Background: My family moved to Fort Lauderdale, FL when I was 8 years old in 1971. While I wasn't born here, I am a native. I love my hometown, my current town of Apollo Beach (a suburb of Tampa) and my state. I have been through every storm and weather event that has hit South Florida since 1971.
It was 2005, the year of so many hurricanes that they had to start the alphabet over again (using the Greek alphabet) that changed my perception of hurricanes forever. My son was two years old that summer. Our home in Plantation had hurricane shutters on it for 2/3 of the summer and into the fall that year. This was the year that changed my mindset on hurricanes forever.
Hurricanes that effected me prior to 2005:
David - August 1979. I was headed into my senior year of high school when David ripped through the Dominican and killed over 2000 people. It was projected to make landfall in South FL and then just skirted us and headed up the east coast. At that time it really didn't phase me and my mother was a wreck. She was a single mother who had 6 kids she was worried about. Again, didn't phase me and I was fully aware now, at the age of 17, that hurricanes were a force to be reckoned with.
Andrew - 8/22/92 - Landfall and devastation to Homestead and Kendall. I was 30 years old and teaching at Sheridan Technical Center in Hollywood FL. I left my convertible Cabriolet in one of the Automotive Department's garages, and spent the duration of that event sleeping at my brother's. It was he, Jan, my nieces, my grandmother, me and my friend Meg holed up behind plywood on every window and door in their one story, cinderblock old Florida style home (THE best place to weather a storm IMHO.) My boyfriend at the time (now my husband) had been in the Bahamas cruising on a 31 foot Blackfin when they got the news of Andrew's path and they beat Andrew home by less than 24 hours. His story of that ride is gripping. As for us, we were far enough away to avoid disaster and close enough to experience 90 mph winds. I remember peering out a small slit in the window to see nothing but black, and possibly some debris flying, you couldn't really tell. Once we heard the all clear on the radio we ventured outside and decided to drive to the beach to see what had happen. 17th Street Causeway was a mess. The beach had migrated to A1A (long before the erosion that exists now) then the news started coming in about the devastation in Homestead and Kendall. It wasn't until Thanksgiving that year, when my Mom wanted to take a drive to the keys, that we drove through Kendall- I wish we had never done that. Witnessing that aftermath is something that is burnt into my memory. It wasn't long after that when a woman I worked with, Lynn, told me the story of she and her family hanging on to the toilet in her master bathroom in their home in Kendall as Andrew literally blew her home away. They all survived by the grace of God.
2004 - The Year of 4 storms in Florida
Charley, Francis, Ivan, and Jeanne. ONLY 3 of the 4 effected us in south Florida.
Francis - August - we boarded up and rode this one out in Plantation. It hammered West Palm Beach and the eye passed over my brother's home in Loxahatchee. He and his wife Lisa were hunkered down in their master closet with a mattress over their heads. The fear in his voice when I spoke to him was palpable. He said it sounded like a train rolling through their home. They lost their pool cage, that had just been installed. We got outer bands, but nothing in comparison to my brother's experience.
Ivan - Landfall in Pensacola 9/16/04 - was projected to rip up the middle of the state, virtually right over our house. Ashton (18 mos) and I hopped on a plane and JR packed up the cats, our hurricane kit, and our vital paperwork and photos and drove to my sister's in GA. Ivan never hit the path the projected and it still turned into a catastrophic and costly event. We never regretted leaving.
Jeanne - took the exact same path as Francis. With same results for West Palm and my brother.
Storms of 2005
The storms that changed my view of hurricanes ...
Katrina- Sept. 2005. Oh Katrina. As a south Floridian you become somewhat jaded in regards to hurricanes. Our thought process was this: Oh, Katrina will hit us as a category 1, pffft, we don't need to put the shutters up again, let's just leave the shutter on the baby's room. So we did. JR was putting Ashton to sleep in his room, the only one with a shutter on it, while Katrina blew through. I'll NEVER forget standing at the double paned French doors to our back yard watching the wind and rain whip by. I placed my hands on the glass and felt it breathing, flexing in and out. I ran into the hall bathroom (no windows) and jumped in and laid down in the tub. I stayed there for an hour or so. I was extremely creeped out by that moving glass and fearful that it would blow in. Then it was over. The calm after the storm makes it all better. Until you watched the same storm intensify and blast New Orleans. We all know the result of that. Oh, by the way, I haven't mentioned that as a Florida native you live and die by the Weather Channel during major weather events. There is no other entertainment, it is all weather, all the time.
Wilma - Oct. 24, 2005. She came from the Gulf coast and hit Broward County as a Category 2 Storm. After our Katrina experience, we fully shuttered and boarded up every window and door in our home. We didn't leave because, well, it was only a category 2. We fueled up both cars. We had the car packed and ready to leave as soon as the storm was over. We were to close on our brand new home in Apollo Beach on 10/26/05 and had planned that trip over regardless. There is no such thing as a good night's rest when an impending hurricane strike is inevitable. I was up and down between bedrooms all night. As early risers, Ashton and I snuggled in our front spare room watching videos. This was a daytime storm, the wind swirled around us, there was nothing to see but black swirling debris. The power went out. And then there was calm. The radio said the eye was upon us. We went out the back door and stood in the eye of the storm. It was a total calm, humid, sticky mess. We went back in and waited for "the other side" of the storm to pass. Then, it was over. As news of its passing spread neighbors began trickling into their yards and the street. We went outside to survey the damage, holding Ashton's hand with a vice grip, we walked. Holy crap. There wasn't a fence nor a pool enclosure left in our neighborhood, where they went, only Wilma knew. Our HUGE oak tree, the one right in front of that bedroom we had cuddled in earlier in the storm, blew down across the street lifting the side walk about 4 feet. Had the winds been stronger on the front side of the storm, that tree would b laying in the bed where we cuddled. We walked around our circular street, first checking on our elderly neighbors, who didn't put shutters nor plywood up. They were fine. Every home had some sort of damage. Trees through the roof, screen enclosures blown away, fences gone, all pools were black muddy messes. There wasn't a tree with leaves left. What an odd site. Minimal damage to JRs suburban that was abutted to the front of the house. The street was impassable, trees blocked it about every other house. An overwhelming feeling hit---It was over, thank God. Ashton ate cold spaghetti-o's by candle light that night, at his little wooden table and chair set. We colored, we painted, we read and then we went to bed. We got up early and hit the road. We had to be in Apollo Beach to close on our new home anyway and I was determined to give Ashton a hot meal. We drove up University Boulevard, no green left on the trees. That's what stood out to me the most. No street lights, no road signage, all had blown away. We took 595 to 27 and headed to the west coast. The highways were eerily empty, void of exit signs, or any signs for that matter! Wilma was a category 2 storm that blew out what appeared to be at least 80% of the glass windows in the buildings downtown. There were tables, desks, chairs, and papers blowing all up and down the downtown area. This was a major hurricane that hit a major metropolitan area. When we arrived in Apollo Beach and checked into our hotel we could not believe how little media attention the his storm received. Ashton and I didn't go back to Fort Lauderdale for a year. I Couldn't bear to see my hometown in that condition, nor did I want to bring Ashton back to our neighborhood that went without power for 10+ days. We weren't supposed to move for another month, we were supposed to close on the new house and then gradually move by mid November. We stayed and Ashton and I lived sleeping on a mattress, with one pot, one pan, paper plates and coffee mugs which we used as wine glasses too. Ashton was just shy of 3 at the time, JR was traveling back and for to Fort Lauderdale to work and took hurricane aftermath supplies back with him on each trip back. Gas cans, chains for chain saws... that is what our neighbors needed. Because Katrina was so devastating, the general, public was never fully informed of the devastation that occurred in Broward County due to Wilma's rage. That kind of pissed me off at the time. We decided that Wilma was the last hurricane we would ever ride out.
Fast forward to this past Monday, when, because I was busy living life without a phone or the TV on, I didn't even know anything about Irma until about 9 pm. Because Frontier Communications sucks, we don't have the weather channel so I have been addicted to the app and weather updates on our local channels every 4 hours or so. Leaving is our personal choice. I've been through my last hurricane. Irma may take a more easterly path which is great for everyone, especially Miami and my brother and his family in Loxahatchee. However, at this moment even Brian Norcross is saying the path is still unsure until it takes "the turn". and by the way, these systems are irratic more often than not, and in a state that is only 160 miles wide at its most distant points, the margin for error becomes even more profound. The last I heard Irma was 300 miles in diameter. If it remains that big and skirts the east coast, the Tampa area still takes a bit of a hit. But I digress, we are on our way to Powder Springs, GA regardless. The best case scenario is that not much happens in Tampa. And for that we will be grateful. However, I will not regret this decision to leave and I won't stand for the dopes on social networks pontificating that those on the west coast who are leaving are ridiculous. What would be ridiculous would be for us to stay and for me to be a wreck until Saturday when "the turn" happens. Leaving gives me piece of mind. And to the naysayers who know-it-all and judge others for making ANY decision I say, shove it. I live my life by design. My design, not yours.