Riding Out the Storm: Hurricane Irma

It seems pretty simple when you are from the north.  You hear a hurricane is coming and think “get out people!”  But the reality is much more complicated and I thought it might be insightful to give you a look into our Hurricane Irma experience.  This is our third year in Florida and Irma was definitely the most fierce hurricane we’ve been in to date.  Actually, I heard that from Floridians who had been here much longer than us.

The weekend prior to Irma’s arrival we started to get pretty strong indications that she was headed to Florida.  We tracked the “cone of uncertainty” or as I think it should be called the “cone of mental insanity” constantly throughout the week. fullsizeoutput_12499.jpeg
Labor Day Monday came and we started to communicating with family and friends on the coasts.  If they needed a place to stay, our doors were open to them, no questions asked.  Monday night I couldn’t fall asleep until 2am.  Should we evacuate?  Too early to tell.  Tuesday morning I made a beeline for Publix immediately after school drop-off.  Water was already scarce on many store shelves so I had to get some from Walgreens as well.  11pm Tuesday night I hit up Wally World (Walmart to most) and it was jammed with people….and not a lot of much else. If there is one thing Hurricane Harvey did was there was NO ONE who messed around with preparations for Irma.  

Tuesday evening was another late night with the same thoughts.  “If the schools close, we are out of here,” I thought to myself.  But to where?  Atlanta was my guess.  Later in the week we decided Alabama.

At this point we started to get word that Irma would hit both Miami and Naples.  Family and friends from the coasts were evacuating.  School was still in session here and everything seemed absolutely normal despite the fact that our Florida governor had declared a state of emergency 4 days prior.  Thursday I cleaned out our tornado shelter which is located under our stairs.  Which meant removing all of this….. 

There is actually way more in there that you can’t see 😦 Since most homes in Florida don’t have basements this is the standard option for everyone. School was closed on Friday as the hurricane started to hit some of the Caribbean islands.  This was where the evacuation question became tricky.  Should we evacuate? Doubtful.  I tried to preoccupy myself with memes.

I legitimately went to Publix in search of one of these cakes.  You know…to calm the nerves.

Friends that had evacuated the west coast to go north had now turned back due to traffic and were headed towards Central Florida.  Friends that had evacuated the east coast to the west coast are now headed toward Orlando as well since the storm cone of uncertainty continued to change.  There were no hotels within an 8 hour drive north of our house.  Saturday we went to Disney for a stress break.  All week long I’d continuously felt like I’ve had 10 cups of coffee….like a buzz in the atmosphere that I just couldn’t shake. Baby meteorologist knew that something is just not right….The reality is that the decision not to evacuate is a tricky one.  You can evacuate early and miss school and work.  You can evacuate late and be stuck on the road for hours, have the hurricane change course and then you are headed the wrong way, or worse, be in the way of people who really truly need to get away from their homes (Keys, Miami, Naples residents).  But if people who live in Orlando wanted to evacuate, I wouldn’t blame him. Mom rule #1 – Don’t judge.  Sunday was go time.  We’d secured all outdoor items into our garage. The storm had hit the Keys overnight and was hitting Naples.  Around noon we started to get the first of the tornado warnings in surrounding areas. More memes to calm the nerves.   I’d taken down most things I’d like not to fly out of the house should a window break mid storm.  Which leads me to my first question.  What do you do if you are hit by a tornado before the main hurricane hits?  No idea.  As the afternoon progressed, one by one I learn that our friends have lost power. My children were acting nutty in anticipation of the storm and I contemplated if it was too late for me to make a run for it by myself?  Probably not the best mom move.  But it did cross my mind. 

In my experience, getting a 3 year old and 1 year old to sleep in a tornado shelter was next to impossible.  So with a tornado warning pending, I waited until they fell asleep in their beds then made the quick move downstairs.
As evening progressed and the eye got closer, we began taking water in the three windows on the east side of our house where the storm was just pounding.  Apparently wind can push rain right through your stucco and the block foundation into your home.  We started a rotation of soaking up the water under each window.  I prayed that our power stayed on as the dryer ran continuously throughout the night.

As Floridians, when hurricane season starts, you are supposed to have your hurricane preparedness checked off, and the list is actually rather extensive.  We’ve got our emergency water and food, along with phone numbers for all doctors and also have our medication and important documents nearby.  Although I was never a Boy Scout, I am a mom of 4 and a Virgo, so I’ve prepared for the following situations:

My kids flying away in a tornado or being struck by flying objectsbikehelmetsstorm

Massive flooding (thought doubtful) a la Harvey, yes I have rafts for everyone.  We do live next to a lake….A family is evacuated on an air mattress from the Hurricane Harvey floodwaters in Houston

Hammer to make our own escape, extra water, extra food supplies in our shelter should we be trapped as these folks were post tornado…tornadohouse

And should my kids be stuck in a trapped building or out in a field in their brightly identifiable tornado clothes, they hopefully have grabbed a whistle on their way out to be saved.  I know that Rose is not the only person it has worked for. rosetitanic

We really started to hit the eyewall around 1am and the winds were fierce. I’ve determined that the sound outside probably is what cats dying sounds like.  I was very glad that I’d put a fan in our closet/shelter which actually blocked out all the noise.  It was super awesome. Frogs, turtles, and other animals flocked to our patio in an effort to ride out the storm.  I declared our home a 24 hour “no kill zone” for bugs as I wouldn’t want to be out in the storm either. Next question of the night…if a window breaks during the middle of the storm, do you in any way attempt to cover it mid-storm?  Again, no idea.  The winds were crazy loud and I hovered near our shelter.  I compulsively ate a $20 bag of Mrs. Bee’s popcorn that I bought for my family me.   Normally I could preoccupy myself with some Game of Thrones theories (Would I be able to run as fast as Gendry? Is Taylor Swift’s new song about herself but also Arya Stark? ) but at this point all I could do was pray for our safety.  Around 3am the eye has past and we could finally go try to get some sleep.  At least until 6am when my 3 year old woke up amiss that we’ve put him in a shelter and is up for the day.

Trivia question: How many towels does it take on rotation to keep out hurricane rains?

It’s incredible how much the path of the storm can change as it starts to hit land.  I didn’t know this but the hurricane can “wobble” which can suddenly change the course of the storm from say Tampa to Orlando which it did just hours before it hit us as a Category 2 hurricane.  There were so many things that I had never considered before riding out an intense hurricane.  People suggested putting things in dishwashers to keep them safe from the storm (not true).  I saw tons of people buying baby pools at Target (indoor doggie bathrooms).  What happens to the city’s homeless during a storm warning?  What about those who might need extra outreach such as those who have suffered from addiction? You can store water in your freezer in ziplock bags in Tupperware containers and plastic bags in case of a power outage. This was clearly my nervous habit as I stored a ridiculous amount for our freezer and deep freezer.img_0327.jpg

One of the coolest things to see was the social media aspect.  Facebook has a great platform where you both ask for and provide help if you need it ranging from food, medical care, or importantly, asking about a relative you haven’t heard from.  The power of crowdsourcing help is amazing and again and again people stepped up to help complete strangers.  If you type “Hurricane Irma” on Facebook it will take you to the safety check.  From there you see the map of help…green dots indicate where help is offered, red dots indicate where help is needed.  This also illustrates a bit which areas were hit more than others.

There is still a lot of work to do.  We were some of the lucky 1/3 that did not lose power.  For the folks without power here, it looks like it will be about a week before it is restored.  The greatest area of need besides restoring power was the amount of downed trees EVERYWHERE.  As we are in a newer neighborhood, only this little fellow in our backyard struggled.  Better he than me.  

The crazy thing about a hurricane?  Within 24-48 hours, everything is back to the regular Florida weather.  Sunshine and nice temps.  Then this beauty came through yesterday…one of the brightest rainbows we have ever seen!  A sign that despite the rough times, there are many more good times ahead.

Note: MANYYYY people bought bottled water.  Did you know that if you return it, the store must throw it away?  A Publix employee was spreading the word with the suggestion that if you really wanted to get rid of your extra water (why? and especially why during the middle of hurricane season?), the best use would be to donate it.

Other interesting items to search for after this hurricane experience?  Negative storm surge, rescued manatees Irma, rescued baby sea turtles Irma, relocated dolphins Irma, Winter Garden Irma, and this video:  Orlando dinosaur.  Sometimes laughter is the best medicine, if only for a moment.

More pics of our area:

I’m off to go check for mold.  Please keep the people of Florida and those  affected by Harvey in your prayers….we were lucky but for many it will be a very long recovery.  Most importantly, there are many people who have family in the Keys and have still not heard from them.  Please God hear their prayers and provide them with answers ❤ ❤

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