​Hurricane Warning: An Irma Experience™

Irma’s finally gone. I’ve lived through the “threat of an oncoming hurricane” phase enough times in my life to have lost count, but the harbinger period of the last week felt like an eternity. Even as early as the day after Labor Day, local stores were mostly out of bread and water. Newscasters love to talk about Floridians’ “hurricane amnesia,“ but it was pretty clear there was a good bit of healthy fear for this one.

I waffled between dismissive optimism and speculative anxiety all week, well after we stocking up on tons of food, water, gas, batteries, and flashlights. By mid-week, we’d decided to pack valuables in plastic tubs, move furniture and electronics away from the windows (I even plastic-wrapped our dining room PC and desk), and set a milestone for deciding to evacuate or stay. I was even able to take advantage of my parents’ Christmas gift of a drone to take some video of the roof and surrounding area, just in case. You can only do so much of this kind of preparation work before the dread sets in.

As fate-tempting as it felt, we enjoyed a rainy day at the Magic Kingdom on Friday, mostly to take advantage of the strange opportunity and to try to cut through the anxiety we were all feeling leading up to landfall. When things started closing around mid-afternoon on Saturday, you could really feel the unease set in everywhere you went. Back home, we focused on completing Overcooked (fantastic) and Tomb Raider (better than Uncharted, fight me), but as I went to bed that night, I knew, finally, tomorrow was going to be “the day.”

I woke up to a little rain and a light wind, but nothing major. Rob, Erik, and I took turns wheeling our cars into the driveway during one of the heavy rain bands and gave each a much-needed scrub down, converting the palpable tension into silly joy. We ventured out to the airport Wawa on a Twitter lead, but both it and Waffle House were all closed up. Between that, the completely empty toll roads, and the alerts from Dark Sky, the atmosphere was downright eerie. But it looked like East Orlando was going to miss the worst of it.

Sunday afternoon, the storm starting tracking north, and the probability of an Orlando impact jumped a bit. We hadn’t boarded windows and the storm wasn’t as strong as it had been, but that latent fear of “what if it turns?” started to feel more and more justifiable. Around 8:30pm, the noise of the wind was audible from every room of the house. Trees and branches were bending at ridiculous angles, only to be immediately bent the opposite direction just as far. The rain drops were ruffled sheets blowing horizontally across yards and up and over houses. I stepped outside briefly and listened to the storm emit what sounded like a large, slow plane moving through the area, creeping closer and closer.

We tried to stay focused on storm coverage but it was tough. Our neighbor’s broken screen door slammed to and fro as the winds picked up, and as much as I wanted to ignore it and stay distracted, it wasn’t happening. I started to hear a different sound outside, like banging metal, and I was worried the neighbor’s door was about to fly off the hinges. On quick inspection, my heart sank a bit: a section of my house’s soffit (metal flashing that covers the bottom of a roof’s eaves) had ripped clean out of its track and was violently flapping around in the storm.

It’s funny how quickly your state of mind changes the second you see actual damage. All semblance of positive reinforcement about the low probability of damage and destruction bleeds out in seconds. Immediately the three of us were outside with a ladder, staple gun, tape, towels, a hammer and nails, and all manner of impromptu responses trying to stop whatever was happening from getting worse. We quickly realized that not only was the soffit dislodged but the entire section of J channel the soffit panels slid into had been ripped off the roof and into the backyard. We made some feeble attempts to staple what was there back to the eave, but with the wind blow rain up our noses and into our eyes it was not very successful. We had to accept that further damage was possible and to try to put it out of mind (spoilers: impossible). Pretty quickly I just couldn’t stand the anxiety of potential further damage anymore and forced myself to sleep in the least noisy room of the house.

I remember waking up around 7-8am and immediately feeling a wave of relief that the storm had passed, damage or not. A quick survey of the house revealed no obvious further damage, but we later discovered several missing shingles from various sections of the roof. It was still plenty windy (gusts up to 50mph were still occasionally slipping through the area for hours), and there was a littering of plant debris scattered across everyone’s yards, including a dusting of shingles from around the neighborhood and one of our road signs. Somehow, miraculously, we never lost power for more than a couple seconds throughout the whole ordeal and appeared to be the only loop in the complex to have fared that well—even the traffic light to the complex was out for days after. We made breakfast sandwiches (bacon and cheddar on an English muffin, mmm) and waited at home for the county-wide curfew to lift at 6pm.

Pro-tip: don’t go driving right after a curfew has been lifted. It’s almost as if thousands of others were waiting for the same opportunity! With the motivation of alleviating some accrued cabin fever and potentially, however unlikely, finding an open restaurant for food, we ventured out only to run into a wall of traffic in all directions. We made our way to a confirmed-open Wawa to find a store completely out of food with lines of cars spilling into the road for gas. Just before arriving back home, we dipped into another Wawa and waited for close to half an hour for a set of fresh subs. I wanted my zany hurricane meal, and dammit I got it.

For as dreadful and unpredictable as the storm build-up and flyover had been, I wasn’t prepared for the frustration and helplessness the next few days brought. My work closed through Tuesday, then Wednesday, then Thursday, but Rob’s office didn’t even communicate its status until late Monday night. It was difficult at best to figure out if anything was open (or even had power), and even then places were unstocked or being overloaded by customers without power at home. Even today as I write this, plenty of coworkers are still without power, hoping it’ll be back before week’s end.

There was a dissonance in participating in any online discourse; the entire physical world around me was dealing with an alternate reality than the one chugging along online. That dissonance stuck with me and left me thinking about other times when friends and family had gone through similar times and I had barely noticed. Irma was terrifying and caused plenty of damage but was so, so much weaker than was predicted. What would the world around me be like today, tonight, if not for the slight weakening in the storm?

An enormous “thank you” to all of you that reached out to check on me in the past several days. I’ll admit, at first it was a little off-putting; neither you nor I knew what to say about the coming storm or the situation. Our nets are wide online and it’s easy to forget to show you specifically care, especially when the situation is so unclear and uncomfortable to think about. And really, I feel most were able to see via social media that we were taking appropriate steps. But as I was unpacking my valuables and buying replacement roofing parts, some voices I didn’t hear from stood out to me the most. When not even the specter of a deadly hurricane is enough to inspire outreach, the silence is loud and clear. As large as this storm could have been, it left me feeling very small.

But I’m thankful for what happened (and really, what didn’t happen). With much-appreciated help, I’ve already been able to repair the soffit and purchase replacement shingles. Thanks to work for closing appropriately, and thanks to Rob and Erik for riding through the storm with me. On to the next one.

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I was going to write a bit more of a life update, but here’s the cliff notes:

  • Just before all of this hurricane mess, I had perhaps the best Labor Day vacation ever. Thanks to Vic, Paul, Robert, Erik, and Rob for an unforgettable trio of jam-packed days. If I can find the time I’d like to do a little write-up for this.
  • For August, I completed a couple goals, including successfully migrating all of my passwords to 1Password. If you do anything for the rest of the year, make sure it’s to adopt the usage of a password manager. I love 1Password so far, but definitely check out LastPass. Both seem equally excellent.
  • I also finished reading The Power of Habit, which I would recommend to basically everyone. The advice can be distilled to just a few tips, but the anecdotes help them stick around in your mind.
  • At work, I successfully launched a product I’ve been working on for a client department for the better part of a year. It’s something we’ve tried to tackle since 2013 and most in my department thought would never be done. It’s a huge monkey off my back and I’m really happy how it all came together. I may write about this too, one day!
  • In the midst of all this hurricane madness, I weighed in at 195. Now that I’ve been solidly under 200 for a month or so, I plan to do a small post on how I’ve shed those 50 or so pounds.
  • Why, why late October Apple. You’re killing me.#firstworldproblems