I had no idea what to expect for my first hurricane.
It was the summer of 2004, so I had lived in Florida for less than a year at that point, but right off the bat I was woefully unprepared. My apartment at the time was less than a mile from Tampa Bay, which landed me in the first of the flood zones on the map that got circulated. I remember originally joking that “my apartment was on the second floor, so I should be fine!” but when someone at work explained that it didn’t exactly work like that, I most definitely started to get a little nervous.
At the time the storm – Hurricane Charley – was expected to be a direct hit to Downtown Tampa, which happened to be where I worked in a call center, so luckily my work was planning to send a contingency to wait out the storm over in Orlando so that we would be available to answer calls and whatnot in the event that Tampa got shutdown. Though I wasn’t in the original list of people going, I was friendly with the people in charge of the list and they were nice enough to add me to the list … so the next thing I knew I was running home to pack a quick bag, then hitting the road along with a co-worker who needed a ride over to the hotel where we’d be staying the next two days…
Well, Charley ended up coming to shore about 100 miles south of Tampa in a small town called Punta Gorda that I’d never heard of before, but the images on the news were just devastating.
We ended up doing next to nothing on our excursion to Orlando – everything ended up staying online in Tampa, so I think we took maybe an hour of test calls in Orlando … which failed horribly … and then everyone pretty much spent the rest of the weekend getting drunk and making the company regret the choices they’d made for a lot of the people they’d sent in the first place! 😛
For my part, I recall spending a good hour or two sitting down in the hotel lobby with a handful of my co-workers watching the storm progress on TV. By then it had been confirmed that the storm was pretty much going to head straight over us in Orlando on its way to the ocean, and it was definitely an erie feeling watching the skies getting darker and darker outside … despite already being night … as the local maps showed the eye of the storm slowly progressing across the city.
After a couple of hours of intense wind and rain once it had officially passed us, most of us retired back to our rooms where I turned the news back on to watch Charley slowly wander back off into the Atlantic Ocean … leaving newscasters to wonder if it would regain any strength before heading up the coast and the rest of us just glad that it was over…
The next day it took me some 4 hours to drive back home from Orlando to Tampa because I-4 was beyond gridlocked, but at that point I didn’t even care … a little traffic paled in comparison to the people who actually saw the brunt of that storm.
Less than a month later, things got kicked up all over again with Hurricane Frances, which I evacuated again for – this time for a week’s trip up to Atlanta – which was equally uneventful. The highlights of that week of paid vacation were cutting my long hair after growing it in a ponytail since high school and having to delay the delivery of my new big screen TV which I had just bought the week prior. Other than that, it was pretty blah – we ate out on the company dime for every meal, which got old pretty quick, and exhausted pretty much everything possible to do around suburban Atlanta.
Since then it’s really been pretty quiet as far as hurricanes have been concerned here in Florida until this year. Coincidentally, we just got a new delivery of water today and we’ve got tons of batteries and diapers and food, so being farther away from the coast than before – plus with Matthew tracking on the other side of the state – hopefully the most we’ll see here is a lot of rain and some lingering wind.
And that’s just fine for me, because most of the time hurricanes aren’t a big deal … except for when they’re headed straight for you and all. It’s got to be pretty scary living in West Palm Beach right about now. 🙁