Like so many of you; my partner and I monitored Irma’s movements with bated breath and a healthy dose of denial. I was in Homestead on August 24, 1992 when hurricane Andrew, the first storm named after a male (a joke I heard for years afterwards), set its plans in motion against Dade County. I was young at the time, but in my town’s utter devastation I learned valuable lessons about how quickly everything can be swept away, how to sleep outside, the best way to season an M.R.E.(Tabasco sauce) and how to start a campfire. I also learned about how people could come together and help one another and I learned to have faith in humans and in human institutions like the National Guard, FEMA and the Red Cross.
These experiences left me with a strong sense community and goodwill towards humans, but they also informed my decision to escape from Pinellas county and head as far inland as I could possibly get. With that choice made my partner and I decided to head to her father’s house in Clermont, Florida. Clermont is a quiet little town not too far outside of either Orlando or Lakeland and its lands are the most ancient in Florida. Long ago, Lake County was an archipelago in a shallow sediment filled sea that became the swampland around you now. As such it has a higher elevation and an ability to ablate storms that head inland, not that we were expecting the storm to head inland.
I think we all know how this story played out( if not, click here ). Hurricane Irma not only came inland, it almost entirely skipped over Tampa Bay and passed its eye directly overhead of the home we took shelter in. Imagine a home full of 6 adults and 8 dogs along with an African Grey Parrot eating chili and watching Mission Impossible. We set the place up for a hurricane celebration of sorts but at 21:59 we were faced with a power outage and the realization that Irma, the most powerful storm in the Atlantic Ocean’s known history was making a straight line for us. A short time before the winds really picked up I realized I needed to be grabbing NOAA datasets out of their THREDDS database to run through the NOAA Weather and Climate Toolkit, which presents the user with images based on raw data and without the unnecessary commentary of the TV Weatherperson. I was needed in other places so I devised this quick and dirty powershell script to grab the updates and place them into a folder for processing.
The storm passed overnight and I will spare you the moment to moment details of all of us huddled together by candlelight fearful of the howling winds and vibrating floorboards and just say that we made it. The next day things were not as bad as you might expect. The storm broke up on its way to us and the first half of the storm was a category 2 with heavy rain, the second half was was just category 2 winds. We were able to squeeze in a couple hours of sleep and then went outside to see what there was to be seen.
In the image above you can see Lake Minnehaha at 10:38 in the morning. From here the only indications of a hurricane are some branches in the street. Do you see the 3 neighbors on the right side? They are discussing what is in the next photograph.
This tree and dark sky stand in contrast to the peaceful view from 180 degrees away. I took a moment to speak with the owner of the property, who informed me that the house out of view on the right, which had some mild damage, had just been closed on by the new owners. He was scheduled to move out the next morning.
Even that photo has a certain static peacefulness to it, which I feel is contrasted in the photo below.
This photo was taken at the shoreline of Lake Minnehaha at 10:33 in the morning. The area was not static and winds made it difficult to walk without a partner to hold onto. Thankfully, I had one with me. Also down by the shore we ran across some marine damage.
I felt sad for the owners of the boat in this photo taken at 13:29 in afternoon. I imagined that they had moved to this central Florida community with dreams of a quiet, easy life on a lake with a small pleasure boat they could take around when the weather was just right–as it normally is in Florida.
Even during all this natural destruction, life found an opportunity to spring up. While cleaning the yard we came across this little mushroom and its friends. It reminded me that two of my favorite things are natural beauty and serendipity so I went in search of beauty amid destruction.
This fallen branch set the tone for the rest of the day. Complex textures could be found all around. Most especially in fallen trees and their branches.
This fallen branch was once a part of a tree that stood on the shore of Lake Minnehaha. It looked as though the tree had exploded from the winds and had been spread across a large area. I especially loved the rusty color of this tree.
This final photo was my favorite from the entire ordeal. It is of a tree that once existed in the lot across from the house we took shelter in. The subtle and complex colors of the tree’s innards coupled with the ligneous textures of the broken surface combine to trigger a sensation I can only describe as umami for the eyes.
Those are the last of the photos I am sharing for now. I took over a hundred photos this day and I used my file organization script for Microsoft Powershell to organize those photos. The article on that script can be found here.
Earlier I mentioned I threw together a quick script for downloading datasets from NOAA. That quick and dirty Microsoft Powershell script can be found here. It was written and run in Kunbuntu Linux but should work in Microsoft Windows or Apple OSX.
The NOAA Weather and Climate Toolkit for interpreting that data can be found here.