How To Hurricane: A Floridian’s Guide

You do what you can to prepare, and then the choice is sitting up all night having cardiac events every time leaves hit the window, or just go the hell to sleep and deal with everything in the morning.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a Florida native with extensive hurricane experience. Chances are, if it was hurricane above a category 3 that hit Florida between the years of 1978 and now, I have some memory of it, however vague. I actually slept through quite a few, since there’s really nothing you can do but ride it out. You do what you can to prepare, and then the choice is sitting up all night having cardiac events every time leaves hit the window, or just go the hell to sleep and deal with everything in the morning. It’s basically a form of Christmas that no one looks forward to, presided over by a big, soppy ball of wind and rain that leaves wreckage instead of presents.

Matthew was the first serious hurricane I’ve dealt with by myself. It was pretty daunting, considering I know exactly what hurricanes are capable of. Some hurricanes can cause tornados – 2004’s Charley, if I remember correctly, had something like 70 tornadoes, total. Some of them left literal trails of destruction, marked by giant billboards twisted around like pretzels or cars flipped onto their roofs. I’ve already talked about some of the stuff I saw in Miami after Andrew, and what my father saw after Hugo. And of course, there was the most well-known hurricane of all in recent memory: Katrina.

As a child I have a memory of going outside after a hurricane and finding our holly tree- an old tree with a trunk about 4 feet across- snapped off at the base. Just broken, the white heartwood gleaming in the sun.

So I took the news seriously and prepared.

I got gas, I got plenty of water, snacks, and food that would last. Being prone to accidents, I have a pretty extensive First Aid kit. I filled Ziploc bags with water and put them in my freezer; you do this in case you lose power, so the ice bags keep your food cold. I had plenty of food and water for Herzog, and got his carrier out in case I’d have to evacuate. I bleached my bathtub but didn’t fill it. I put my lawnmower in my neighbor’s shed, and stowed all my lawn furniture. I already have lots of candles, matches, flashlights, and batteries, so I didn’t need to buy those.

Welcome to Entmoot!

Last of all, I parked my car on a side street away from my house. The reason why is this:

If my car is Bilbo, that tree is Smaug. Also, wave to my tiny car! He’s so cute.

This tree is a Southern Live Oak. They can live for several hundred years – that one by my car is easily well over a hundred, maybe even two! You find giant live oaks like this all over the south – Savannah is lousy with them, and they are gorgeous. One of the oldest in the south is estimated to be about 1500 years old. They are hardy trees, and can survive wildfires and hurricanes, if they get to a certain age.

Most of the time, I love my trees. Do you hear me, trees? I love you! Despite all the weird tree-dirt, leaves, and dead lizards you drop on my car even in gentle breezes; the occasional huge branches that fall in my yard and scare the hell out of me; the PILES of bug-ridden Spanish Moss you shed; and your stupid, stupid slick leaves that are like trying to sweep up oiled Bicycle cards with a wet broom,  I love youYou provide shade and keep my house cool so my power bills aren’t that high; you are full of squirrels and birds that are entertaining to watch; your shawls of Spanish Moss drift dreamily on the breeze; you are survivors, and your long life and huge size humble me.

But you don’t live forever, and when you go out, you take a lot of shit with you.

There are FIVE of these types of trees around my tiny house. FIVE. They are healthy, and trimmed once a year, but still, when you have a situation like this, you can’t help but worry:

I call that branch hanging right over the roof “Doombringer.” Even from the very beginning, I have lived in fear of that particular Branch of Damocles. But the trimmers never cut it! In spite of everything, it is a healthy branch that balances out the rest of the tree! And yet it hangs, ever present, like the finger of a vast, bark-skinned God… what was I talking about?

Matthew, You’re On

Thursday, I took a half-day at work and headed home to finish preparations. Also because I was useless at work, since all I could do was worry. In addition to all the other preparations, I changed my cat’s litter (because why not) and did laundry. I brought my few branch trimming tools into the house, and put them next to my bed. My logic was, if a huge branch fell through my roof and I survived its landing, I might have to cut my way out. Obviously, I was more worried than I thought I’d be, and I deal with anxiety by preparing for the worst.


Still, I reached a point where there was nothing more to be done, so I settled in to wait. I watched season 2 of Detectorists, and then started watching season five of American Horror Story. As the winds rose, I drank wine. I went to bed around 10. It was a long, sweaty night, spent waiting for the creaking and crash that would indicate one of the massive trees going over, of the sound of an arboreal titan smashing through my roof and giving me just long enough to laugh at the irony before being speared to my bed, and taking hours to die.

We had been told to expect our power to go out, so I waited for that to happen as well. But overhead, my fan kept spinning, and the numbers on my cheap alarm clock blazed as fiercely as ever. Nothing came through the ceiling. I’d fret myself to sleep, doze for a bit, and then another gust or sound would wake me up. Still, it was a long, long, sweaty night.

The power going out was the least of my concerns; I was without power for ten days after Charley, and while it sucks, it’s preferable to waking up with a tree on your head. The water still works when your power goes out, and cold showers don’t bother me. I was even ready to try and cook over a fire in my cast iron skillet! I’m not saying I was disappointed that my power never went out – CHRIST no!- but I was prepared for the worst.


By Friday morning, the hurricane’s eye was no longer level with Orlando, and was creeping up the coast toward Georgia.

Since everything was closed, including my office, I slept in a bit. Delighted to find I was not crushed beneath a tree, and still had power despite the torrential rain and wind outside, I was even more delighted to find I still had internet. I spent all day Friday watching more AHS and glancing out the window.  Once the weather calmed down, I put on my raincoat and galoshes and went outside to check for any damage. I found a lot of mess, but nothing serious. My wind chimes never even blew down. Hell, the wasp’s nest on the wind-chimes never even blew down.

I was seconds from marking myself ‘safe’ on Facebook when a huge piece of wood crashed down into the backyard and splintered. One of the things Spanish Moss does is retain water, so in addition to the water soaking the bark and coating the leaves, the moss absorbs it and gets heavier and heavier. Imagine standing in the rain with towels on your arms and you’ll know what I mean. Limbs might come down hours after a storm, even if the sun is shining. It seemed premature to tell everyone I was safe, so I just let my friends and family know I was alive and left it at that.

Saturday the rain stopped. A layer of twigs, small limbs, Spanish Moss, and leaves carpeted the entire neighborhood, but no trees went over and we didn’t lose power. We’re also close to a river and wildlife area, so we almost never flood because the water drains off right away.

My backyard. The gray stuff is Spanish Moss.

Putting In the Work

I got started raking and bagging, and within two hours, had finished the backyard, front yard, and even a little bit of the neighbor’s yard, since she had to be at work. It never got above 75, for a wonder. I guess Matthew left behind some fall weather… which is FINE with me. All told, we got off very easy. The Carolinas didn’t, and I feel terrible and have a bit of survivor guilt about it.

Several people I know lost power, some for days. My coworker’s living room ceiling collapsed, and a few people lost trees or patio furniture, but thankfully none of them hit anything. There was certainly worse damage elsewhere in town.

All that remains!

I filled seven giant bags with debris and dragged them down to the curb. I guess my trees, which have been around for at least four times my lifetime, weren’t too bothered. If anything this was a good pruning for them, and they’ll be even stronger come the next storm.

Thanks for Reading!

So that’s what I was doing for four days! I also watched some movies, one of which is being added to ‘Werewolf Week,’ except it’s not werewolves, it’s… werecats? Shapeshifters? Eh, it’s all good.

After that, we’ll be having SHARK WEEK – a very dear friend of mine had a hysterectomy recently, and used to refer to her special lady time as ‘Shark week.’ In honor of her last shark week ever, we’ll be discussing  Jaws 2, The Shallows, and something else involving sharks. I’ll have to see what I can dig up.

And, I have an announcement! This blog now has 200 readers! INTERNET FAME ACHIEVED! I’ll try not to let it go to my head, heh.

Tune in Friday for this week’s entry in Horror Move Month – Hush, about a deaf woman trapped in her house, fending off a sadistic stalker! Goes with the theme of being trapped in one’s house, eh?

So long for now, and have a great week!

Were you affected by the hurricane? What was your experience like?

Author: jennnanigans

Orlando-area writerly person.

9 thoughts on “How To Hurricane: A Floridian’s Guide”

  1. I’m from the Midwest and we don’t get hurricanes, so this was fascinating to read. At most we might get a strong thunderstorm, and lose power. My mom is full of anxiety just about that thing. We live in the city so we don’t get many tornadoes either. The most we have to worry about is getting too cold and too much snow. Sometimes it gets so cold enough that businesses and schools close, but that about it.

    Wow! You have beautiful trees, though. I hope they live a good long time.

    Oh, and HI! tiny car!

    What are those odd wall like things in front of the doors of everyone’s homes. Is that just a neighborhood design, a Florida thing in general, or what?

    1. The wall things are kind of a random Florida design – some of the duplexes have solid ones that you can hide your trash cans behind, others have lower walls and they’re for… I guess little patios? Hanging plants on? No idea, honestly!
      I’m glad you don’t get tornadoes or hurricanes, but I’m fascinated by snow. I’ve NEVER seen real snow, or been in a snowstorm, or anything like that. My attempts to see it have been thwarted by unseasonable warm spells! I went to Atlanta to visit my best friend right after the Snowpocalypse and was all excited because SNOW, and no, it was all melted by the time I got there.
      Sorry your Mom has anxiety over losing power!

      1. Being in a snowstorm I like nothing describable. It’s not really even as cold as you’d think. But it’s kinda awesome, as long as you have the option of going indoors.

  2. I have zero anxiety over this sort of thing. I understand the naked power of hurricanes and have been through a few in my life. Other than loss of power for like a day and eating cold canned food, I was lucky enough that I didn’t experience any of the truly catastrophic events that happen to a lot of people. The only annoying thing to me was the lack of branches that needed the sweet, sultry kiss of my new chainsaw, that I bought in anticipation of the Charley-level of detritus I thought would be strewn all over the streets of Winter Park.

    Shark movies? Renny Harlan’s 1999 magnum opus, “Deep Blue Sea” is top on my list!

    1. Yeah, I think I’m going to find a copy of that – if you have one I’d like to borrow it!
      Ha ha, yes, I knew you were anxious to use your new chainsaw! Must have been frustrating! I was looking forward to cookign on a fire in my backyard, using my cast iron skillet. I guess I could still DO that if I really wanted to… and Darby wants to bring his firepit to the potluck…

  3. I got kind of excited for Hermine–all my time in eastern NC and Houston and never got hit. But we lost power early and I lost interest in staying awake. Slept through the entire thing. We did go without power for a day and a half, so I got to cook some meals on the Coleman camp stove.

    1. Heh, yeah, when you haven’t had one in a while or have never been through one hurricanes seem like this cool test of character! I was definitely wondering how I’d do through Matthew- and like I mentioned, was totally prepared to cook on my cast iron skillet in the yard over an open fire.
      Glad you have a camp stove! We used one after Charley and it was awesome.
      Thanks for leaving a comment! 😀

  4. I’ve lived in Florida since early 1973, minus those three years I was living in Regensburg, so I’m right there with you on hurricanes. You just make your preparations, settle in, and wait it out. My experience was more or less just like yours, except that it was much less windy and rainy here than was predicted. I’m far enough south that we avoided almost all of it.

    By the way, I didn’t know you have a Fiat! That’s so cute!

    1. Ha ha, thanks! Yes, it’s wee. He can hold a surprising amount of stuff, but the back hatch is narrow so you can’t fit anything wide in.
      But yes – old hands at hurricanes, we South Floridians! 😀

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