Growing up in Northeast Ohio, we knew the weather was distinct and predictable. Winters were cold and summers were comfortable. With the exception of an occasional blizzard, we knew what to anticipate.
Then came Florida. Eighty degrees and sunshine in January are the normal, but the yearly threat of tropical storms and hurricanes looms. When they strike, the storms can be terrifying. During Hurricane Ivan in 2004, our family’s all brick home was actually breathing as the freight train of wind and rain roared outside in the darkness for nearly four hours. With every “breath”—a sound we never want to hear or experience again—it felt like the entire house was going to crumble around us. Somehow, it didn’t.
It’s fascinating how when each hurricane makes landfall, it has its own personality and unique set of circumstances. When Hurricane Michael hit, the nearly Category 5 winds reached 155 mph and were so strong that towering pines, enormous oak trees, and countless power poles were twisted and snapped like toothpicks in all directions. Giant trees weighing thousands of pounds were tossed and tumbled like toys, and even small twigs impaled the ground, having been propelled like bullets. It took four days to clean up our yard alone.
Once a storm like Michael is over, the realization sets in. Going outside, inspecting the house and property, and checking on the neighbors became the top priorities. Tallahassee was hit hard, but missed complete destruction by roughly 25 miles. The army of out-of-town electrical workers, tree trimmers, and first responders was a miraculous sight. Although 99 percent of Leon County lost power, most of it was restored within five days. Cell towers were knocked down, and it took four days for cell service to be completely restored in Tallahassee.
The real apocalypse took place one county west. How bad is it? No one saw the total destruction that would come to communities 50-70 miles north of the coast. The pictures and videos do not tell the story. The heat and humidity do not abandon this area as hundreds of thousands are left without power. The sounds of generators and chainsaws are constant. The emotional toll and mental effects will linger for months or years as the communities slowly begin to rebuild.
Port St. Joe and Mexico Beach, where Hurricane Michael’s eye hit, are smaller communities where everything is gone. There are no schools for their children. Jobs and incomes have been lost. Tallahassee has become the hub where those affected come to find gas, food, and shelter. Tent cities have been set up to house the National Guard and workers who have come to help clean and rebuild.
But Florida is strong. The neighbors come together. The local officials work around the clock as they try to bring a sense of normalcy to each community. Volunteers come from all over the country, and claims professionals put policyholders on the path to recovery. There is hope and there is good. Communities come back stronger and better prepared for the next hurricane.