Hurricane Erma became a concern for us about 10 days in advance as computer models had a path that directly struck us with wind 5. We are located on the east coast of Florida, a few miles south of the Kennedy Space Center. It matched quite well among the models, which gives us more credibility. Hurricane Harvey, which hit Texas a week earlier, caused fuel shortages. My neighbors and I were discussing options, none of which were appealing. By the time Erma was four days out, her computer models hadn't changed. This is good at times, because the odds of computer models not changing in ten days are very unusual and it only made sense to either stay off the Atlantic coast or turn west to the Gulf. The news reported heavy traffic jams in the interstate evacuation of people in South Florida, and the idea of being part of that mess is really not welcome. There is a website that interactively shows how traffic is flowing and I could see where all the evacuation crowds are. The thought of getting into that traffic and running out of gas in some places was not attractive at all. My wife and I have 3 cats and they don't like to travel. We also have a mother of my wife who lives right next to the street to take care of her cat as well.
We have been through many hurricanes before and when it looks bad we have storm panels that need to be installed to protect windows and doors. We also have a special storm screen that we use to protect garage doors and pools. The pool deck is protected by a protective screen and protects three sliding glass doors. The screen armor attaches to removable eyes, which are bolted into the pool deck by screws into the heavy screws. Over time, the screw holes fill up with dirt, so when Erma was still four days out, I was happy to find a water bottle with a nozzle that sends a jet strong enough to flush out the dirt so you can roll your eyes deep. The armor screen is customized to set up and conceive which is a halfway screen setup job. The armor screen attaches to the eyes with a nylon strap very similar to the seat belt and once I set this up I imagined a tornado blowing the whole house down to the panel and convinced that a piece of roof attached to the armor armor would remain tied to the pool deck. Once the armor screen is in place, you can sit on the pool deck and enjoy the storm.
When Erma was out for three days, computer models shifted their way up the embankment at the very top of the peninsula and came straight through the middle of Orlando. This was good news as hurricanes begin to lose power as soon as they move over land, and when it reaches Orlando it would probably be Cat 2 or weaker and will not be able to generate a storm surge that will affect the East Coast. This removed any thought of evacuation.
One of the things I bought after the 2004 storm that hit us, Charlie, Jean and Francis, was the generator. I did a good job on a 7KW generator that had a 220 socket. The 220 socket allows you to use a return cable to power the entire house. When you get the whole house back in the first place, first unplug the power so that you do not return the entire neighborhood. This would certainly damage your generator. To do this safely, turn off all circuit breakers, connect the generator, turn on the generator, and then watch the circuits one by one, being careful not to run the air conditioner circuit, which would overload my 7 kW generator.
My generator had been sitting in my shed for about 12 years, and I had never started it, or inserted gas. One storm in the past has come close enough to put oil in years ago, but never fuel. When we lose power during a storm, it only wears out for a few hours. A few previous storms when we evacuated, I could easily monitor things in the house by simply pinging my web servers. If I go back to the ping, the power was on. Any storm that threatens to come here, I take the precaution of filling gasoline cans just in case I need to start the generator. After the storm, I normally empty the buckets into the cars. Another good thing to have after a storm is propane for a gas grill. Our gas grill has a side oven for cooking only if the power goes out. I had an empty propane tank I wanted to refill.
During Hurricane Mathew, they shut off the water to the barrier islands and I warned everyone that this could happen again, so I had a 5 gallon spare that I never used for gas and I filled it with tap water just in case. That turned out to be a very good decision.
The storm was forecast to arrive very late Sunday and early Monday. By Saturday, stores were boarding but were still open. I last arrived at the store on Saturday with the intention of stopping at a hardware store to fill up a propane tank. When I walked past the hardware store there was no way I could get into their parking lot as it was completely full and cars were in the parking lot waiting for someone to pull out so they could park. Erm's computer models moved further west, so Tampa directly hit the bay.
When the neighborhood ever storms, we only share these cheap Walkie Talkies for Family Radio System just in case the phones go down and this storm is no exception.
Later on Saturday I called the equipment store to see if they had any propane and they had just received a shipment and could they fill my tank. When I arrived there was a line of people waiting for the propane tanks to fill up, and I didn't have to wait too long.
The NOAA website has a nice real-time radar site, and by Saturday night you could see a storm approaching south Florida. When a hurricane approaches, it usually sucks in every bad weather. Usually the day before the storm and the day after the storm is nice, but this was not the case with Erm. Sunday morning I went for a walk around town just to see what was still open and what was happening. I only found a couple of gas stations and one 711, which was extremely busy. Later on Sunday afternoon my mother-in-law came with her cat. The wife and her mother love to play scrable and Yahtzee and that evening they were fully engaged with candles. Late Sunday night the wind was rising.
I was watching my meteorological station, which I had put on the roof just days earlier, awaiting Ermina's arrival. It is one thing to hear the wind blowing very hard, and the other is to have an instrument that says that it actually blows very hard. When the wind got stronger, I retreated to my man's cave where I had my own ham radio station where I could talk to other ham in the area. I hung up the external antenna and laid it on the ground before the storm so I could simply pull it back afterwards. That plan worked great during Hurricane Mathew the year before. There were vertebrae at four evacuation shelters, and there were several others in the air. On Sunday, around 9pm, the power flashed several times and then disappeared completely. I worked with my neighbors holding on to the FRS and checking that we were all without power.
One of the things we keep around the house is small LED lights, so when the power went out, there were lights everywhere. My wife lit candles before the power went out, so the big impact of the power loss was the air conditioning. Back in my radio room, the radio was powered by several batteries, so all my DC radios could work, and the screens lit up so it wasn't completely dark. I had a vintage AM transistor radio and was listening to a local station when I was thinking how to use my mobile phone to receive a NOAA radar website. I was able to connect to the NOAA website using my cell phone and what showed me was that the storm was moving further inland than predicted and that a very strong arm of the storm, maybe 500 miles long, was coming right through our area. For the next few hours, I watched all 500 miles of that rotating belt pound our area. During the storm, I walked into the garage and opened the side door to look into the side yard to get a closer look at the weather. I wanted to walk outside the house and see if we had any visible damage. Inside the house was nice and cramped, dark and warm. During a hurricane, the wind is cold, and you can break the door or window behind the protective panels and get a nice cool breeze through the house, but Erma only brought hot humid air. Around 1am I went out to the garage and inspected the garage door. While the garage door was protected by an armor screen, I could see the door sliding in and out of the pressure pocket the door frame collected behind the screen of the armor. Around 2am the long medium feeder was moving away and a relatively quiet area was now passing. The center of rotation was now in the middle of Lakeland Florida, far farther inland than any model predicted. I took this opportunity to walk outside the house. The wind was still raging and the rain was light but it really hit my face because of the wind. All night long we heard the screen door in the whistle pool hit the wind and I went there earlier to check that they were actually locked. All the heavy furniture was moved in the armor pane, but we let go of swimming pools that had no mass to speak of in the pool. The screen door had a latch two-thirds of the way toward the door, so the toddlers couldn't just let themselves out, so there were two-thirds of the door that could bend and bend in the wind. The wind gathered all the pools by the pool right there at the banging door, with some swimming pools nailed to the door, and one actually managed to escape. I retrieved the fugitive and left the garage on my return. I was happy to see no damage to the house. Later my wife asked me why there was a swimming pool in the garage.
I came to bed after the inspection visit and it was hot and I didn't really sleep. Around 7am I got up, got dressed, and went out for a walk in the neighborhood. The wind was still blowing at about 25 to 30 mph. I walked home to my mother-in-law and walked all around and surprisingly there was no physical damage except the display panel on her screen in the porch. I have met some other neighbors who are doing the same. While the homes were doing well, there was a lot of damage to the trees.
Before breakfast on Monday morning I went for a short drive and found that most traffic signals were down. Most of us know that when you approach an intersection with light, you treat it as a four-way stop. Obviously this information failed to reach everyone. Many treated the outside light as not light and they blow through the intersection as if the light was green. This prompted me to stop research. When I got home, my wife was getting ready to cook breakfast on the side gas burner, so I took off some of my armor and moved the grill outside. Around this time we discovered that there was no water pressure. My wife expressed concern that the cellphone was very charged. I had already prepared an inverter connected to a spare car battery and she thought it was especially good to plan that power source.
By 9:00, 12 hours were gone, and if we wanted to store food in the fridge, now it was time to produce a generator. After never using this generator, I took it out of the shed, poured some test gas into it, and lit it straight up. I quickly grabbed one really long extension cord and inserted it into the kitchen and connected the fridge. I was consoled when I saw the light when the door opened.
The rest of Monday we just relaxed and listened to updates on transistor radio. Before going to bed, we pulled the extension cord into the bedroom for the fan and left the generator, with fuel, in the dark, with a lamp.
The next morning my wife woke me up at about 8 and informed me that the fan had stopped, which meant that the generator was running out of fuel. I filled the generator with the last gas from two 5 gallon buckets. I put empty gas cans in the car and went out to see if I could find an open gas station. I found an open gas station and it was very busy and they were waiting for people. They would only take cash and my $ 50 bill approved me a place fine. That experience irritated me a lot. He spent the rest of Tuesday picking up oak and palm tree branches and removing storm protection.
On Wednesday, we continued to collect and stack branches and limbs along the road. By now, many of the evacuees were coming back to find no electricity or water, and we talked over the radio about what we knew about the progress in restoring electricity and water. One of the things that made this storm unique was that all the leaves on all the trees turned red on all the leaves facing south. By midnight, my neighbor informed me that the water had returned, and a few hours later the electricity was also restored and the difficulty was closed when the air conditioner restored the comfortable conditions in the house.
It was four days later when everyone had restored their water and electricity. Hurricane Erma brought winds of hurricane strength from coast to coast. The lesson learned is that things go a lot easier if you prepare properly. We had candles and flashlights on standby. I had a backup power source for my communications radios and for charging my cell phones. The generator worked as it should. I had fresh water ready and cash in hand. I also have a 100 watt solar panel that I didn't need and I hope it never will, but there is. If I learned anything, those chemical lights, Cylumes, don't hold up. I had a bunch of ballpoint pens in storage and everything went wrong. One thing I have learned to appreciate is the help I have had from my neighbors. We all worked together to solve each other's problems, and it was nice to know that they were all there for us. Nothing can have great neighbors!