It’s that time of the year again. A hurricane is threatening the Keys and Tampa. Currently, it’s only a tropical storm, but the forecast is for Fay to be a hurricane before she goes across the Keys in a couple of days. Jacksonville is in the “cone of concern”, but there’s not a lot of chance we’ll see hurricane force winds. Maybe tropical storm force, but we get those pretty regularly in nor’easters in the wintertime.
I don’t want to seem blasé about hurricanes. Far from it. While I’ve never ridden out a direct hit, I’ve had a couple of close scrapes, and the wind is just incredible.
There was a storm that hit North Carolina one summer when we were vacationing out on the Outer Banks. The storm actually went onshore down around Wrightsville Beach, which put us on the Northeast quadrant of the storm. Jenni was just a baby, and we’d gotten everything packed up in case the authorities came and said we had to leave. Of course, leaving would have put us right in the path of the storm, and they didn’t want us going west from the Banks, I’d imagine. So we stayed up in our rental house … up on stilts about a half a block from the ocean.
The wind howled all night, and it shook the house sitting 10 feet off the ground on telephone poles that were supposed to keep it above most storm surges should a big wind come in off the ocean. The call to evacuate never came, as the storm passed a good distance to our west. Still, in the morning, we couldn’t go down to the beach. Well, we could, but the wind was still blowing so hard our legs got sandblasted. The next day, the wind abated and we continued our vacation. It was my closest brush with a storm before moving to Florida.
Not my first brush, though. We’d gone to Maine one fall. Back when ATA was still Ambassadaire, and flew out of Indianapolis as a private charter travel club of which we were members. Our long fall weekend in Maine was cut short when a rare storm made it as far north as Maine. Portland Jetport was closed, but they allowed our charter flight to land and depart to get us out of the path of the storm. We literally flew through the fringes of the storm departing Maine … back to Indiana where a hurricane was nothing more than an abstract concept. We’d occasionally get the remnants of one pass up through the Midwest, bringing blustery winds and heavy rain and the smell of the tropical humidity. And again, while I don’t want to seem blasé about hurricanes … a tornado packs much the same destructive force as a hurricane … but it drops from the sky literally without warning and lasts seconds rather than days. It doesn’t cut the same wide swath of destruction as a hurricane, but if yours is the house that is destroyed that doesn’t really matter that much.
We had a couple of close brushes when we lived in the DC area. Storms will occasionally track right up the Chesapeake Bay, following the water. I have seen fixed docks at the marina under water more than once. All you can do is set out additional lines and chafing gear and be sure the insurance is paid up. David and Joy actually spent the night on Great Escape … our little 22 foot Sailmaster … which if the storm had really hit probably would have killed them. It passed to the east, and only caused high tides and strong winds. David was convinced he should be on the boat during the storm. I’m convinced that it’s the LAST place I’d want to be.
Of course here, hurricanes area a fact of life. I read somewhere recently that the actual odds of a hurricane making landfall in any one specific spot are really small. That’s part of the reason that we haven’t had a landfalling hurricane in this part of Florida since 1964, and the eye came ashore somewhere down around St. Augustine. Of course, that put Jacksonville’s beaches directly in the strong northeast quadrant of the storm. It was a category 3, and the beaches communities were pretty well devastated. I hope it doesn’t happen again in my lifetime.
We had a couple of close calls. In 2004, we had three close brushes with wind gusts over 74 miles per hour, which made them hurricane strength. I rebuilt a lot of fence after the first storm. The rain came in sheets, and we sat and watched the blue-white flashes in the sky as rain being driven horizontal by the wind shorted out transformers on power poles. It was quite a night.
Wrightsville Beach has taken more than it’s share of direct hits. As has Miami and the Keys. Here in Jacksonville, we wait, and watch, and hope our luck holds. It’s mid August, and the worst of the season is still ahead of us.
Wish us luck.