Monday, October 10, 2016

Going To Meet Hurricane Matthew

On Wednesday, October 5 (my anniversary) it was painfully obvious that not only was Hurricane Matthew going to impact St. Augustine, it was going to do so as a powerful 3-4 storm.

I was at work when the cone of uncertainty's newest change answered the question I had been pondering.
Will it miss St. Augustine ... and my Mom. Miss Charlotte the school secretary (and master of pretty much all things) urged me to hurry up and get over there when I let her know a sub would be needed..."You should go now."


I dawdled a little on Thursday morning, but finally got the JEEP loaded with hurricane pre/post items and hit the road.

Let's see, miscellaneous hand tools, work gloves, chainsaw gas, 2-cycle oil for chainsaw, chainsaw bar oil, chainsaw, ryobi drill/driver set, large new tarp just in case a roof issue develops, boots, glocks, regular gas in a 2 gallon can for the JEEP if needed... anticipating shortages, old sneakers, headlamp and flashlight, batteries for same, protein bars, apples, jug of iced tea (unsweetened of course), clothes, etc...and then I left.

Leaving from my house (west coast) and driving to the east coast during the approach of a hurricane and the associated evacuation was interesting. 

The weather was already cloudy and  blustery... you really feel gusts in a Jeep.
By the time I got to Gainesville, signs of gas shortages were pretty common. Many stations had darkened pumps and yellow bags on pump handles.  If a station still had gas, crowds of cars were lined up waiting their turn. 
Some had police officers supervising the scene.
That gas scenario would replay in every town I passed through.

I was glad I had topped my tank off in Chiefland and planned to try to top it off again once it dropped to 3/4 full ... if I could find gas by then.
The 2 gallons in the back (about 40-50 miles in my 4 cylinder JEEP) gave me some comfort.

Gainesville was Gainesville of course, so traffic slowed there. As I left Gatorville, the flow of traffic changed to a pattern that would remain consistent for the rest of the voyage.
The opposing west bound lanes were stacked with cars all evacuating the east coast while my east bound lane was practically empty.

 Here's the view from the crest of the bridge in Palatka. 
The traffic flow seems a little unbalanced.
I'm about 35 miles from St. Augustine at this point.
Closing the hurricane shutters as the rain begins.

I arrived at Mom's around 2:30 pm. When I quizzed her about her supplies,it looked to me like she might need a few more nonperishable items for a post electricity world ... I was sure we would lose power at some point.
So, I dashed to the nearby Publix, hoping it would be open. Everything on the way out was shut down, but Publix came through.

Publix WAS open, but it was also empty of just the sort of items I was after. Long stretches of empty shelves were stark evidence that everyone else had wanted the same items.
Not a single jar of peanut butter or jelly could be found.

Just an observation, but the current "Just in Time" shipping strategy shows it's weakness in times of disaster.
Just sayin'.

The deli was stripped of any easy to transport prepared food like sandwiches and fried chicken.
In the bakery, I grabbed the last two french bread loaves.  My late to the party scavenging yielded some lunchmeat, some Belvita bars, apples, bananas,EXTRA toasty Cheezits, chips etc.

Back at the house, I started folding out the hurricane shutters and locking them down.
The shutters were added about 15 years ago after a bad storm. I remember at the time being amazed that my Dad would spring for such an investment after decades of just toughing it out during blows ...after all, this was a man who, with his buddy Buck Andreu, used a sheet and a bicycle during Hurricane Dora to sail down the street in front of our house.

Those shutters may sit there for years unused, but the ease of activation (compare to cutting and screwing in plywood), and the solid armoring up over the windows made them priceless. 
Mom's 1957 concrete block house, sensibly back from the ocean, with glass windows covered in metal shutters, was ready and felt a little like a fortress... a really dark fortress.
Thanks Dad.

With the house locked and loaded, Mom and I settled down for a sandwich as the winds began to howl.

At 11:30, about the time I went to bed, the wind was a constant howling noise punctuated by knocks and thuds as branches, pine cones, and the neighbors cats blew through the yard.

Friday Morning

In the morning, with the storm center still about 100 miles south, Mom's 60 foot tall 80 year old pines were swaying and swooshing constantly. I didn't really think these taproot anchored titans would fall, but IF they did, they would slice right through the roof.
This was not a gullywasher rain event, at least not in Mom's neighborhood. 
Matthew's rain continued with a steady, light fall that rarely varied all day.
Sometimes it was sideways in the gusts, but it was mostly set on medium flow I guess.
We never saw that thunderous big drop tropical downpour that I love so much.
Just as well, because the Atlantic would soon rise up and pour across the seawalls on both sides of the Bridge of Lions.

St. Augustine was about to get more water than it could handle. Marshland filled in decades ago and now hosting densely built neighborhoods were about to be reclaimed by the sea.

We didn't experience any flooding due to our location up-slope and  about a mile west of the nearest estuary, the San Sebastion River.

Around 10:00 am, the lights flickered during a strong gust, there was a loud bang, and the power went out.
It would not come on again for 3 days.

With the shuttered house now powerless and tomb-like, I suggested we set up two rocking chairs on the back porch and watch the storm as long as it was safe to do so.
Mom was totally game for that.

We spent the day that way, chatting over Cheezits, and ooh-ahhing at the powerful wind gusts like spectators at a Fourth of July fireworks show.
In case you're wondering, not once did we hear thunder or see lightning.

Around 12 noon, I heard a bird chirping so loud that I thought a nest had blown out of a tree and I went out searching for it in the blowing rain.

When I got back to the porch, soaked and windblown, I saw the singer ... a tiny tufted titmouse looking for the missing birdfeeders that should be hanging from the grapefruit tree.

(We took them down for storm prep.)

This bird was HANGRY!
So I dashed out with some bird seed on a tray and set it on the ground.
That's all it took and the missing squirrels and birds, all wet and bedraggled looking, came out of the bushes to feed.

Around 3 pm, the winds, which had been coming from the east all day, switched over to the west, and I knew the storm center was north of us and we would soon be out of the woods.

By five, we knew we had dodged the bullet with no damage to any structures. I was already anticipating the next day's yard cleanup work.

And then the phone rang...


Lisa Greenbow said...

I am glad your Mom and her place is ok. I was wondering about you and yours.

Chris Fooshee said...

A CLIFFHANGER? I hate cliffhangers.

threecollie said...

What a fine tale of gentle heroism and general goodness. And capability, something that is all too often absenet. Thanks for sharing a story that most of us in the far, far north will never experience. And of course, you know you had me at the titmouse looking for groceries. Hangry indeed

Miz S said...

I'm lovin' it!

robin andrea said...

So good that you could head over into that hurricane and be there with your mom. What an amazing adventure you two had. I can't wait to hear what happens next...

Gin said...

I'm glad all was well when you closed,'s Thursday already! Give!

Island Rider said...

Just watched the video. Love how you say, "with my momma." So, where's the rest of the story. Facebook tells the ending but your fans want details!

Sharon said...

Long time no see! I'm in TN now, but I still have family in Jax and that was a stressful and sleepless few days. The pics of St Augie brought me to tears. Glad your mom's place made it through! My family escaped any serious damage, very thankful.