Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Secret Storm

This past weekend saw the coastal areas of eastern central Florida thrashed whipped, beaten and soaked by a tropical storm that somehow didn’t show up on the crystal ball of weather forecasters. Not only did they not see the storm coming, they ignored its presence once it arrived and began kicking the stuffing out of everything and everyone across a huge swath of eastern Florida. How is it that over a three-day period wind at fifty to fifty-five miles an hour knocking over fences and trees, streets flooded by rain and a power outage lasting for hours, how is it that all that goes unnoticed by television and Internet?

Rising water, bending trees and endless sheets of horizontal rain are bad enough, but the nightmare of this particular storm was a demon wind that never let up for a minute over seventy-two hours, setting loose a howl of sound that grew maddening over long hours. I have read stories about places where the arctic wind blows constantly in a similar moaning wail, and where people get a little nutty after a while. Shades of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s 1975 The Gulag Archipelago. That was me this past weekend. Try as I might, telling myself it was just a a little wind, to be more patient and occupy myself with something—all a futile attempt that didn’t help to assuage the ongoing nervous irritation.

My sanity held and Monday morning brought blessed relief. Would like to say that the sudden quiet was astounding, but true quiet is a quality not present when home is so near the ocean, when waves never cease to roll and crash onto shore. It was the absence of wind that hinted at something like quiet. I stood for a while in early morning light tinged with the promise of an unclouded rising sun, stood surveying the post-storm scene and making a quick count of the clean up ahead. Downed palm fronds, tumbled chairs scattered and upended in flower beds, broken walkway lights, flattened sections of fence, someone’s twisted table crash-landed in a heap among the bulbine flowers…and then attention turned to the salty, sandy mess on my patio, windows and doors.

News to no one, a three-day wind blast of salt and sand is lethal to shallow rooted patio plants and three of them were stone dead. Two other plants were moved inside on Friday, and the heavy geranium managed to hold on outdoors, but just barely. Glass sliders were murky with sand and dried mud carried by wind and rain. The front door had gone from milky green to greenish brown, earthworms had for some reason taken shelter beneath the doormats, both front and back, perhaps escaping the inundated ground.

The patio and its three glass doors required two hours to put back into shape. Sweeping, flooding with water, scrubbing and wiping took care of the biggest mess, but then the dead plants had to be uprooted and glass polished. Thanks to my German friend’s gift of a magic cleaning rag brought from Frankfurt, the front door was easily cleaned, along with the screen door. Everything finally looked good enough to leave and work elsewhere.

Along the seawall in front of the deck I collected a garbage can full of plastic debris, shoes, glass bottles, rope, Styrofoam, rubber balls and a Maidenform bra with barnacles. The thick layer of seaweed I left for either the beach sanitation buggies or someone else with a hankering to shovel up a half-ton of soggy, pungent wrack.

There is a building a half mile up the road that has a long row of globe lights along the length of the property. I drove past there on Tuesday and saw that all but three of the lights had been smashed by the wind. The little ice cream store farther along no longer has a sign, it too smashed. Property damage for sure, but count it fortunate that no one was hit by a falling tree or windblown glass.

Still asking myself, where were the weather forecasters on Thursday last?


  1. Sounded like a hurricane to me.....a long lasting wind that nearly drove you nuts. I remember during a hurricane once where I though "if just the wind would stop sounding! A good post told in words that made me think I was experiencing it.

  2. Yes, a long-winded storm and its aftermath captured to perfection. At the rate of coastal erosion south of me, the Gulf will be along a street no longer named Sevenoaks but probably named Sevengulls. But close enough now to feel the fury of any storm blasting its way northward out of the Gulf. A good thunderstorm can be exciting and does clean the atmosphere; one lasting for days begins to undermine the structures we've toiled and sweated to build.


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America