Irma

‌We dodged the bullet! Today was spent nervously sitting in the Lange’s living room as the wind and rain increased. Their TV wasn’t working so everybody was surfing the web for live casts. Storm predictions were 10 feet “above the ground”, which confused the hell out of me because the ground is not a fixed spot. I wanted to know how high above Mean Sea Level. If it was 10 feet above MSL then we might take a foot of water but above the “ground” would put 6 feet of water in our living room!

The path of the storm was wavering 10 miles on either side of us. Either way it went, we would be under the eye when it passed. I ventured out in full foul weather gear when it was sustained wind of 40 to 50. Everything seemed to be well anchored. About an hour before we would be in the eye, the storm turned east a little and started going inland.

The weatherman got our attention with…. THIS IS IMPORTANT! He explained that the turn was big news which would reduce storm surge dramatically. I’ll never forget the look on Dawns face when she absorbed what he was saying. That tiny change of 2 or 3 degrees was the game changer that saved our home. Below is an explanation.

Excerpt from NEW York Times

Across coastal Florida, the dreaded storm surge from Hurricane Irma — caused when ferocious winds pile up ocean water and push it onshore — was not as bad as forecast. While some areas were hard hit, notably the Florida Keys and Marco Island, residents of neighborhoods north to Fort Myers, Sarasota and Tampa Bay were expressing relief.

That bit of good fortune was the product of some meteorological luck.

Because a hurricane’s winds blow counterclockwise, the precise path of the storm matters greatly for determining storm surge. Had Irma lingered far enough off Florida’s Gulf Coast, its eastern wall, where the strongest winds occur, could have shoved six to nine feet of water into parts of Fort Myers and Naples, while swamping Tampa Bay and St. Petersburg as well.

At the last minute, Irma unexpectedly veered inland right before it got to Naples, taking its eastern wall safely away from the ocean. That meant that as the storm tracked north over Naples, Fort Myers and Tampa Bay, the winds at the head of the storm were moving west and actually pulling water away from the shoreline. In Tampa, water levels dropped five feet below normal, and bewildered spectators walked out to see beaches sucked dry. In Sarasota, a manatee became stranded.

Then, once the eye of the hurricane had passed through those areas, the back side of the storm hit, pulling water east toward the coast. But by this point, the storm’s winds were weakening, and the resulting surge was not nearly as strong as feared.

That weakening was readily apparent in Fort Myers. When it passed over the city at about 7:15 p.m., the center of the storm, rather than being a well-formed eye, was a jumbled mass of thinner clouds. This suggested that the hurricane’s cyclonic structure was beginning to come apart.

“That initial draining of water acted as a crucial buffer,” said Rick Luettich, director of the University of North Carolina’s Institute of Marine Sciences and an expert on storm surge. “By the time the back side of Irma hit, the storm was further inland and not quite as strong.”

Yet because Irma was so unusually large, its fierce winds also extended all the way to the east coast of Florida, pushing water inland there. Dr. Needham estimated that salt water levels rose four feet above normal in Miami — the 10th highest level seen since 1880.

That produced a river of water pouring into downtown Miami and Brickell, the city’s financial district. Water rose several feet up the stairs of buildings and storefronts, and at one point, whitecaps dotted the makeshift river.

It was strangely anticlimactic, there was no monster wall of wind blowing out the windows. We were prepared to huddle in the bathroom while tornado force winds were battering the house but instead it was more of the same, strong wind and rain. By 11:00pm it was apparent that the worst was over. Everybody was exhausted, drained by tension and adrenaline. I fell asleep on the couch and didn’t wake until dawn.

The next morning it was still blowing 25 mph but the clouds were higher and the rain had stopped except when one of the outer bands would pass overhead. Occasionally we would catch a glimpse of blue sky. We got back home about 10 am. I turned the power back on and walked around to assess the damage. Our beautiful poinciana tree in the front yard had been blown over and several palm fronds had snapped. Our back yard was covered with rubber tree leaves from Tims house and the cover to the hose box had blown away. Nothing of significance. I had been preparing for the worse and it was as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. The water was still unusually high but it didn’t look like it had gone over the sea wall.

Tim wasn’t as lucky. His seawall had bowed out and there was a serious gap thirty or forty feet long. The Gemini looked fine with no damage. Their beautiful big avocado tree was badly beaten and all the immature fruit was on the ground. The Club suffered several fallen trees but all the boats in the Marina were fine. The only damage was the Harbor 20s had all pulled their cleats when the water was sucked out of the Marina. I had allowed for several feet of drop but it wasn’t nearly enough.

Overall we were very lucky.

Author: JoeO

Powered Paraglider pilot since 2005

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