Hurricanes are a personal thing. Many times, you do not commit them to memory unless they affect you personally — by damage, death or just the inconvenience. Hurricane Irma, one of a dozen hurricanes that affected us here in Indian Rocks Beach, is one I personally remember — for one reason or another.
I personally remember Dora (Jacksonville, 1964, when I was 11), Elena (1985), Georges (1998), 2004 (Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne), Hermine (2016), Irma (2018) and then there was “The No Name Storm” (1993).
On Sept. Sept 9, 2017, we were told to prepare for IRMA, a Cat 4 hurricane. We were told to evacuate Zone A (the beaches). That night we had a pre-hurricane party at a nearby bar and said “good-bye and good luck” to friends.
The next day, Sept. 10, we secured the house and boat, as best we could, and evacuated to a house in Largo, well above the alphabet flood plain. The winds started to appear about 6 p.m. and by midnight, the outer edges of Irma were whipping through Pinellas County.
We only felt the outer bands of IRMA. Officially, reports said the highest winds were around 65 mph., tropical but not hurricane force. However, with the rain and damp soil, it was enough to down a few thousand trees, and that was enough to knock out electricity to a few thousand people living in this county.
We were anxious to return to our island house. They opened the bridges around 4 p.m. and it was rush hour in reverse. Our street had a few trees toppled into power lines, which took out the rest of the block. Duke Energy declared that we were a “low priority” street and did not restore power to our street for two days. We were invited to spend two nights at a neighbor’s house who had electricity and beer.
Hurricane Irma entered Florida through the Florida Keys (Mile Marker 21), crossed Florida Bay, then re-entered Florida between Marco Island and Naples as a Category 4. Then instead of skimming the West Coast of Florida — and coming to where I live — it went diagonally across the state, through eastern Polk County (Lakeland), Disney World, Jacksonville, and finally out to sea on the Atlantic side.
As it was downgraded from a 4 to 3 to 2 to 1, the winds finally abated.
Since the storm passed some 50 miles to the east of where I live (Indian Rocks Beach), we had the reverse effect in flooding. IRMA sucked the water out of Tampa Bay, the Intracoastal, and some of the Gulf of Mexico.
I tied up my boat anticipating a storm surge of 5 to 10 feet. Instead, the water went down to record lows leaving my boat left hanging like a person in a hammock. I guess that was better than what I have seen recently in the Bahamas.
We did not have any damage to speak of, although I know of many neighbors and businesses that had roofs peeled back — and allegedly that was with winds of only 65 mph. Only 65!
We were certainly lucky, as we have been a dozen other times. But as they say, it only takes one.
NOTE: I am writing this as Hurricane Dorian moves off to sea after devastating the Grand Bahamas and threatening the east coast of Florida. We will all remember that one.
Bob Griffin, Indian Rocks Beach