First of all, I don’t want to make light of the recent natural disaster, Hurricane Irma, which tore across the state of Florida earlier this month. We here in Sarasota on the Gulf Coast were facing a direct hit on Storm Sunday and we anxiously hunkered down in our house. What if the roof blew off? Would we climb into the attic if the storm surge submerged the TV? Can our two dogs swim? But looking back, we dodged a bullet and lived to laugh about it. Here’s my take.
The hurricane onslaught TV coverage was equal parts concerning and downright terrifying. The forecast paths of Hurricane Irma represented by spaghetti strings were as wide and varied as the state itself.
There was one forecast path called the “European Model” which I originally thought was a joke. How on earth can Europeans possibly do a better job of forecasting storms on our state than red blooded Americans?! To that, I pop my monocle in my eye and say, “Good day, sir!”
But I was wrong – their hurricane path prediction was dead on! I now know which continent to listen to about Florida weather.
Unlike living in California where earthquakes are impossible to predict, we had plenty of warning for the hurricane. Luckily, our house is poured concrete and came with its own set of custom hurricane shutters. I was reluctant to take the several hours needed to install said shutters because, after all, the house is a rental! What’s the worst that can happen?
By Thursday before storm weekend, people jammed the highways with a steady evacuation north but I still debated about the wisdom of putting up the shutters. A couple working out at the gym in our complex gave me dire warnings to get those shutters up post haste, that a whopper of a storm was about to level the Sunshine State. They recommended a young waiter named Zach at the café who could do the job for cheap.
So I got his cost greenlighted by our landlady and arranged to meet the lad 12:30pm on Friday before the big blow really got going. I was relieved that I wouldn’t need to lift a finger! When 1:30, 2:00 and then 2:30pm finally rolled past, despite several pleading texts and threatening phone messages by yours truly, young Zach was nowhere to be seen.
I called an audible and enlisted the support of Karen, my wife: we soldiered through and did the job ourselves. It was a daunting task and I remembered staring at various lengths of aluminum, numbered 1 to 17 for each of the doors and windows that required covering, a map of our house in hand.
I took the first sheet and the other hundred or so followed one after another. You slide the aluminum shutter into a groove above the door or window and bolt it securely at the bottom with a wing nut. That makes it faster than juggling a wrench. Have you fastened 100 wing nuts by hand recently? The tip of my index finger is still numb.
It was mighty dark in our aluminum and concrete bunker that Friday night so we decided to loosen a few to let in some light on Saturday. That was until Sunday morning when I woke up to the storm really blowing. I completed the last of the shutters, took one last look around and sealed us in, entering the house through the back door of the garage.
We had no way of telling if it was day or night outside. We sat ready with flashlights, bathtubs filled with water and several cases of wine and handles of liquor awaiting the worst.
On Sunday, there was one intrepid Weather Channel newsman on the stormy streets of Naples. He was nearly horizontal during his shouted broadcast holding onto a light pole for dear life. He gamely predicted death and destruction heading our way just a hundred miles from where we sat!
Staring at the Weather Channel was not a healthy pass-time. I switched the channel to avoid panicking Karen who was already regretting not evacuating when the going was good. Instead, we watched movies like Psycho, The Exorcist and The Perfect Storm for much more calming themes. By dinner time, our kitchen counter was littered with empties and the storm suddenly and unexpectedly moved further inland. We were spared a direct hit! Break open the champagne!
We were very lucky. There’s local lore that the original Native American inhabitants called Sarasota “a blessed land” because they noticed that hurricanes often skirt our fair city and head out to the Gulf or inland. I hope we continue to be blessed. We didn’t lose power or internet service, miraculously. Our power lines are buried in this community. Many of our friends and local businesses weren’t so lucky.
Notes to self: 1.) strongly consider a poured concrete house with specially reinforced hurricane windows in a community with below ground power lines when we do decide to buy, and 2.) be sure to stock our emergency kit with a cornucopia of assorted adult beverages.
Tony Stanol is an advertising executive, an improv veteran, and our own Florida Correspondent.