Tag Archives: hurricanes 2004

What Blows Around, Comes Around (Part 3)

With Hurricane Irma moving closer and closer, tensions are undoubtedly rising throughout the southern East Coast. But Florida is no stranger to hurricanes, nor is it a stranger to bad hurricanes, and just as Hurricane Irma is similar to last year’s Hurricane Matthew in path and in hype, it’s no stranger to hurricanes that share basic qualities to other high-profilers that have recently preceded it.

In the third section of my 2006 article “What Blows Around, Comes Around,” I break down the characteristics of Florida’s last major hurricane hit, Hurricane Wilma, and how it relates to other hurricanes of its era. It’s easy to see that we can learn from anything, yet we can’t know everything.

The Familiarity of “Wilma”

On the morning of October 24, 2005, Hurricane Wilma, a major storm that chose to use my town as her exit point into the Atlantic, became the eighth hurricane to hit or pass Florida in two seasons.  Ironically, she had something in common with each of the first seven:

Like “Rita,” she passed through a narrow channel of water, before heading for open waters where she would later pick up steam to smash against her targeted coastline; “Rita” picking Texas, while “Wilma” picked us.  She, like “Rita,” also inundated the Keys.

Like “Katrina,” she surprised the world (or at least our section of it) when she suddenly transformed from a nobody to a reckless Category 5 storm, taunting her targets with unknown destruction.  She also shared the history board with “Katrina” in that “Katrina” set the “costliest storm” record at over $80 million dollars, while “Wilma” set the “most intense hurricane” record when she dropped to 882mb, which would’ve made her a nightmare over the Caribbean.  Also, like “Katrina” and “Rita,” she was a 2005 Category 5 storm that had the letter “A” ending her name.

Like “Dennis,” she set a time record for earliest something.  For “Dennis,” he was the earliest Category 4 formation and strike in the Atlantic Basin’s history.  For “Wilma,” she was the earliest formation of the twenty-first storm (which only happened one other time in recorded history).  Her formation also marked the first time that the seasonal naming chart had been exhausted.  This was a thrill to me, because I’ve always wanted to know what happened if a twenty-second storm formed and there were no more names to label it.  Now I know.  “Alpha” came about while “Wilma” blitzed the Yucatan.

Like “Jeanne,” she became the reckless youngest daughter of her family (family being major storms of a season), and proved once and for all that she would not be forgotten.  Also, like “Jeanne” she dilly-dallied in a faraway place before making the turn to strike South Florida, and blazed a trail for the coast, jumping from a Category 2 to a Category 3 at the last possible minute before landfall.  Also, like “Jeanne,” she confirmed to Floridians that hurricanes were nature’s way of harassing us.

Like “Ivan,” she left Floridians lingering with dread as we wondered where the Category 5 storm would go, and what it would do when it got there.  Also, like “Ivan,” she set a personal record, where “Ivan” became the southernmost tropical storm formation in Atlantic history, while “Wilma” became the fastest drop in pressure (she lost 100mb in 24 hours, which is also nearly a world record).

Like “Frances,” she was a massive storm that lumbered about for so long that she pummeled her first target for three days.  Though “Wilma” shot over South Florida in less than five hours, she hammered the Yucatan Peninsula as a Category 4 storm for an entire weekend.  “Frances,” though only a Category 2 at the time, did the same thing to us the year before—on a weekend.

Finally, like “Charley,” she surprised the National Hurricane Center, and the citizens of South Florida, when she significantly increased in speed at a critical time.  While “Charley” leapt from a Category 2 to a Category 4 about two hours before landfall, “Wilma” leapt from a tropical storm to a Category 5 about two days out from the Yucatan.  This made life ominous for South Florida when the National Hurricane Center said she was coming for us next, and that her navigation around the cliffs of the Yucatan would decide whether she hit us with Category 2 strength or Category 5 strength.  Also, like “Charley,” she swung into South Florida from the west coast between Naples and Ft. Myers, before making a beeline straight for my house, previously in Altamonte Springs, this time in Lake Worth.

(Part 4 tomorrow)

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What Blows Around, Comes Around (Part 2)

Childhood memories are some of the most precious things we store in our human central processing units, called brains. As we get older and more cynical toward the world, we cherish more the fondness of revisiting that time or place that once kept our joy, like amusement parks on a warm, summer day, or a snowy mountain on a warm, summer day (it could happen in high places), or in the middle of a bakery where our favorite pies are made.

We hold photo albums and souvenirs of the past to keep the memories alive, and doing so seems to maintain most of us with pretty rational thought or action. But, when our memories are suddenly threatened by a force outside of our control, we may find that rationale chucked out the window, and our greatest panic may turn to our greatest sorrow. Such is the case when loss is inevitable.

The following story is a continuation of my 2006 article, “What Blows Around, Comes Around,” about the futile reality of holding on to fickle child memories during a catastrophic weather event.

To Shed a Tear

By eleven years old, I had grown accustomed to using my backyard shed as a training module for the things that a young boy pretends to train for.  The green tin storage chamber, with the broken doors and the eagle emblem nailed to the triangular white headpiece, stood tall as my friends and I used it for a number of faculties, including rain sheltering, target practice (squirt guns opened-fire on the eagle), and the home base for our epic neighborhood Hide and Seek games.  Though it claimed to be a run-of-the-mill tool shed—storing such things as my family’s lawnmower, toolboxes, rakes and shovels—my friends and I knew better.  With a grimy ladder pressed against an exterior wall, we’d occasionally climb to the top of the damaged roof to see how tough our guts were.  As far as I could remember, no one fell.

“Eagle Base,” as it was later christened for its role in our Hide and Seek games, stood tough against a number of elemental hazards, from common rainstorms to a couple incidents of hail.  With two large trees protecting each side and a number of object barriers including flowerpots and ladders lining its base, even the worst events, including the big March storm of 1993 (a monster weather maker that hit the entire east coast at once) couldn’t touch it.

The shed, though, didn’t stand without some opposition.  In 1979, during its early years of existence, it stood upright and fully formed.  Just as it had for the decades to follow, the little tin structure housed its tools with complete vigilance.  When the tools weren’t used, it protected them with closed doors, just as it was designed to do.  But not far into the second half of the year, it faced its first formidable opponent of its life: Hurricane David.  Though the storm was only a Category 1 at the time of its arrival, the reckless winds pounded those doors with iron fists, knocking them into submission.  By the time the storm passed, the doors were bent and pushed off their tracks, never again to close properly.

That incident could’ve disheartened the shed, but no, the youthful structure went on.  As the ‘80s approached and I became steadily more aware of the world (I was only three at the start of the decade), I began to discover its many uses as a “training center.”  From there, it became an important part of my life.

As the years passed, and my childhood transformed into adolescence, “Eagle Base” steadily transformed into a household utility center.  Although I hated yard work at the time, I still found myself scouring the hull for rakes and shovels on those weekends when my parents wanted me to pick up leaves or fallen oranges.  I wasn’t a fan of the structure in those times, because the grimy foundation became a reminder that going in meant having to take another shower later, which meant I was going to feel nasty in the meantime.  But even in my teenage grumbling, the shed stood tall.

Toward my adulthood, it transformed from a mere utility center to a shelter for cats during rainstorms.  Every once in awhile, a new stray would find its way to my front porch, coming from some undisclosed place up the street.  After hanging out for a while, deciding it would adopt us, the cat would then move to the backyard, where it would take up arms on the deck or under the clothesline.  During sunny days, the cats would roam fearlessly around the four corners of the backyard.  During rainy days, however, they’d disappear.  For the pregnant ones looking for a new home, the shed became a place to give birth and to keep the new litter dry.

More years passed, and more abuse befell it—including a tall object puncturing the roof from the inside, and a large hole wearing through the right wall—but it continued to stand, old but proud.  As I reached my twenties, the old “Eagle Base” became a centerpiece for an expanding garden, starting with the Schefflera to its left and a small palm tree to its right.  Though the trees made getting behind the shed difficult (with only a few feet of yard between the wall and the surrounding fences), they did so with aesthetic pleasure, making the wounded structure appear at rest.

In 2002, the Florida Holly along the back fence grew tangled, so much that it became a hazard.  During this summer and the one to follow, I found myself out there sawing away at its tree branches—the ones too high to make my reach comfortable.  The simple tasks of paring the tangled little beasts back, preventing the possibility of disaster striking our yard should another storm ever hit (which had been a rare thing since “Andrew” of 1992), turned into month-long projects.  Those projects, in turn, became annual events.  While all the trees in my yard became victims of the pole saw at one point or another, the dreaded Florida Holly became my bane—the thing that bled sawdust in waves, but never fell under control.  By 2003, we had to cut it down.

We thought we had done the yard a favor.  When the jumbled mess of a tree came down that year, we thought we had spared ourselves from future disaster.  As the last remnants of the Florida Holly went to the sidewalk, we thought we had ensured “Eagle Base’s” life to last for good.

In 2004, our sense of security proved false.

Hurricanes came and went throughout the last twenty-five years, none doing to the shed what “David” did in its early years.  Though the doors piled up in the corner, never again to be used in regular service, we’d return them to their tracks for the brief moments when strong winds were promised, and they would hold long enough to keep the contents inside safe.  Because no storm since 1979 packed a zephyr so fierce, we didn’t think any future storm would challenge it.  Placing the doors back on their tracks for the arrival of yet another storm seemed like a good idea.

Hurricane Frances, the second of four Florida storms that year, threatened to come into South Florida during the first weekend in September.  I had just returned home from my year in Altamonte Springs, having gotten through “Charley” just two weeks earlier, and now I had to stare this new monster in the eye.  The news promised a huge storm, but I just shrugged it off.  I came home, relaxed a couple of days, prepared for the hurricane, and then headed to my grandmother’s with my family to help her through the storm.  I didn’t even bother unpacking my stuff.

With family and two cats in tow, we made it to my grandmother’s condo, where we hung out in front of the TV for several hours, then sat in the dark as the power went out.  We stayed in that little unlit condo for three days.  “Frances” was not only huge; she was slow.

That was Friday.  We returned Monday, after an exhaustive ordeal of winds and heat, to explore the damage left to our home.  As usual, the house came through unscathed.  As usual, it boasted the expected fallen leaves and branches, with the occasional trash.  As usual, it didn’t seem like the storm had been that big of a deal.

Except, something was different than before.  This time, a new story befell our backyard:

As usual, the shed endured the onslaught of those 80mph winds.  For three days those winds blasted, but they weren’t enough for the tired old veteran to submit.  “Frances” kept howling, but the old tin structure kept resisting.  She whipped it with wind gusts reaching close to a hundred, but the creaks of sheet metal endured her wrath; the shed vibrating fiercely, but fighting with everything it had.  It was the fight of its life, but the old coot stood.

Finally, on the third day, “Frances” realized “Eagle Base” was winning the battle, just as it had won against “David” in its youth, and so she was scared.  She came here with a mission, refusing to leave it unfilled.  But sensing her time to win growing short, she knew she had to do something, something underhanded if the tide didn’t turn in her favor.  It was a bloody fight she refused to lose.

The tide didn’t turn, so “Frances” stopped fighting fair and hit “Eagle Base” below the belt.  She snapped a large branch off the Schefflera tree—the tree I didn’t cut—and used it as her weapon.  When we came home Monday, we saw the results of the battle.  It seemed, at last, that “Eagle Base” had met its match.

The branch had fallen on the roof, crushing the structure into a mangled mess.  Under the branch, heaps of tin lay in piles on the old rocky foundation, burying shelves and tools like the lost bodies of a fallen tower.  A cross-shaped foot made of brass, belonging to a rack or a chair, poked out from underneath the triangular white headpiece, spelling out the tragedy of the shed’s last stand.  With a layer of leaves covering it over its still grave, the last visible trace of the old glory of my childhood set nailed securely against the headpiece: the black eagle emblem, the signature of “Eagle Base,” unmoved, but clearly lost of its purpose.

Normally, I try not to weep over the loss of an inanimate object, especially not one that served primarily as a place to store a lawnmower.  But it was hard to hold back the sorrow of that day, a day where my childhood refuge lay fallen.  The last vestige of that old life was gone.

An old childhood friend of mine came over that day, to see how we all panned out.  The power was off, the place was a wreck, and there was nothing really to do but to clean up.  He came over anyway to hang out, and I showed him what had happened.  This childhood friend, a grown man in his mid-twenties, a man who never cries, a man who never lets water drench his back, stood there marveling.  All he could say was, “But that was base.  You can’t destroy base.”

And that day, this grown man who only had half the memories of this little green tin structure that I had, felt sorrow, too.

It was base.  It was “Eagle Base.”  And like all veterans of battle, it had to retire.

Now, in 2006, the old foundation serves as a backyard patio, complete with chairs, table, and pirate wine barrel.  The old eagle emblem that used to loom over the shed’s entrance like a sentry, now sets nailed to the wall next to my front door, where it greets all who choose to enter.  And, like a dead relative who had a colorful past, the old shed lives on in pictures and in memory, where now it can never be forgotten.  So now let us hold a moment of silence for this inanimate wonder that breathed life into my youth, which could only fall by slide of hand.

(Part 3 tomorrow)

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What Blows Around, Comes Around (Part 1)

I had originally scheduled a release for the final bonus chapter of the Marketing Author 001 today, but I decided to push that and all of my other upcoming releases back a week to focus on a more timely event.

About two weeks ago, Hurricane Harvey roared onto the coast of southeast Texas and caused extensive and catastrophic flooding damage to the region. It became a major historical event that will take a long, long time for the people of Houston and surrounding areas to recover from. Today, another storm, Hurricane Irma, is destroying the Lesser Antilles with 185 mph winds, and over the next couple of days will continue west through Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, Cuba, and the Bahamas, and by late this weekend, if the predicted track holds true, will makes its unwelcome appearance here in South Florida.

Now, last year in October, South Florida was threatened by another major storm, Hurricane Matthew, but that storm skirted the coast, as the big ones often do, and continued on north of us. The end result was bad for the Carolinas, but pretty tolerable here. I ended up keeping my lights on the whole time.

It’s easy to assume that Hurricane Irma will do something similar, especially when the projected track is already in close alignment with Matthew’s, and when the patterns of moving north ever so slightly, enough to change the potential landfall in fact, continue to persist.

But, as I’ve learned through years of preparing for absentee storms and bracing for the monsters that actually arrive, hurricanes are unpredictable, and expecting one to do exactly as another has done in the past is a mistake, and one that no one can afford to make.

Now, Hurricane Irma is still out there, and its effects on Florida and the rest of the East Coast have not yet been determined. It could come right up the middle of the state in the same way that Arnold Schwarzenegger went right up the middle of Buzzsaw, a villain he battles in 1987’s The Running Man. But it could also steer clear of the state entirely, spend some more time in the water, perhaps take a direct visit to Canada, and leave everyone else alone. Only time and history will tell, of course.

With the future of the storm unknown, but the lessons it can teach us still at the forefront, I thought it was time to reintroduce one of my older articles from 2006 about this very topic, told through the lens of The Big Four, the hurricanes that struck Florida in 2004, as a way to bring the legacies of the past into the relevance of the presence, and hopefully to remind those who read this to respect the power of a major hurricane, no matter where it goes or whom it affects.

I’ll be releasing this story in four parts, one each night until Saturday, when the storm prepares to hit. Because everything I’ve got coming up the line is on a schedule, my previously planned articles will still make landfall, whether I lose power or not, but a week later than planned. So, The Marketing Author 001, Part 13 will go live next Wednesday, September 13, and additional articles will follow on the 14th, 20th, 21st, and 22nd. Hopefully I’ll have power again by then. (Hopefully I won’t lose it in the first place.)

(Story begins below the photo of Key West getting slammed by a hurricane.)

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A History of Hurricanes

At the height of the 2004 Hurricane Season, a friend of mine asked if I had a hurricane magnet in my pocket.  I told him I did.  I had carried it around since August of that year, only briefly to pass it off at the start of 2005, just to reclaim it back to my possession near the height of that season.  It was an exciting thing—attracting so many anomalies over the course of fourteen months.  Even now as I write this, I have no guarantee that the phenomenon has run its course.  With some heavy hitting names like “Beryl,” “Florence,” and “Joyce” on the list, the 2006 season about to launch in six weeks will no doubt put the shade of red into Florida’s cheeks for the third year in a row.

Ah, the magic word: Florida, a peninsular state that weather experts all over the Western Hemisphere have whispered about for ages.  The target of more than a hundred spinners in as many years, the trap of tourists who eagerly race for the northern highways come August and September—that’s the magic kingdom we know as Florida.  My place of birth.  The land of my upbringing.  Florida.  Both the weatherman’s fantasy and his nightmare rolled up into one ball of emotion.  The state where insurance is an unpredictable commodity.  My home state.

Anyone who has watched CNN or the Weather Channel since August 2004 will know that Florida was stamped with a bull’s eye.  Those dormant weather makers that have teased us for years finally pounded on our front doors and demanded to rip us apart.  For two straight years.  With no guarantee that the torment has finished.  As I type this, the state is holding its breath.

The funny thing is that life didn’t start with such anxiety in the early days of my memory.  Even though some notorious storm systems made their way through my backyard over the years, none of them heightened my tension the way the 2004 season did.  My first recollection started with “David,” a 1979 storm that kicked the crap out of the Caribbean, but somehow lost its punch when it brushed the South Florida coast.  My father took me to the beach when the wind started churning, to show me the tide and to introduce me to the spectacle.  Where normally that would’ve been a bad idea (storm surges are usually inevitable with hurricanes), the punch was so weak that it didn’t seem like anything more than just another windy and rainy day.  And unless “David” was actually “Danny” (1985)—though I’m pretty sure I wasn’t anywhere close to nine years old yet—this thing reduced my fear of hurricanes to an almost nonexistent level.  Any time the “threat” of a hurricane became eminent, I just shrugged it off, as if it were another “David”—that horribly weak storm that couldn’t blow a leaf off a tree—that storm that unbeknownst to me at the time had killed way more than a thousand people on an island south of me and at one time packed Category 5 winds not even a week before passing over me.  Like most Floridians, I was disillusioned.  At three years old, I was disillusioned.

My eyes didn’t awaken to the true ferocity of a hurricane until thirteen years later—the year that Florida had gotten its dues for the first time in a generation.  In the late eighties, I heard about monsters like “Gilbert” (1988) and “Hugo” (1989) terrorizing the Atlantic and the Caribbean, but I figured they were products of a different world—a world that didn’t mess with Florida.  “Hugo” got my attention when the local news showed footage of his aftermath in Charleston, South Carolina, revealing a level of damage that seemed uncharacteristic of the hurricanes that I knew.  Wreckage remained where homes previously stood, and families sobbed over their hardened losses.  It was a strange sight to see.  The hurricanes in my world didn’t do such things.  The hurricanes in my world sent their gusty breezes, but not much else.  “Hugo” was no doubt a bit freaky.  But he was an anomaly.  Storms like him didn’t strike south of the Carolinas.  Storms like him only struck the Carolinas.

If only that were true.

Three years later, his hopped-up cousin came to town.

“Andrew” (1992) changed my mind about hurricanes forever, sort of.  When I was sixteen years old, I was hanging out with my youth group at the same beach where my father had taken me to see “David” so many years earlier.  We were there on the Saturday before the new school year started, undoubtedly trying to squeeze out the last remnants of our sacred vacation, and I had no idea that something big was brewing in the Atlantic.  The youth pastor’s wife mentioned that a storm was coming, but I didn’t think anything of it.  Storms that came after Florida were like de-clawed cats that came after pine trees.  Nothing about them spelled scariness.  But then, I went home to watch the news and felt my heart pound for the first time.  That little wimpy “Andrew” was packing over 150mph sustained winds.  And he was aiming for South Florida.  The storms that landed before him barely packed 80mph winds.  They weren’t anything to panic over.  But “Hugo” of South Carolina packed close to 140mph winds.  And that thing wrecked a community.  This “Andrew” was out there laughing at “Hugo,” and it was coming right for South Florida?  Laughing at us?  The arrival of a hurricane didn’t seem so comfortable all of a sudden.

Sunday was spent preparing the house for his arrival.  As a sixteen-year-old who didn’t want to be bothered with housework, I felt like I was wasting a perfectly nice day.  I hated the prep work involved with bracing a house for a hurricane, but I put up with it because I didn’t have much of a choice.  If “Andrew” was coming, he wasn’t going to be bringing roses.  I did what I was told.  And then, night fell.  The news was dedicated entirely to “Andrew” for the rest of the evening.  In my prior memories I couldn’t recall the news devoting so much of its airtime to a hurricane.  Undoubtedly, this one was serious.  And I kept myself glued to the television all night.

Even as my parents slept, I stayed in the living room monitoring the progress of this storm.  Not once did the wind speeds die during the course of its coming.  Somehow I expected it to lose its punch as it drew closer, but it kept coming, inching ever closer as the harbinger of doom.  I looked out my back window to see our palm tree whipping around as the winds kicked up to 60mph.  It was enough to bend the frond all the way down to the grass.  And the storm drew closer, holding its course.  All it needed was to shift direction toward the north by one degree and it would be upon me full force.  But it held its course—passing over the Bahamas, passing through the Florida straits, reaching the South Florida coast, hitting the city of Miami full force—brushing me with its 60mph shoulder.

It missed me.  The news showed the streets of metro Miami getting smashed with horribly fierce winds: traffic lights flinging around like rag dolls, streams of water rushing through the avenues at ungodly speeds.  But my palm frond continued to dance outside the back window, as if it knew the chance for fury had subsided.  When the sun came up a couple of hours later and the conditions failed to worsen, my trees, my home, and my neighborhood continued to stand.  The great and powerful “Andrew” kept his fury limited to the south.  The most we lost in the skirmish were a few leaves and the first day of school.  All was back to normal by Tuesday.  But the cameras were still rolling and the southern regions of Miami were on the news.  “Hugo” was reborn.  “Andrew” put the fear in me.

For the next couple of years I watched the news during hurricane season religiously.  For every new storm that surfaced, I had to find out what it was doing and where it was going.  Each week I waited to see if my home was destined for danger, but nothing came.  For two straight years, Florida received nothing in the catastrophe department like it did from “Andrew.”  Only “Gordon” (1994) stood a chance at re-igniting my fears, but that was due to something that happened on the highway.  All in all, Florida’s big hurricane crisis was limited to one isolated storm.  After the busy season of 1995, I became exhausted with hurricane news and decided I didn’t care anymore.  Each season before and after were as big of a bust as they were in the ‘80s.  We spent an entire day preparing for storms that eventually turned into “coastal riders.”  In 1999, the last straw hit me as I sat in my darkened house in Orlando waiting for a new monster to come at me.  “Floyd,” the first storm to put the fear in me since “Andrew,” came up to the Central Florida coastline near Daytona, promising to sweep across the state with an unholy swath of destruction in its Category 3 wake, and changed its mind.  At the last minute, the storm swung northward and rode up the coast into the Carolinas, where it rerouted its destructive intentions into some small towns in the northern state.  I was disappointed.

The thing that I learned from “Andrew” and confirmed in “Floyd” (and in many of the storms before and since) was that hurricanes, as destructive as they had the potential to be, were relentless teases.  The big ones had a habit of taunting me, making it clear that they were coming for my house, bringing the pain with them, but only the little ones ever followed through.  The ones that actually had damage potential put the fear in the local news enough to convince residents like me to board up, to bottle up, and to pack away a garage full of canned soup.  But at the last minute they’d change direction, and all of a sudden my entire Sunday was wasted.  No hurricane.  No danger.  Just a boarded up house and an idiot sitting inside.  By the start of the 2000s, I didn’t give any thought to hurricanes anymore.

My jaded heart against the hoopla continued all the way into the middle of August 2004.  On Wednesday, the night of the 11th, I walked around the aisles of a Blockbuster Video in Altamonte Springs, Florida (a suburb of Orlando), searching for DVDs, when I heard one of the clerks nearby talking about two storms that were churning near the state: “Bonnie” and “Charley.”  I didn’t listen very intently, because I no longer respected hurricanes for the dead-focused behemoths they should’ve been.  I walked home that night (I lived up the street from the store), putting the thought out of my mind.

The next day I walked to the pool to catch up on some reading, where I was surprised to see the deck chairs stacked up and roped off.  I thought the condo association was just cleaning the area, so I walked to the other pool across the parking lot to read there, instead.  But I discovered the same ordeal.  Without a place to sit, I decided to stick my feet into the pool and read by the steps.  And that’s when I noticed the fitness room across from the fence sealed off with the big giant “X” of masking tape.  Now I knew the comments from the night before meant something.

As it turned out, “Charley” was the one that got the clerk’s attention, as it was the one that got the condominium’s attention.  The forecast predicted it to come ashore near Gainesville as a Category 2, but the threat to Orlando was subjective.  Seeing as how the preparation efforts were primarily limited to masking tape coverings, I didn’t think much of it.  I went to sleep that night with my usual expectations.

The next day, however, my mood changed.  “Charley” had already become a Category 2 by the morning of Friday the 13th, but somehow, in the time it took for me to escape the Weather Channel in the early afternoon to go to the grocery store and to return an hour later, the entire forecast shifted.  When I headed back to my apartment, one of the neighbors stopped me and asked if I heard about the updates.  Since I was at Publix for the last hour, my answer was “no.”  Apparently, that wimpy little “Charley,” a former list-mate of “Andrew’s,” had blown up into a strong Category 4.  And it wasn’t heading for Gainesville any longer.  Now the forecast aimed it straight for Tampa Bay—a coastal region surrounded by three large cities.  For the first time in twelve years, I sensed that catastrophic destruction was coming.  Seeing a place on the news that I had just visited three months earlier, called The Pier, intensified my dread.  The last fond memory I had with a close friend, and the place that formed it, was endangered of getting wiped off the map.  My dread sunk in.

But then, “Charley” did something no one expected.  He shifted again.  As conditions in my own town drastically deteriorated, “Charley” took his aim off Tampa and moved into the coast with destructive power through a town called Port Charlotte near Fort Myers.  At Category 4 strength, he ripped through that region with the anger and fierceness of “Hugo,” but he wasn’t finished with them.  He had a mission—a significant point to prove.  After all the times I had been teased by weak storms and course-changing powerhouses, “Charley” initiated a war that would forever change my tune.  He came right for me—dead on.  That night, at 9pm, as my power blew out, the eye of this rampaging storm, which was supposed to strike Tampa Bay, reached I-4 in the Kissimmee region and rode the highway all the way up, past Universal Studios, through downtown Orlando, and right over Altamonte Springs—right over my buried head.  For the first time ever, I sat in a darkened room without windows, waiting for a fierce storm to pass by.

Within an hour, the 90mph winds died down and the eye was on top of me.  All was calm.  I waited for the backside to hit, but there wasn’t much to it.  It was in and out and on its way over Daytona by midnight.  I walked to my car to listen to the news.  Palm trees were decapitated all around the neighborhood.  A pile of fallen debris blocked the driver side of my poor Honda Civic (a car unfortunate enough to sit through four of these monsters).  An oak tree had fallen on top of one of the buildings next to the first pool.  Hurricane reality finally woke me up.  And “Charley” was just the warning shot.  The neighborhood was completely trashed, the city as a whole was littered with damaged signs and fallen trees, and “Charley” was only the beginning of a two-year nightmare.

(Part 2 tomorrow)

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