This is what our local radar looked like at 5am yesterday morning. Although school had been cancelled for a second day in a row, I forgot to turn my alarm off, so once awake, checked for the latest update on Hurricane Matthew.
This is what I saw.
And to be honest, it was a welcome relief.
Going back to earlier in the week, we had become aware that a major hurricane was lurking just north of South America. The forecast showed it heading north, and then tracking west. As these things go, you never really know that far out. Since we’ve lived in Florida (circa May 2011), there hasn’t been anything close to a major hurricane. Those that have appeared either veered off elsewhere, or provided a rainy day (or two or three) and the occasional hurricane party.
This, however, was the first Category 5 in a while. The last recorded one was Felix in 2007. The last one to make landfall in the US was Rita in 2005, and shortly before it, Katrina. The last one to really nail Florida was Andrew in 1992, and it permanently changed building codes across the state.
Charley was the last major hurricane to really devastate Florida, and it did so as a Category 4 in 2004. It made landfall on the Gulf Coast near Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte, effectively leveling both. I was just north in Venice and drove down after it passed to see the devastation. I had rode the storm out in a house that was built before Andrew, and had it come just a bit north, would have probably been part of the devastation instead of an observer of it. Much farther inland on the other side of the state, Charley wrecked Orlando, bringing gusts over 100 mph and tornadoes in its wake.
Since then, not much had affected central Florida, hurricane-wise (although after Charley, Frances came and brought heavy rains and wind). But, by mid-day Tuesday, this was the projected hurricane path:
It was supposed to weaken as it got closer to Florida and not actually make landfall, but as Tuesday turned into Wednesday, that line in the middle of the red cone came closer and closer to Orlando. The steady forecast by Thursday was heavy rain and sustained winds of 60-80 mph from 2am Friday morning until 7pm Friday night. Schools had been cancelled since mid-day Wednesday, but by mid-day Thursday, most places were closed, bottle water, bread, and similar staples were long gone. Gas was hard to come by, but I was able to top off and make final preparations for whatever long haul we were in for.
Boarding our windows was not really an option because a) I had no way to get plywood to the house and b) once it was there, I had no way to attach it to the half of the windows I could actually reach. I still made the trek to Lowe’s, wandered around aimlessly, and then settled for some contractor’s grade plastic sheeting. You know, just in case a window is blown out and we need to keep some rain out.
By late evening we had an imposed curfew in effect that was planned until Saturday morning. With everything closed and potential devastation on the horizon, I’m not sure where we would have gone anyway. But if there were any lingering doubts this was serious, they were now eradicated. We passed the time watching TV and I checked my phone every so often for weather updates. By the time we went to bed, we were still just seeing occasional squalls and general breeziness.
In the night though, the forecast changed and Matthew tracked more to the east than originally anticipated. This cut our forecasted wind speeds in half and that’s why the first picture was a relief. It meant Matthew was going to stay offshore, and though it is perilously close, it is going parallel to the shore instead of directly into it. As you see the eye right next to my blue GPS dot, you can rest assured I wouldn’t be blogging right now if the path was due west instead of toward the north.
Instead of devastation, we basically had all the amenities of a sick day without the bother of getting sick. Our power stayed on the whole time and we only saw minor damage to part of our fence. The curfew was lifted mid-day and today is basically a normal Saturday for people in our neck of the woods (except for maybe a little extra yard work).
While we are beyond grateful that our prayers for a eastward turn were answered, we’re also aware that others were not as fortunate. Just one look at the Bahamas and Haiti will tell an entirely different story. Further up the coast, there will probably be record level floods. Georgia and the Carolinas are probably getting it worse than we got, and we had the eye of a category 4 storm pass right by us.
This hurricane has made me more aware of how much I can’t control, but also how privileged we actually are. Not once during all the build-up to Matthew did I ever worry for our personal safety. We rent a very spacious house that structurally, would have easily withstood even stronger winds than were originally forecasted. Even if Matthew had made a direct hit right off the space coast and barreled directly to our neighborhood, I wasn’t particularly worried that we’d be in personal danger. The homeowner’s insurance would cover any house damage and our renter’s insurance would cover any stuff that was ruined. Worst case scenario, we get displaced for a few days and then everything is back to normal.
But that’s not the reality most people would have in the wake of a storm like this. Even in our city, there were certainly people in homes that would not have been able to take a direct hit. I was worried about inconvenience, others were worried about loss of life. Haiti, a nation that seems to regularly endure natural disasters, is also inconveniently suited to deal with the preparation and ensuing aftermath. Disasters compound rather quickly. We may joke about rebuilding, but that’s their reality for who knows how long.
Although I shouldn’t interpret events like this too myopically, I was glad to have the personal reminder that I can’t control the weather. I am also glad to be reminded how blessed I already am, even before a hurricane passes off in the distance. And, I’m a little more grateful than usual for a nice sunny Saturday that will be filled with reading and college football. Once again, grace has led to gratitude, and I hope the pattern continues.