The sport of hurricane watching

“Hurricane Watch” should be more than a phrase used as a distress signal by meteorologists whenever a hurricane is threatening a region. It should be a sport.
Last week, Florida residents kept a close eye on Hurricane Matthew as it spun closer to the state, threatening to be the first hurricane to make landfall on the east coast for the first time in a decade.
As it continued to strengthen, gas prices skyrocketed, bread disappeared from grocery stores and Gov. Rick Scott started live tweeting his panic on how everyone who chose not to evacuate was going to die.
I watched Hurricane Matthew like a hawk. I kept a website browser open on my computer at all times just so I could check the “cone of unpredictability” of where it was planning to hit and when.
You see, I had a plane to catch on Friday. It would be my first time returning to North Carolina since moving down here at the end of May.
I was to be a groomsman, or a “groomslady,” in my best friend’s wedding, and of course, that’s the very weekend that the first hurricane since Andrew decided to strike Florida and cause statewide hysteria.

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A photo of Hurricane Matthew courtesy of Pixabay

Facebook posts started emerging about bread disappearing even in DeSoto County, which received only a little rain and some gusty winds. Traffic was deadlocked on Highway 70 in front of Walmart as people ran to the store to stock up or get out of town.
My aunt, uncle and cousin evacuated from Melbourne to my house. They arrived late in the dark on Wednesday night in two cars with two cats, as much of their possessions as they could pack and a lot of baked goods (my aunt bakes when she’s stressed). All day Thursday and into the night, my aunt paced around my house, texting all her friends who decided to stay behind and ride out the storm. With tears streaming down her face, she told me that nothing would ever convince her to not evacuate again.
“That constant howling of the wind. You will never forget that. Nothing is worth listening to that all night long,” she said.
My uncle continually updated his phone and gave us a play-by-play of where meteorologists predicted Matthew to go next.
For the whole week, coworkers and other community members told me it was going to be impossible to fly out of Punta Gorda on Friday morning. The conversations felt like we were talking about some ultimate sporting event.
I kept reading Gov. Scott’s tweets of doom, looked at news articles coming from Haiti and tried my best to hope and wish Matthew away.
I also saw a ton of messages on Arcadia’s Facebook pages supporting neighbors, offering rooms to stay in at private homes because the hotels were full of evacuees, and people offering their services to put up shutters, help people pack and more.
When Friday arrived, I was a nervous wreck. I hate flying. And now, I was going to face flying in a hurricane. While the rest of Florida was preparing for the storm as shown on large screen TVs throughout the terminal, the airport in Punta Gorda was shockingly calm.
I sat in front of my gate for two hours waiting for them to delay or cancel the flight. No such thing. My fellow passengers and I boarded the plane right on time.
“It’s going to be a bit bumpy, but we’re scheduled to land early,” the pilot announced quite cheerfully.
Could it be? Could I text my friends and boyfriend without a doubt I’d be arriving on time in North Carolina?
Sure enough, the plane rocketed down the runway and into the air without a hitch.
“Congratulations,” the pilot announced as we reached cruising altitude. “You are all officially storm chasers. If you look out the window, you’ll see the outer band of Matthew.”
I peeked out the window, and sure enough, below I could see the swirling blue bands of Matthew slowly moving over Florida. It doesn’t get more Floridian than that. All I needed was an alligator and Mickey Mouse sitting in the seats next to me.

ARCADIAN PHOTO BY LEX MENZThe view of Hurricane Matthew out the plane window

The view of Hurricane Matthew out the plane window

Hurricanes are very serious and dangerous matters. I’m not trying to make light of that. Twenty-two people in the U.S. were killed by Matthew.
St. Augustine and other coastal cities of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina suffered devastating loss and destruction.
There are some things that could have been done differently by our state’s leader during Matthew, and there is a lot to learn about the unpredictability of these storms.
Hurricane Matthew’s eye stayed out to sea as it passed Melbourne, which is unlike what meteorologists originally predicted. My aunt and uncle’s house never lost power throughout the storm. They did the right thing by evacuating, but it was an overwhelming relief to be wrong rather than to be right and lose everything.
DeSoto County, too, saw a bit of a panic that was unwarranted as Hurricane Matthew stayed on the Atlantic side, but the memories of Hurricane Charley are still too raw for residents here who lost so much and are still trying to recover.
Hurricane Matthew taught me an invaluable lesson about being prepared, staying calm through the storm, valuing family and keeping positive in the face of unpredictability.
If we face another hurricane this season or in years to come, I hope to see the unwavering support, love and friendship in DeSoto County that I saw from neighbors and community members last week.

Hitting a wall

My first big mistake upon arriving in Florida was assuming that all houses are created equal. Well, that the walls are all made of the same materials, anyway.
I’ve moved several times in my life, and when I reach a new home, one of the first things I like to do is hang up my pictures. Maybe it’s because I can’t stand the vast blankness of white walls, or maybe it’s because my movie posters and framed cartoon of cats sitting around a table playing Hungry Hungry Hippo or the stretched canvas frames of seashells make a new place feel like home. However, pictures don’t just stick to a wall by themselves. You need a hammer and nails. Just a hammer and nails … right?
I knew where I had packed the nails, but for some reason the hammer was missing. For five days I searched in every box looking for the hammer. I searched the same box multiple times, knowing that I had just glanced over the hammer during the previous search. Even more frustrating was that I knew I owned more than one hammer!
Finally, a week after moving in, I walked into the laundry/mud room where I was storing things and I saw a box full of stuff I don’t use. Inside, I noticed a bag dedicated to emergency medical supplies for my pets. At my old place in North Carolina, this bag had been kept on the same shelf as the hammer. I thought to myself, “I bet someone put the hammer in this bag while helping me pack.” Sure enough, I unzipped the bag and there was the hammer I had been so desperately hunting.
With great glee, I immediately grabbed a thick, long nail and started planning where I would hang the first picture. After a careful measuring to find the middle of the wall, I started hammering the nail. It took about three hits of the hammer on the nail head for me to realize that sucker wasn’t going in the wall. I hammered and hammered, but the nail stayed put.
My first thought was maybe I’d hit a stud in the wall (I now have been told that would have been a good thing!), so I moved the nail to the left. Bang! Bang! Bang! The sound of the hammer striking the nail echoed within my house, sending the pets scattering in fear.
After getting nowhere, I thought the nail must be the problem. So, I grabbed a shorter nail. After I got the point into the wall, I started taking out all my frustration on the nail and didn’t hold back in beating on it with the hammer. It’s a miracle I didn’t put a hole in the wall. The end result was my nail was bent in two places.

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The sad, useless nail

Finally I texted my boss, Steve Bauer, who has turned into my walking, talking “How to succeed at being a Floridian” self-help book. Earlier, I had asked him to please bring a hammer to the office the next day since I couldn’t find mine. Now, I sent him a text saying I had found the hammer, but something was wrong with my nails.
“A lot of walls are made of concrete in Florida … the whole hurricane thing, you know,” Steve answered.
Concrete? Concrete!
“No, I didn’t!” I replied.
In North Carolina, we get hurricanes on occasion and small tornadoes, but no one builds their houses differently in preparation for those weather phenomenons. Maybe that’s shame on us, but I had certainly never heard of it. I have since learned that houses in Florida must be built to withstand hurricane-force winds.
Steve told me I’d need to drill a hole in the wall and use a screw anchor, but I’m impatient so thank God for Command Strips. I had purchased a few to hang up posters without frames and ended up using them all on framed photos. The next morning everything was still hanging in place, and I walked out the door on a mission to purchase Command Strips after work.
Keep following From Carolinian to Arcadian to read more about my adventures battling cockroaches and dealing with the heat.

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Command Strips are my best friend!