Ten years ago, I was able to mark several items off of my “bucket list.”
One of those items was living through a Category 3 Hurricane.
My family and I were living in Celebration, FL at the time. My niece had just finished spending the Summer with us, and we had returned from a blisteringly hot week in the Florida Keys, wringing the last bit of vacation out of our systems.
After we had returned to Celebration, we had originally planned for my wife, my son, and my niece to return to Nashville on Friday the 13th. Watching the weather, we were concerned that, should the threatening Hurricane Charley turn right, they might not be able to leave Orlando. We opted instead for them to fly out on the 12th. I was working on a software project for a client, and so I remained at home.
On the 12th, It was by no means certain that the storm was going to pass across Central Florida. I wasn’t particularly worried. Anxious, maybe even a little excited. But not worried. Our utilities in Celebration were all underground, and we were on the Disney power grid. I wasn’t concerned about being without power.
Early on the 13th, Charley took a decidedly sharp turn right at Punta Gorda, and had blown up to a Cat 4 hurricane with amazing speed. I spent the morning, walking around our neighborhood, noting the quiet stillness. The theme parks remained open right up until 1 PM. There was an air of electric anticipation.
Early evening, the storm hit.
I was sitting in my kitchen, working, when all hell broke loose. It’s impossible to describe the intensity of daily Florida thunderstorms to someone who hasn’t experienced one; it’s equally fruitless to describe what being inside a major hurricane is like. The wind, water, and noise comes at you from every direction at once. The amount of water coming down is unbelievable.
You sit there thinking, “I am a jackass for being here.”
Charley was intense. And fast.
Unlike many hurricanes, it was so fast moving, that there wasn’t much of a “backside” to the storm. In just a handful of hours, it was past Central Florida and out over the Atlantic.
The devastation the next morning was unbelievable. Every tree was down in the neighborhood. The houses and townhomes in Celebration survived largely intact. The surrounding area homes weren’t as fortunate. Blue rooftop tarps would be a familiar sight for many months to come. For many of our friends in Orlando, it would be weeks before power was restored.
What Charley blew down, Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne blew away in the weeks that followed. In all, three Category Three Hurricanes passed over our home in a month’s time.
Needless to say, Friday the 13th, 2004 is a day we will long remember.
While 2004 was an extremely damaging year for Hurricanes in Florida – don’t forget what a monster Ivan was, that hit the Panhandle that same year – the next year saw so many named storms that the alphabet was lapped. Murphy, my youngest son, was born in New Port Richey in July of 2005, as Hurricane Dennis threatened – already in the “D”s the first week of July, an early indicator of just how busy the season was to become.
In the coming days, I hope to jog down more remembrances of those weeks of waiting for the wind and water to pass… of going to Disney in a downpour, because I was tired of sitting in my den for four days… of driving to Daytona, looking for ice… of our satellite dish being hit by lighting, just as Hurricane Jeanne was coming to shore… of being in awe at how powerful nature can be.
Of feeling guilty that we came through relatively untouched, aside from a few trees, while many friends and neighbors lost everything.