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Hurricane Charley
August 13, 2004

My story.

I've been through a lot of hurricanes in my 20 years in Florida...
but none were so ominous as Hurricane Charley.

Classified as a class 1 hurricane, I thought the most I'd have to do was bring in the houseplants that
line the pool cage.  And besides, it was forecasted to go 100 miles south of my house... so I didn't
want to knock myself out with preparations that weren't going to be needed.

But the night before the storm, I woke up about 2 am, to a very scary sound.
Off in the distance to the south, just beyond the clear, calm, star lit sky of Cape Haze,
was a huge wall of cumulous nimbus clouds.  And even more ominous was the sound that they was making.
Standing at the edge of the pool cage, you could see the continuous lightning flashing inside the huge clouds that
appeared to be devouring the calm summer sky.   And just after each flash of light was a low, methodic
boom of the thunder that went along with it.  Every 3-5 seconds another flash of light that
showed how quickly the storm was building... and every 3-5 seconds was another low boom.
After a few minutes, the boom started getting louder and louder with every flash of light...
and I could start to feel the vibration in my bare feet.  Boom... Boom... Boom... the thunder
rumbled louder and louder... and so close together they sounding more like the T-Rex footsteps
from the movie Jurassic Park.   Boom... Boom... Boom... Boom... Boom... Boom...
I could actually feel the storm marching towards me.

I knew the hurricane wasn't due for another 12 hours, and I didn't expect the feeder bands of
rain that usually precede it until 8 - 9 in the morning... which would have given me plenty of time to
bring in the houseplants and make final preparations.  But that huge wall of clouds was approaching
very quickly... and the powerful wall of  "wind before the wind" as I call it, suddenly gusted through the trees
and prompted me to start taking the plants inside immediately.

I could hear the powerful wind and rain approaching as I carried each plant to safe haven
on a tarp laid out on the living room carpet.  A quick check at the outdoor light before going through
the door verified the presents of ants that sometimes move into the pots... and those were set
aside for spraying before coming into the house.  In just a few minutes... the 100 plus outdoor
potted plants that usually sit and hang by the pool, became indoor plants.

The thunder and rain passed in a short time, and the stars shined brightly again just like
a typical summer storm... but my heart was still racing.  So I decided to check the TV
and see what Charley was up to.

I watched power doppler radar on the TV as  hurricane Charley approached the SW Florida coast...
and my concerns grew with each new forecast.  They now thought the hurricane would become a
class 2 or 3 hurricane.  Something just a bit more frightful to think about... plus the hurricane track
was changing with each warning... aiming it more and more northerly... and at one time was
thought to go all the way up to Tampa Bay area before making landfall...

But then they kept talking about it "drifting east" and there was the distinct possibility that it could be
"strafing" the entire SW Florida coastline all the way up to Tampa, which would include
strong east, then stronger south then very wet westerly winds with a storm surge estimated between
10 - 15 feet.  Living at a modest 7 foot elevation meant envisioning 3 - 7 feet of water inside my home...
with nowhere to run... so I began to pack again.

In morning light... my living room looked like the Walmart Garden Center and there
was a lizard perched on every lamp and piece of furniture, probably  wondering what happened
to their outdoor paradise.  The TV said the storm was past Ft Myers... and was now forecast
to go towards Charlotte Harbor and I quickly implemented our hurricane plan...
gathering valuable documents and irreplaceable items and packing them into suitcases
that could be lifted to higher ground.

A few hours later, the TV started breaking up... picture on - picture off - and as an X-Navy
Communications Technician, I could imagine the radio waves being bent by the strong winds as they were
trying to reach my set from the Ft. Myers stations.  But the slightly out of focus picture showed that
Ft Myers Beach was already taking a beating... and that the storm had gotten much stronger.

  And the storm didn't turn towards Ft. Myers as they were predicting...
It kept on a north north easterly course... and seemed to be headed straight for me,
and I suddenly realized that maybe I had underestimated the storms power when they
started talking about how it quickly became a class 4 hurricane !
And that they really didn't know where the heck it was going anymore.

Just then, I get a call on the phone.  Its the new neighbors, here from Massachusetts
asking if I had any extra life vests.  I chuckled at the request... but delivered them two
brand new ones from the 6 pack case left over from my boating days.

About 2 in the afternoon the storm was well north of Ft. Myers and headed towards
Charlotte Harbor.  The TV started being more static than picture with the storm now
between the transmitter and receiver.

I strained my eyes and ears to see and hear what they were saying...
the loud static was annoying... but necessary... as they were saying that Charley had stalled again,
and was sitting somewhere just outside of Charlotte Harbor building strength... and I got a cold chill
when I heard them say that the storm had jogged east again... and that Charley was headed for the
Rotonda / Cape Haze area...
and listening very closely... I could just barely hear them saying
"Everyone Should Seek Emergency Shelter" !!!
And that's when the power went off...
pictures of englewood florida
And the TV and refrigerator and AC blipping off at the same time, while I was listening so intently,
that it was enough to scare me about half  to death!  So I used the extra adrenaline to quickly set up my
emergency 12 volt TV with an extra car battery already sitting in the living room.
But when I turned it on, there wasn't much to see, as the storm had finally cut off all communications.

Outback, the wind was whipping, and rain was coming from the east southeast as expected.
But it wasn't until it shifted from the south that I would be concerned because
I'm pretty well protected from the east... but not at all protected from the south...
so I just went on with packing some more valuables and lifting important papers
and other things to higher ground... just in case.

Meanwhile, the wind was starting to move things around outside.   With the AC off,
I left the sliding glass back doors open so I could hear what was going on outside as I packed.
Loose branches were starting to break off the trees.  The sound of the wind through the pool
screen made a funny hissing sound and the heavy rain atomized as it
passed through it so quickly, filling the pool with a fine mist.

The tall queen palms were acting as a weather vein and had all their branches
sticking out one side of the tree... the trunks were swaying several feet back and forth...
and a large flock of White Ibis were huddled by the carrot wood tree in my back yard
trying to keep their feet on the ground as the wind kept trying to pick them up...
and it made me wonder what the animals must think when a hurricane passes through.

I gave the Ibis a wide clearance so as not to scare them up when I walked out into the yard again to
"feel" the weather as I used to do when I lived aboard my boat.  Feeling for any clue as to what the
storm was up to... and I suddenly realized that the wind was actually coming from just a tiny bit more easterly
than it was the last time I checked... which would mean the storm had changed directions again.

 I took a deep breath and waited motionless with my hands in the air to see if I could "feel" the wind
direction any better and I felt another gust even more easterly than the last... and then another and another...
changing almost to a east northeast direction in the few minutes I stood there,
which would mean the storm was passing south of me.  Which was my best case scenario.

As the wind shifted more and more northerly, my thoughts turned towards what this shift
would mean to my plan to fortify the south and west side of the house when now the wind would be
coming from the north... so I went to plan B.  Shouting my joy of knowing that the storm
had turned east while south of me, I ran through the house to fortify the boat which I had
parked in the driveway on the north side of the house (just in case). I didn't dare use the large 2 car aluminum
garage door for fear of what the wind and rain would do inside the garage... so I snuck out the front door to check
on things and quickly realized the wind direction was changing very rapidly and was already coming from the
north northeast.  As I stepped away from the screen door, it didn't completely latch, and the next gust of wind
grabbed it and tore if off its top hinge.  I fumbled to get it closed while being pelted with small debris
and then I ran for cover behind my van.

Debris was flying everywhere with sticks and leaves being the largest part of it,
but with a few passing chunks of aluminum and plastic large enough to hurt   flying overhead
every once in awhile, while smaller objects were sand blasting my shins from under the van.
The 18' pontoon boat was starting to lift with the strongest gusts, so I grabbed the anchor line and tied
it down just a little better and moved my full sized van broadside between the boat and the wind.

Then as I stood there between the van and the boat, I noticed how the stronger
gusts of wind were making the large aluminum garage doors buckle in, so I went back inside to
fortify the door with the riding mower, and several 2x4's braced against the car trailer parked inside.

When I went back outside... I found a piece of aluminum soffit that matched the house next door,
so I decided to check on my new neighbors to the east and let them know the winds were changing in our favor.
I found them sitting nervously in the kitchen having a drink.  They invited me in for a rum & coke, and I invited Steve
to come outside and enjoy the wind and rain... and he reluctantly followed me outside.  Standing in his pool cage
behind the house, the wind went right over the house, so I invited him to "feel" the power of the wind
by talking him into taking a walk to the front (north) side of the house.
He went along, and we enjoyed the windy experience together.

Then we went back inside to celebrate.

Several drinks later... the storm passed...

To see pictures of  Hurricane Charley damage
just follow the PAGE LINKS below

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Cape Haze, FL  33946


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