As many of you who have followed me on this Patch journey in Creve Coeur, and now Olivette as well know, the majority of my journalism career prior to Patch came in the world of local television news, as a reporter, producer, anchor and news manager in cities around the country.
Right now, with Isaac roaring in the Gulf Coast, with computer models split on a landfall mark between the Florida Panhandle and Texas, I'm most mindful of the time I spent as a news manager in Ft. Myers, FL. Mindful because I was there the last time a hurricane made landfall in Florida.
That area in Southwest Florida hadn't seen a hurricane in decades when I arrived in 2003. As a creature of the Northeast and later the Midwest, I didn't even really know when Hurricane season was on the calendar.
The first year was uneventful.
Then came 2004.
Hurricanes aren't things you can really put into context in a five or ten day forecast. You start to see something brewing off the African coast, and then you just have to wait. And wait. And wait.
You start to hear the language. The "Cone of Uncertainty," which gives you updated tracking of where it COULD be headed. You buy supplies for a hurricane survival kit. And you wait some more.
We first started paying attention to Tropical Storm Bonnie, which while not an imminent threat to Southwest Florida, would certainly be one for the Panhandle. But then Charley made us realize we'd have something more pressing to worry about.
It struck in Punta Gorda, Florida, about 45 minutes north of Ft. Myers, on August 13, 2003. It nearly took the lives of some of my colleagues who were out in the field. Our entire newsroom, which served the NBC and ABC stations in town, had been on 12-on, 12-off shifts for days leading into the storm, so I rode it out at work. My wife and our pets hid in a closet, closer to the heart of the storm than I was.
There was flooding. Downed trees, homes and businesses destroyed, islands washed away in some places.
So you can imagine the dread that came when not too long after that, Frances, Jeanne and Ivan came along, albeit in different areas, for the first 4 hurricane season in one state since 1886.
Katrina is what most of the nation remembers. But she had company, and in record numbers. There was Rita, Arlene, Cindy. It didn't matter that they didn't have a bullseye for our neck of the woods. You still had to watch them. Still had to buy supplies. Still had to work 12-on, 12-off shifts. By then, my wife had justifiably tired of the exercise and evacuated to safer environs.
And then there was the last one. Wilma was the most powerful Atlantic hurricane ever recorded. I was out of town on a job interview in the days leading up to Wilma, and my bosses knew it. To their credit, they got me home in time for me to be of some assistance as we went through the coverage drill yet again.
Wilma made landfall on the Collier County coastline (think Naples & Marco Island) on October 24, 2005, the last Hurricane to do so in Florida.
I still have many colleagues working in the region, and I know they're already busy. Keep them in your thoughts. They're already in mine.