Here and there... mostly there

August 13, 2004

A Bullet Dodged

It seems as though we've dodged the bullet in Sarasota. The center of the storm--the eye, which is degrading--is now to the northeast. We're still concerned about bands of weather coming along the back side of Charley, but so far it's been not too bad.

Port Charlotte seems to have gotten really hammered, though. TV is reporting a collapsed nursing home and damage to a firestation, with injuries, just up the street. Emergency services are still hunkered down, though, and won't go out until winds drop to 45 mph, for their own safety.

An emergency shelter in Arcadia--a county east of Sarasota Co.--is reporting a buckled roof. It's not clear whether this is due to winds or rain. And the rains do continue. They're estimating 6-8 inches of rain for the general area. This is going to exacerbate the flooding that already exists, the result of rainstorms over the past couple of weeks.

I am concerned a bit for my brother and sister--and other friends--in Orlando. When they were evacuated out of Tampa, their group resettled in Orlando. Sort of resettling from the frying pan into the fire. That city is looking at major wind and rain over the next few hours.

Damage assessments won't start being done until tomorrow. It's going to be dark before the last of the storm finally passes. It'll be interesting to see how well new houses--built under post-Andrew hurricane codes--fared. It'll be a good test of basic services, too, as SW Florida hasn't had a major storm in nearly 40 years. There's been massive development and construction in the meantime, as well as a population boom. It'll also be interesting to see if buiding regulations for the barrier islands will need revision.

Unless and until something untoward happens, I think I have to call this storm over for my area. I'll pass the blogging on to people like Andrea Harris, who's blogging from Orlando


Charley is inshore now. It's currently moving NE across Charlotte Harbor, about 55 miles south of Sarasota.

The eye of the hurricane is a tightly-wound one, perhaps 20 miles across. That suggests that it's going to miss my area, at least with a direct hit. Winds are gusting here, but there's no obvious damage visible in my immediate area. Rain has been continuing at a steady, heavy pace for the past couple of hours, but it's not as heavy as some of the typical thunderstorms we get during the summer.

So far, so good, at least here. Electricity, phone and cable are still working.

I looked out onto my screened balcony a while ago and found a baby grey squirrel sitting inside, looking out. Damned if I can figure out how he got in. He was clearly more terrified of me than of the storm, so I left him along for about ten minutes. Next time I looked, he was gone.


Charley seems to be fickle. Winds are picking up and now recorded at 145 mph. That moves it into a Cat 4 status.

Along with the windspeed, momentum is also increasing: the storms going to hit perhaps two hours ahead of previous estimates.

It also seems to be veering to the east a bit. If that continues, landfall will be around the Charlotte Harbor area, south of Sarasota and far south of Tampa/St. Pete. If that turns out to be the case, then Tampa Bay will be saved from what are not projected at 15+ foot storm surges. Instead, the wind will be coming from the NE, pushing water out of the Bay.

So far here, we're seeing some gusts, but no continuous winds yet. No rain since this early morning's storm. The sky is completely grey, though, and just pregnant with possibilities.

TV and radio stations are warning that it's too late to try to evacuate now. The best bet is to hunker down, away from windows, and hope you've done your preparation adequately.

Battening the Hatches

Gov. JEB Bush is on the TV now. He's saying that if people haven't already left the area, it's too late. He warns people against using the Interstate highways in the area. People in Pinellas Co.--where Tampa lies--are to stay in the county and seek higher ground. Avoid the highways.

The Skyway Bridge, which arches over the mouth of Tampa Bay, will be open to traffic until winds hit 65 mph; then, it becomes too dangerous.

Warnings, too, that as the wind picks up over the next couple of hours police are going to be seeking shelter for their own safety. They're not going to be cruising around looking for people in trouble.

Local TV is reporting that the Sarasota Co. government is telling people to decide--no later than 1:30pm--where they're going to ride out the storm. After that, it'll be too dangerous to move around.

Right now, there's no rain near my home. Winds are starting to rise, though. A band of storms came through around 4:00am, waking me with lots of thunder and lightning, as well as a lot of horizontal rain.

It seems things are quiet for now... simply waiting for the shoe to drop.

Other hurricane links

Weatherbug is blogging out of the Tampa area. His blog is meteorologically based and a very interesting read.

Instapundit is linking to bloggers covering the storm. And, to respond to his query, "No, I'm not sticking around to blog the storm and put myself in danger." I'm actually about as safe as I can be and still be in the area. I expect to lose electricty--and thus the ability to blog--long before I lose a roof.

The National Hurricane Center is the definitive website to go for things related to hurricanes. They issue all the warnings, so obviously you'll find them readily at the site. Also great links to various plots, predictions, and imagery--visible light bands, infra-red, etc.

Local news organizations are covering it as well. Take a look at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. They have links to SNN-Local 6, a cable channel that has excellent storm information and coverage.

Hurricane Charley asks"Is anybody blogging this down there?"

Well, yes, I am...

I'm sitting in Sarasota. All of the barrier islands like Longboat Key and Siesta Key have been evacuated. All the mobile homes, RVs and trailer parks are empty. They estimate that some 300,000 people have been moved out of harm's way along the SW Florida coast.

The Florida communities have hurricane evacuation plans, of course. They plot the terrain of the area and match it up with various intensities of hurricanes, thus designating areas that need to be evacuated in the event of a storm. Starting at Category 1, this includes all the beachfront, of course, but also areas around rivers, inlets, and bays.

Evacuation is mandatory. And while the cops are unlikely to ticket people who stay, they are telling them that the police and rescue people aren't going to be expending much effort to save their asses if they get stuck. The Fire Departments are moving all of their equipment off the islands to safety. The cops are leaving too, for their own safety.

I'm in a good place: even with a Cat 5 hurricane (think Floyd or Andrew), my apartment isn't in an evacuation zone. In fact, about a block away is a hurricane shelter. And since I'm on the second floor, I probably don't have to worry about flooding. Assuming, of course, that the roof stays on and the windows don't blow in.

Right now, projections are for the storm to start picking up locally around noon, with winds rising toward 50 mph. Around 8:00pm, though, we should be getting full hurricane force winds of over 74 mph, possibly as high as 115.

There was some dancing around yesterday trying to determine exactly where Charley would make landfall. Sarasota seemed a good bet, but the high-altitude jet stream seems to be playing a role in taking the storm on a more northernly route. While the storm will definitely pass over us, it seems headed straight toward Tampa Bay, about 40 miles north of Sarasota.

That's going to be unpleasant for those who live around the bay... the expected storm surge is 8-14 feet. Shorefront is going to be synonymous with "underwater" by midnight.

This will be my first Florida hurricane. I've been through the brunt of others, but I've always been pretty far inland. I recall Agnes, which hammered the East Coast in 72 and nearly killed my wife-to-be in a movie theater in DC, when the water load on the roof weakened the supports for a multi-ton chandelier that came crashing down into the middle of the cinema. I recall, too, Carol, in 1954--the 14th most economically damagine hurricane in the US--that wreaked havoc in New England. My youngest brother was born during that one.

Having lived along the East Coast for most of my US-based life, I'm well aware of other storms, like the "New England" hurricane of 1938 that smashed Rhode Island and parts of New York (6th most damaging). And another about then that washed away the town of Harper's Ferry, WV, resulting in that place's becoming a national park.

So, a Cat 3 seems exciting, but not life-threatening in my particular circumstances. I expect to feel other impacts, though.

I strongly suspect that electricity will be out, perhaps for as much as several days (anyone know of a hand-crank generator cum broadband modem?). Blogging will probably halt.

Water will be iffy. I'm pretty well prepared, I think, but I noticed that by 4:00 yesterday the supermarkets were out of bottled water. In Florida, bottled water takes an enormous swath of aisle space, even more than breakfast cereals. Completely empty.

Local News announced, at 0030 this morning, that a major Wal-Mart depot store had just received a new shipment of both water and generators and that they'd be open all night. So hurry on down!

Learned a few new things, too...

The water supply systems for the barrier islands are being shut down to prevent damage. And for three days after the storm passes, people will need to boil their drinking water there. While I've experienced the boiling water routine with hurricanes elsewhere, I'm interested to note that this is simply routine for here.

Something that struck me--as a newish FL resident--was the warning to pet owners: Keep your animals indoors after the storm passes. High water tends to push snakes an alligators out of their own habitat and into your own.

Not having a boat, I'm not personally concerned about how to deal with one during a hurricane, but it's interesting anyway. Seems quite a few people live on their boats around here. Some are tying and anchoring their boats and heading to shelters; others are going to try to ride it out and hope their moorings hold. Cruise liners, gambling boats and commercial vessels are leaving Tampa Bay and intended to ride the storm out in deeper waters in the Gulf.

Local airports are shutting down at noon, but the carriers--particularly US Airways--are more cautious. They've simply stopped flying to/from them.

An odd note:

I lived and worked in Thailand in the late 60s, while still a teen. My younger brothers and sister went to school there, at the International School of Bangkok. Seems that group had scheduled a multi-year reunion this weekend, at St. Petersburg Beach. I was planning on driving up tomorrow to join the group, just to see friends from a long time ago.

Not going to happen...

Some of the group flew in to find that the hotel was under evacuation orders. Others flew in to find that the hotels were already empty. The group made a decision to relocate to Orlando, well inland, and hopes to return to St. Pete Beach tomorrow. I don't think so.

My sister got to St. Pete on Thursday and was involved in the efforts to relocate to Orlando. My younger brother flew in last night and, learning that the hotel was closed, made a few calls, rented a car and drove off to Orlando to join them.

If Charley miraculously misses the area, I suppose the show can go on, and I'll drive up tomorrow. Not likely, I fear.

Speaking of the "show going on": It seems that the US Postal Service isn't delivering any mail today and all the post offices are closed. So much for "wind and dark, sleet and hail" I guess. Maybe in the past we just had dumber postmen? Or fewer litigators?

That's all for now. I'll try to keep up an hourly-0r-so posting until the electricity quits.