“I never even knew a Category 5 existed…People have never seen anything like that.“
— President Trump, 2017
“Never heard about Category 5’s before, a Category 5 is big stuff…A category 5 is something that, uh — I don’t know that I’ve even heard the term, other than I know it’s there. That’s the ultimate, and that’s what we have, unfortunately.“
— President Trump on Hurricane Dorian, 2019.
Sunday, September 1:
Prior to our moving to Florida in 2014, this state had not experienced a hurricane event on land for ten years. This fact was neither an encouraging nor a discouraging factor in our decision to come here. It simply represented another set of calculated odds and risks associated with relocating to an area where natural disasters can happen. Twelve years earlier I had to make the same set of mental calculations when I moved from Washington, DC to California, where the risks of earthquakes, wildfires, and mudslides are also a danger. In both situations, I decided to emphasize the benefits each place provided rather than the risks.
Oh, but when those risks do materialize, suddenly all that “calculated theorizing” from days of yore becomes fodder for personal scrutiny. Or, as my imaginary evil twin, Shlomo, keeps whispering in my ear, “Boychik, what were you thinking?!“
For the last few days we have been running benefits and risks in our heads as we sit here waiting to see what Hurricane Dorian is going to do. At the moment, it has begun its assault on the Bahamas with winds of over 180 mph. The forecasts and projections for the storm’s approach to the Florida coast all continue to have it offshore, as it makes its way northward towards the Carolinas or Cape Hatteras. Overnight, however, there was a slight shift westward; in other words towards land. That shift was just enough to change the mood in our home from the previous 24 hours, when we thought with a degree of certainty, that it would stay out in the ocean. So today we are again feeling anxious.
Of course, this is also a holiday weekend for Labor Day. Dorian be damned, right? We do love our three day holidays. I was reminded of this at the gym while I worked out and watched the TV above my machine. In between storm forecasts and hurricane category estimates, I saw the dogged American spirit right in front of me. We still need to know what’s happening around town, right?
We are prepared for a shelter-in-place. We have the requisite batteries, flashlights, transistor radio, device charger, important documents stored in seal-lock plastic, etc. We are also stocked up with some cases of bottled water and non-perishables foods. From experience with previous storms, we’ve learned that we really don’t have much of an appetite until it’s over anyway. So we didn’t go overboard this time.
Regardless, it is interesting to see what was purchased after we arrive home from the store and began unpacking the bags. I offer you the below as proof of impulse-buying in advance of a storm. It’s not like we didn’t already have cereal in the house, you know — tsk, tsk.
Monday, September 2nd:
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) update from 11:00pm last night, and their 5:00am one from this morning, both show a projected shift of the storm’s center to the east and away from land once it reaches our area of northern Florida. Last night’s estimates were 60-70 miles; today’s are now 70-80 miles. It’ll still be a lot of wind, of course, but it’s better for the eye of the storm to be way out there and not over land.
Reports and video from the Bahamas, the Abacao islands in particular, are scary to watch. I heard about a brother and sister who were killed. I cannot imagine being able to endure nearly 200mph winds on an island with literally no where to hide other than one’s own home or a community shelter. I fear we’ll hear of more fatalities as they begin to pick up after the storm.
With the storm now on its approach to the Florida coast, this starts the two-day period when it literally is the proverbial Calm before the storm. Our county has issued a mandatory evacuation, and I’m sure some people have followed it. But “mandatory” is relative. They can’t force you to leave; only encourage it for the sake of everyone’s welfare. And, to be fair, it’s also a subtle warning from authorities that once the storm starts, vital services such as police, fire, and rescue cannot be guaranteed. In other words, if you have a medical emergency you’re most likely on your own for several hours. Heart, this is not a time to give us problems.
We have had several discussions about whether to go or stay. Yesterday, for example, when the storm’s projected track took that ominous shift towards land, I was the one leaning towards getting out of Dodge. Gorgeous, however, is more inclined to stay; having faith that the eye of the storm will remain over the ocean, and also that even if it does veer dangerously close to land, that we can hold out against what will be a much weaker storm currently out in the Atlantic (estimates are that it will be Category 3 when it reaches our area).
Every single one of our nearby neighbors are also staying, giving us a sense of comfort and community. One of them mentioned to me that from his unofficial survey from speaking to people while walking the dog, most of our condo community is remaining. Indeed, a walk I took around the complex myself this afternoon seemed to confirm a full contingent of residents who have decided to stay.
We are collectively brave… or we’re all really foolish.
With absolutely no tourists in town, St. Augustine is comparatively a ghost town. It’s thankfully much easier to navigate than normal, with streets and roads not clogged with the usual cars of visitors slowing before intersections because they are unsure exactly where they’re heading.
I managed to get a haircut this morning. Most chain and big box stores are closed, but local establishments are mostly open. A popular diner looked as if it was packed, as was the parking lot for the Winn Dixie. To my utter delight, I saw that the bagel bakery was also open. I stopped in to add to our food supply. For the next two days I have bagels and cream cheese for breakfast. Score!
Tuesday, September 3rd:
Dorian has absolutely ravaged the Bahamas. The death count is now five people, and it probably goes without saying that many, many more will be reported in the days ahead. The storm hasn’t really budged from that area either; it has instead simply hovered over the islands on its slow crawl for 30+ hours. I cannot imagine the horrific toll it’s inflicted on the population there. One has to assume it will take years, if not decades, for those island communities to recover.
Dorian has now been lowered to Category 2. The mid-morning NHC update pushes its path projection a bit further away from our area, now between 80-90 miles from the shoreline; by virtue of that, we are projected to be out of the storm’s cone when it passes. Tropical storm winds of up to 45 mph are expected to be felt, though.
Because of the evacuation order, it’s not wise to really venture out beyond our home. I was told yesterday that in some areas of town, law enforcement will let you out of your neighborhood but you might be prevented from returning. I’m fairly certain this only takes place in those places most prone to flooding. For the city of St. Augustine, that would mean the entire downtown and historic areas and their surrounding neighborhoods. It shouldn’t include us because we’re a few miles from those places, but I’m not particularly interested in testing it. So homebound it will remain.
A neighbor mentioned an unsubstantiated rumor of a car containing three youths driving around in our condo development yesterday, “casing” and presumably looking for empty homes of residents who may have evacuated. I’m wondering if it’s not just three bored teenagers who also live here and are tired of being cooped up; so they took Mom or Dad’s car out for a little spin. If I see them, I’ll offer-up our box of Lucky Charms.
5:00pm NHC Update: We can expect to feel some of the early winds from Dorian tonight around 8:00 or 9:00pm. By morning we should be hearing the start of tropical force winds estimated to be between 45-70 mph, and the center of the storm is expected to pass by St. Augustine at 2:00pm, 80 miles from the shoreline.
Wednesday, September 4th:
7:30am: We woke up to strong winds outside our window, but not the tropical force ones we’re supposed to start experiencing in a few hours. Dorian is now on the move at 8 mph and approaching our area. Wind gusts in downtown are reported to already be 49 mph. The TV reports show St. Augustine Beach — our favorite beach to visit here — with 15 ft waves crashing in and already causing four feet of beach erosion.
There are apparently already approximately two thousand people without power in Jacksonville and the outer areas of our county (St. Johns). Our condo development is built with underground electrical lines that has redundancy built into it. Ostensibly if one part of it fails, other parts will kick-in to pick up the slack. We got to see this work as intended during Hurricane Irma in 2017, when sure enough we temporarily lost power three times only to have it return within five minutes or so. However, the grid is connected to a sub-station about a quarter a mile away which services us and the surrounding neighborhoods. So if that fails because of wind or flooding, then we’re toast.
The first thing we did after waking up earlier was to take showers in case we lose water pressure today. The second thing we did was to turn on the coffee maker for what I hope is not our last cup of hot coffee for awhile. I’ve filled up both bathtubs with water so that we have a supply to flush toilets in the event that we do lose pressure.
The reports from the Bahamas, in particular the Abaco islands, is horrific. One couple had to climb on top of their kitchen appliances and cabinets because of rising water. When the cabinets finally gave way from the wall, the man watched his wife tragically float away and eventually drown. I cannot begin to fathom his grief.
One thing is already clear about today: the rhythms of the previous few days, in which our attentions were laser-focused to the next regularly scheduled forecast update from the NHC, are now over. The storm is now on the move and we are watching everything in current time as it slowly approaches us. Those who live in the Carolinas are now inheriting that worry of intensely watching the storm track. I am thinking now of fellow blogger, Laura Bruno Lilly. Stay safe, Laura!
The first tornado warning screamed over our phones just as we approached the 11:00 hour. The storm track has been updated by the NHC to now place it 85 miles from the shoreline; a slight nudge to the east.
Gorgeous, ever the optimist, and probably using her gift of clairvoyance, isn’t worried about losing electricity. Starting at around 10:00am she began work on tonight’s dinner of chicken curry and baked cranberry almond bread. It’s admittedly an odd confluence here of coziness and meteorological drama.
2:00pm: The storm hasn’t really packed the kind of punch with tropical storm winds that had been projected. In our county of St. Johns, the beaches and shorelines are taking a beating as a result of storm surge, with beach erosion and damage to dunes happening. Parts of the A1A Coastal Byway are impassable and have been closed for clean-up and some road repair. Areas of St. Augustine’s Historic District are experiencing flooding, but so far nothing like what it sustained from Matthew in 2016 and Irma in 2017.
Thankfully, the earlier forecasts of wind speeds of 45-70 mph have not materialized.
Local meteorologists on the Jacksonville stations are starting to get defensive. People are allegedly calling in or tweeting their disapproval at how the storm was overhyped. Overhyped??!!! Are they nuts? Dorian hasn’t even left our region yet. Have they looked at the devastation inflicted on the Bahamas? A Category 5 storm with wind speeds of nearly 200 mph is not overhyped. We are so far very fortunate.
3:00pm: The eye of Dorian is now making its trek out of our area and heading to the Jacksonville beaches and coast. There is low-level flooding in many parts of St. Augustine, but according to the news reports not nearly the scope that was inflicted by Michael or Irma.
A cursory walk around our development shows no damage; only debris from palm trees and other vegetation. The landscape maintenance crew will have their work cut out for them.
We got off lucky. We’re safe, dry, and we have our electricity. If you’re thirsty, feel free to stop by. I can offer you a bottle or six of water.
I hope you’ll join me in donating to relief efforts for the Bahamas:
Until next time…