Life on the southern Gulf Coast of Florida is pleasant for a portion of the year, when on the subject of weather. When I moved to South Florida in the early ’80’s we enjoyed it most of the year, and the few hottest months were July thru September. Then the most refreshing, crisp and dry air would blow in and it would be blissful. Cool mornings, maybe a light sweater , warm afternoons in Tee Shirts and Tank tops, and shorts – always shorts. Then in mid-December thru the beginning of February, a cold snap, which in Florida means below 50.
In the first 20 years I lived on the east coast of Florida, in a “little” town called Port Saint Lucie, which no one had ever heard of. (It now has more people than West Palm Beach.) Anyway, that fact is only significant to this post in that the climate may have been a tiny bit different to where I live now. I did come over to this city fairly often, tho’, because my Grandparents lived here. When I did, it was always pretty much like what we had across the state. Bearable, enjoyable, habitable.
I spent about 10 years away during my marriage, but visited often enough to know that the summers seemed to be warmer, and the winters colder. I never thought much about it – everyone has air conditioners here, and I was young enough not to let the temperature effect me, one way or the other. But then I moved back to Florida, to PSL, in the late 90’s. We had never had a hurricane in that town, going back 50 years, then in 2004 we had 2, back to back, and suddenly we all were faced with the reality of climate change. Sure, I had been thru major Tropical Storms and Depressions, and many torrential rainfalls. I thought a hurricane was pretty exciting stuff…at first. Then I lived thru one.
The thing is, one can not really accurately convey the real experience of living thru a hurricane. You can get close to it, thru video footage these days. However, you only see a snippet. These things go on for 10, 12, 14 hours at full peak sometimes, when it hits dead on. You go mad with that squealling, screaming, demonic wind tearing at your dwelling. You think you are prepared as you hunker down with some snacks. You watch the progress of the storm on TV as it marches closer, and the rain begins, and a little knot of tension niggles in your tummy.
Oh, it won’t be so bad, Dad says with a pat on your shoulder. Just a little blow… Then the power goes out and the hours go by in eerie flashlight glow, until you decide to conserve battery. As the wind starts to pick up more, you peer outside thru the hurricane shutters, and your nerves start to fray as you see your favorite hibiscus totally denuded, and your palm trees bending in impossible ways. More hours pass, the lack of AC has caused everyone to drip with sweat, and you must not open the fridge because all the food will spoil. Hopefully the coolers you filled with ice and provisions will last.
Then you try to sleep. But that wind, that screaming wind- you realize that other sound you hear is your shingles blowing off, and your neighbors shingles pelt you house like gunfire. A tree falls with a horrible crash onto the porch, but you are helpless. Mom is crying, the dog is frantic, the heat is sweltering, the noise is deafening. When will it end?
You doze for what seems like a second, than a horrible loud creaking begins. You realize with horror that its the roof starting to go, or the plywood giving way, or maybe the metal carport being ripped off and flying around like some nightmare vision of hell. You huddle closer, then decide its time to go into the saferoom, your tiny bathroom where you have already stashed a mattress. Dad shouts, Get Mum under there, and you pull her from where she clings and help her under the mattress. The dog won’t come, he’s run away, but you can’t look because you ,too, are terrified. Shoving in under the mattress you hold tight to your Mom while the wailing wind, like a banshee, rips away your new addition like matchsticks. Dad, you scream, but the wind rips your words away, you hear yourself praying, begging for the storm to end, for your Dad, your Mom, your dog to live….but it just keeps going. Finally Dad pushes his way thru the door in a burst, soaking wet, holding the dog, you can’t see but feel the fur and smell its hot breath. Then Dad, swearing presses in with you, and you all silently cling to each other as the hours slowly tick past.
Later, after the wind subsides, you all find places to sleep, couch, bed, recliner, sleeping and sweating and grateful. Until daylight comes. And you see the aftermath…