10 Years After Hurricane Wilma, We Remember The Late-Season Storm That Made A Memorable Impact
If ever a weather event earned an inferiority complex, it would be Hurricane Wilma. That storm, whose 10th anniversary is noted in this issue, was the victim of bad timing. It had the misfortune to occur in late October after two seasons that had been a perfect storm of perfect storms.
The most notable, of course, was Katrina, which flooded New Orleans and left such memorable images as whole sections of Interstate 4 washed out along the Gulf Coast in Alabama. Massive reinforced concrete bridges had disappeared as if they were balsa wood. That was in August. It was part of a record season for named storms, several of which affected Florida. Florida had already been bruised the previous year with hurricanes that, while not catastrophic, had messed up both coasts of central Florida. Neighborhoods in the Port Charlotte area saw many houses still sporting blue tarps a year after it was hit. After the highly publicized devastation of Katrina, we were pretty much stormed out. Nobody was in the mood for a late-season blow.
We sure were not. Sitting in the cocktail lounge of Mica’s in Sapphire Valley, North Carolina, enjoying the fall foliage in the gathering shadows of late afternoon, overlooking a gurgling stream, we first met Wilma long distance. The TV reported a hurricane in the Atlantic headed toward Fort Lauderdale. Go home? Nah. Didn’t seem like much of a storm. How bad could it be this late in the season?
Overnight we changed our mind. We were due to come back in a few days anyway. Might be smart to be at home. Several days later, we got hit. The top blew off of a huge mango tree in a yard behind us, and that uprooted a 50-year-old oak, which sprawled across our deck and in turn flattened a grapefruit tree protruding from the deck boards. Preoccupied with the back of the house, it took time to notice water pouring through our roof into the living room. In the murky howling light, we saw the reason. A dark spike eight feet high was all that was left of a giant oak in the front yard. Forty-two inches at its base, most of the tree was on our roof, whose 1939 Dade County Pine construction refused to collapse. But branches punched three holes in the roof.
It was exciting and hectic for a few hours. Rolling up carpets, moving furniture, up on a ladder catching buckets full of water as it poured in. Bottom line: Had we not been home, the house would have been flooded and probably destroyed. And yet it was months before friends in the north began to realize that Wilma had been a serious storm.
Most people who move to Florida want to experience a real hurricane. It took 35 years, but we had that experience. No need for an encore any time soon.