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.

‘The weather, very peculiar’

In my first month as a Florida resident, I’ve learned the weather changes in a heartbeat here. It literally can be pouring buckets on the left side of a road and be sunny and dry on the right.
In the mountains of North Carolina, it can rain quite a lot, too. The Blue Ridge Mountains are actually a temperate rainforest, meaning it can rain for days on end, especially in the summer. And, we always know when it is coming. The weatherman will predict 10 days of rain, and it will rain … and rain … and rain. If it’s not rainy, the overcast clouds make you wonder if you’ll ever see daylight again. Every two weeks, though, there will be a brilliantly sunny day that makes the green in the leaves look like something out of a movie. You’ll soak in the sun and think, “Life doesn’t get any better than this.” The next day, it will pour rain again.
When I first took this job, Arcadian Editor Steve Bauer prepared me for the move by telling me numerous tips and quirks about the area. One of those things was that it would rain daily during the summer. Although it hasn’t been as constant so far as he described, when it does rain, it pours — as in it’s time to invest in an ark pours — but then stops in about 20 minutes. The sun comes out, and the water evaporates so quickly you would think it never happened.
To me, it’s a crazy phenomena. This past weekend, I drove down U.S. Highway 17 toward Punta Gorda, and it was dry. The other side, however, was soaking wet from the recent rain. I’ve also had it pouring rain on my back windshield but not the front.
It reminds me of that scene in Disney’s “The Lion King” after Mufasa appears to his son, Simba, in a giant cloud over the African plain. Before, it had been a clear night, and then suddenly a giant roll of clouds filled the sky. Rafiki the baboon makes a joke after the clouds and Mufasa disappear: ‘What was that? The weather, very peculiar. Don’t you think?”
A similar phenomena with the weather happened here when I took my boyfriend Jonathan, who was visiting from North Carolina, on a sunset cruise in Charlotte Harbor. As the cruise started, we were wowed by how clear the sky was and how we had the perfect view of the sun. The boat captain even commented how the conditions were beautiful and that the sunset would be worth $1 million that night.
At the time, it was quite warm under the sun out on the harbor, and I think all of us were wishing it would hurry up and sink below the waves. The captain took the boat down the several canals, showing us fancy houses and telling us a lot of history about the area. He pointed out two dolphins that appeared, and his assistant came around the boat and took pictures of everyone.
By the time the sun was ready to set, we were all so distracted by the enjoyment of the trip that no one noticed what had been happening in the sky. As Jonathan and I were passing the time talking, I heard a fellow passenger gasp.
“Where’s the sun?” she asked, pointing in the direction of the sunset.
I turned and looked. The sky was suddenly much darker than before.

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Sneaky clouds

The top sliver of the sun was still visible, but the rest was hidden by a huge bank of clouds that seemingly appeared out of nowhere. No one had noticed any clouds anywhere on the horizon during the first hour of the trip, and now, the sun was gone. Even the captain was baffled as to how the clouds just popped up so quickly. He sadly announced that the sunset wouldn’t be as beautiful as he believed it would be and apologized for how incorrect his guess was. But, that’s just how the weather works in Florida. “Very peculiar.”
Even though our view of the sun was blocked, the sunset still cast amazing colors against the clouds, turning them into pink, purple and orange swirls. The surrounding sky morphed from light blue to a sea of orange and pink hues.
No matter the weather, I have been amazed by the beauty and power of Florida’s climate. I have never seen such brilliant sun nearly every morning or felt the power of thunder shake a house before. I will admit, however, that I’m ready for the summer heat and humidity to end, and am excited to see what fall and winter wonders are in store from the Sunshine State.