Mean Irma

When I was a kid my friends often started stories with the words Me and Name (Me and Jeff, Me and Charley, etc.). To my ears, because the words were run together and the ‘d’ was dropped, it always sounded like they were starting to tell a story about Mean Jeff or Mean Charley.

This is a story about Mean Irma.

I know enough about hurricanes that I did these two things in preparation. I cut back trees in the backyard in the spring. One was dying and leaning over the neighbors shed, so I hired some people to take it down so a storm wouldn’t. I check the NOAA National Hurricane Center every few days to see what is developing.

Here is what I did not do in preparation. I did not have plywood cut to fit my windows, so by the time it became clear the hurricane would definitely hit us I did not have suitably sized window protections. I did not have a cordless power drill for removing panels once the electricity was out, and I did not have suitable wood screws for putting up window protections.

The Wednesday before Irma plowed through Florida my work announced they were closing Thursday through Monday. At the time the projections showed Irma moving up the east coast of Florida. I had a great deal of confidence in this prediction, and didn’t worry too much about the ‘cone of uncertainty’ indicating the possibility of it shifting our way.

Thursday morning and Friday morning I visited the grocery store at 7am to gather supplies (nuts, dried fruit, beans, water, batteries, chips, cheese and crackers), and filled the car with gas. Mostly because I thought there was a real possibility of losing power for a day or two, but I still wasn’t particularly worried. During the day on Friday I brought in a lot of stuff from outside (chairs, garden stuff, little tables). Friday evening I felt prepared.

Saturday the projections showed the worst case scenario (for me). A high category storm moving up the west coast, heading right for Tampa. If it cruised up the coast without making landfall until it reached Tampa Bay, that could mean for some serious destruction.

JB and I began boarding up windows. She had been much more worried about the storm than I (in retrospect, rightly so), and had asked a friend to drop off her fencing that she had recently taken down. On Saturday we cut down the fencing and nailed it up over windows. We covered windows with shelving we didn’t use in our pantry, and with leftover flooring that’s been laying around for nearly ten years. JB disassembled her Ikea desk and we used her desktop to cover a front window. (Covering windows involved a tremendous amount of sawing wood down to size. Fortunately I have a circular saw and a suitable work bench.) When that was done we brought in all of our plants. We wanted to have as much done by dark on Saturday as possible, because it looked like Sunday would be a rainy day.

I barely slept Saturday night.

Sunday we stayed in touch with friends, monitored the storm, listened to stories of different shelters and traffic jams. I stayed off social media and commercial news. I texted with friends and watched NOAA and the Weather Underground.

Sunday afternoon I felt I had done everything I could to be prepared and turned on the television to watch NFL football to get my mind off worrying about the weather. All football pre-empted in the area. Nothing but Irma coverage on every local channel. I turned off the television, opened a book and lay on the couch to read.

I fell asleep.

JB woke me at 4:30 to say she was going to stay in a shelter. The anxiety and fear was making her sick. She didn’t want to go through this storm in this house. And, she had to make a decision soon, because curfew went into effect at 6pm and many shelters were already closed.

Right or wrong, for good or for ill, I did not share her anxiety and fear. We agreed I’d stay here with the dogs and she would head over to a nearby church that opened its doors to people in the neighborhood. It wasn’t an official shelter, just a church helping out its community.

As we went through the build-up to the storm JB checked in with me periodically to gauge my worry level. What influenced me to stay was the Hillsborough County disaster plan which urged you to take shelter in place if you were in a well-secured space; the fact that we are not in a flood zone, nor an evacuation zone; the history of our house making through storms for decades, and the likelihood of the storm diminishing as it approached. Plus, I had a bag ready and the car pulled up to the doorway if something catastrophic happened to our house and could make it to a near-by friend’s or a shelter within minutes if necessary. I felt prepared and ready to weather the storm.

At 8pm the gusts started, and the occasional branch hit the house. By 10pm there was a lot of debris hitting the house and the gusts were persistent and loud. I moved the couch to the center of the house and the dogs huddled next to me. I watched the laptop, my phone, and a non-news, non-weather channel on TV. The power went out about 11:15. By midnight the sound of gusting wind was strong and persistent, but the sound of stuff hitting the house was mostly gone since most of the debris had already been blown off the trees.

Part of what made the experience so alarming was the persistence of the winds and the length of time it covered. It went on and on and on.

That said, by midnight I was exhausted. The storm had diminished by the time it hit us. All the windows were covered. The dogs were snoozing (they hate thunder (of which there was none), but were indifferent to the wind). Shortly after midnight I fell asleep.

I awoke at 4am to silence. No wind. No rain. I peeked outside, then stepped outside. Only a light drizzle. I took a broom and swept off the deck by the back door. I pulled some branches away from the gateway to the back yard, then let the dogs out. It had been a long time since they had a chance to relieve themselves.

The house was already getting hot and stifling. I fell back asleep and awoke to JB getting home just before 8am.

The house came through intact. A friend had a spare cordless drill so I was able to get the boards down while JB slept that morning. We were without power until Wednesday morning. Others in the neighborhood didn’t get their’s back until Thursday or Friday. Some coworkers never lost power, some didn’t get it back until the weekend.

We spent a lot of time talking with our neighbors, which is the great silver lining of all this. Physically we’re all sound, but there’s a lot of psychological disruption that lingers for awhile. Most of the debris is cleaned up, but if you drive around the neighborhood there are huge, huge piles in front of nearly everyone’s house of branches, trees, and leaves. The clean-up will go on for some time.

I know better now what I need to do to be prepared. And I will be over the next couple of weeks. Kind of have to be because Mean Maria is building up steam out in the Atlantic and heading this way.

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