest of the day checking out the marina, Lido Beach, and Siesta Beach.
Except for debris, the marina’s boats and docks and park were all intact!
At Lido, the Gulf was angry, but it hadn’t obliterated the shore! Beachgoers took full advantage.
And, Siesta was its usual glorious self at sunset, once I waded through ankle-deep flooding along the beach access path. People—like myself—were already out on the beach as if nothing had happened. Or maybe because Irma happened, and they also had cabin fever.
But yeah. No major damage to the shoreline OR beachfront properties. A miracle?? Yes, yes, yes. I believe it was!
I went to bed that night with no electricity AND having to work the next day. But no biggie. (I can put makeup on in the office bathroom. Ha!) Still, I was happily awoken at 3 am by a blast of cold air from the vent above my bed. Hallelujah!
FLORIDA IS STRONG
So, that was my first hurricane, and I’m certain it won’t be my last. While it’s not the sort of adventure this girl wants to experience again, I do live in Florida and have no plans to leave. At least the next time, I should feel even more prepared.
And, I gotta say, witnessing people come together in the aftermath was humbling. All the people helping people with compassion, understanding, patience, sacrifice… #Floridastrong is the real deal, and I am proud to call myself a Floridian.
Have you ever weathered a hurricane? Were you affected by Irma?