Saturday, July 11, 2009

Log: Tropical Storm Fay - August 08

Log: Tropical Storm Fay

Friday, 15 August – Work as usual. Sometime in the middle of the exceedingly dull afternoon, a co-worker calls me into her office to look at the National Hurricane Center’s website. It seems an unnamed tropical wave is feeling a bit ambitious and has skipped right over the Tropical Depression category, which should have come first, to become Tropical Storm Fay. Maybe not what I would have chosen to liven up the day, but watching radar and discussing the path predictions entertains us till quittin’ time.

Saturday, 16 August – Ah, the weekend. While running errands, nearly everyone we encounter jokes about a possible hurricane. We don’t pay too much attention but while grocery shopping we try to plan meals that can be cooked on the grill in case we lose power. And we stock up on plenty of water and beer. But if we lose power how will we keep the beer cold? Might as well drink it now. Besides, they never get the path predictions right. We’ll be fine.

Sunday, 17 August – We wake up to a gorgeous sunny day. Mike turns on the news while I work on my novel but I’m distracted by the fact that every channel is talking about Fay. The path prediction cone puts her crossing Cuba and heading due north. Although they think she’ll ride up the west coast of Florida, any deviation to the east could put her right on top of us. And with that little expanse of warm saltwater between us and Cuba, she could make landfall as a Category 1 storm. Hmmm. With the plot of my novel fading slightly into the background of my imagination, I go online to pull up NOAA. Can’t trust the TV, I want to see what’s really happening. As soon as I log on, I notice four new messages in my email inbox from A Tropical Storm watch has been issued and is in effect until Tuesday evening. I scan the alerts and one message states very clearly, “No storm tide impact is expected.” This is good. The message was issued at 6:55 AM. The next message, issued an hour later says, “No storm tide impact is likely…though despite the current unlikely impact, a storm tide of between two and four feet is still possible.” Call me a writer, but the jump from not ‘expected’ to ‘not likely but possibly two to four feet’ is a matter of concern. So I open another tab and pull up our property plat on the City’s emergency planning page. Ain’t it great what you can find online these days? But what I find isn’t great. According to the City of Fort Lauderdale, in conjunction with FEMA, the property our apartment building sits on is only six inches above flood stage in a mandatory evacuation zone. I recall standing on the dock out back during the last spring tide. The water was about two inches below the dock and about six inches below the seawall, our building sits on a slab foundation about 18 inches off the ground, yesterday was a full moon and the effects tend to stick around for a few days. I do the math, realize we have no leeway and point this little tidbit of info out to Mike, who doesn’t seem concerned. That’s ok, I’m concerned enough for both of us. But what do you do? Well, if you’re me, you go to the pool to float and ponder the situation and come up with an on the spot “What We’ll Do if it Floods” plan. Everything important to the storage unit, park one of our trucks at a friends house on higher ground and find a hotel room somewhere outside the flood zone. The wind doesn’t worry me, but I grew up on the Mississippi River and evacuated seven times as a kid. And returned home to a disgusting disaster seven times – I know what a flood can do and I’ll take wind any day.
With my plan in place, we go about our day; a healthy mix of laundry, Mike playing guitar while I read a novel, chores, cocktails and watching radar on the weather channel. Well, and me worrying. Around four the announcement comes that the first day of school, which is supposed to start tomorrow, has been canceled. Jay comes out from under his teenage rock to say, “cool” and retreats again. Mike brings in everything from outside and plugs in the battery chargers for the flashlights and weather radio. We cook dinner on the grill and drink cold beer while we can.

Monday, 18, August – A host of new weather alerts when I check email first thing make concentrating on my novel impossible. The alerts contain messages like, “All preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion.” This does little for my piece of mind. Mike’s off work today but I’m not and I watch the news until the last minute, dig out my foul weather jacket and head out the door five minutes behind schedule. On the way I start to call Bex to share the excitement but a gust of wind nearly pushes my truck into oncoming traffic. It literally feels like a giant hand is pushing me to the side so I hang up the phone and keep both hands on the wheel. My drive to work takes me along the beach but not close enough to see the waves breaking – most days. When I see spray from the low side of the road, I decide to take a detour and drive along the beach side for a minute. It’s worth being late. I’ve never seen a beach during a storm and if I didn’t need a paycheck, I’d park and watch for hours. The normally turquoise water is now gray-green and waves usually less than a foot are now three to five feet high and crashing violently. Blowing sand, whipping palms and a nearly black sky complete a picture I won’t soon forget. Amazing.
At work, all talk is of Fay and we watch radar and satellite images all day. At three o’clock Fay makes landfall in Key West, still a Tropical Storm, and path predictions still put her across the state from us. I mention my fear of flooding but my co-workers blow it off as a non-issue, which almost makes me feel confident that we’re going to pull through with no damage. Driving home (I’ve mastered driving in high winds) I call Bex. As I ease along the beach I describe the scene for her and mention the handful of surfers and a lone wind-surfer out on the water. “A wind-surfer’s out there? He’s nuts! He’s going to end up in the hospital!” she tells me.
At home, we watch the news and I check email again: 23 alerts. Tornado watches, tornado warnings, flood watches, Tropical Storm Warning updates and Emergency Management Alerts with information on shelters, City services and so on. After a couple hours of Fay updates, Mike and I have had enough. The storm’s way west of us. If the worst happens during the night, we’ll deal with it when it does.

Tuesday, 19 August – I wake periodically during the night to the sounds of rain whistling against the windows and thunder booming with an odd hollow sound, but no water under the bed when I inch my toes down to check. We turn on the TV at six and find that Fay made landfall an hour earlier near Naples, still a Tropical Storm. All hurricane warnings canceled Tropical Storm and flood warnings still in effect. Nothing much has changed except the rain is heavier. A bit anti-climactic. Also on the news is an item about a wind surfer on the beach getting whipped out of the water and slammed against a building by the wind and being taken to the hospital. I get ready for work because nautical charts must still be sold and as I dress, a tornado warning is issued for our area. As in, less than two miles from where we stand. Great. And I thought all I had to worry about was flooding. I know I said I can deal with wind, but I’d prefer not to deal with wind shaped like a funnel that can toss cows in the air. Luckily there isn’t a single cow in the city of Fort Lauderdale. After the warning lapses, I go out to look at the dock. Water laps at the bottom of the wood and we’re still an hour and a half before high tide. Mike has to go in early for a meeting but Jay’s home, no school again today, so I leave for work after telling him to go out every half hour and check the water level. At work we continue to monitor Fay’s progress through the morning and my co-workers tease me and ask if we’re flooded out. I sneak back to my office to call Jay and make sure. All’s dry on the home front, even as high tide comes and goes without much fluctuation in the water levels. I don’t understand how we escaped flooding, nor do I care. We did and that’s all that matters.
When Fay finally crosses Lake Okeechobee, our primary source of fresh water and a good bit northwest of us, talk turns to afternoon snacks and work, in that order. The wind and rain continue all day and on occasion a tornado siren goes off somewhere nearby, but things are getting back to normal. Driving home I call Bex and tell her she’s a horrible person for putting that wind-surfer in the hospital and she tells me I should stop and walk the beach to look for shells because after a storm is when the best shells wash up. I get home and find that even the media has mostly moved on to other topics. And so my first Tropical Storm churned through my life and moved on.

Wednesday, 20 August – Fay? Who’s Fay?

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