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Up Yours Hurricane Ian: Bracing for the Storm of a Lifetime

A weather radar screen grab of Hurricane Ian making landfall

Hoooo-boyyy, it has been a stressful time here at Highland Fashionista HQ since Hurricane Ian plowed right over us in Charlotte County. However, I hasten to add that our experience pales in comparison to what many Floridians are going through. The stories being told around the state right now are both terrifying and heartbreaking. This was an absolutely catastrophic storm for many, many people, and despite being directly in the path of the storm, all of the people we know have emerged safe and sound. Our house weathered the storm well, and miraculously we did not experience any flooding. Do we have damage? Yes. Absolutely. You cannot endure 160 MPH winds without getting your hair messed up a bit. Will it be expensive? Undoubtedly. But bent pool cages and loose shingles can be repaired, and we are still standing, bent but not broken.


Escaping Hurricane Ian Before it Hit

We weren't actually in residence when the storm hit. My husband was back in the UK working, and I had only just left Florida a week prior having cleaned the place in anticipation of some fall rentals. I'd packed up as much of my stored shop inventory as I could carry and departed for the UK, blissfully ignorant of the coming chaos. In one week's time, I would be glued to the tiny screen on my iPhone, mainlining the storm tracking feature on my NOAA app while I watched this behemoth slowly change its predicted course and position itself for a direct hit as a Category 4 hurricane.

The Saffir Simpson Hurricane wind scale infographic

There's a reason those of us with ties to Florida pay so much attention to exactly how these storms approach and make landfall. You may have heard Floridians refer to the "dirty" and "clean" sides of a hurricane before. Granted, there is no literal "clean" part of any hurricane, but what this does refer is best boiled-down in this handy infographic that was put out by Orlando's WFTV9 in 2020 in the days before hurricane Laura. You can read the full explanation on their page. Basically a hurricane has four distinct anatomical parts that each have slightly different impact on whatever is in its path.

An infographic showing the different sections of a hurricane and the sort of damage they incur

Front Left: This is where storm surge can be most significant

Front Right: THE WORST. Winds, smaller storm systems within the storm, rain bands, lightning...all of it. The front right side of a hurricane is the everything bagel of storms.

Back Left: the weakest point, still not a lot of fun

Back Right: the strongest winds of the hurricane

When Ian made landfall, our place was pretty much in the front to front left quadrant, and we spent a good chunk of time in the storm's eye wall, the condensed area surrounds the eye and packs the most powerful punch. In the case of Ian, that eye was thirty, yes...thirty miles wide. This clip was recorded by my next door neighbour, who captured the fury of the eye wall as it passed over. Like a lot of Floridians, she and her husband rode out the storm at home.

Phew, right? At this point our pontoon boat had blown off the lift and floated away. You can see the empty lift in the background.

Since 2002, homes in Florida are built to code that dictates they withstand hurricane force winds, referred to as the FBC (Florida Building Code). This change happened on the back of some of the lessons learned from Hurricane Andrew, which pretty much took out Punta Gorda in 1992. If you look at Punta Gorda (situated directly across the Charlotte Harbor from us), a majority of their homes and buildings are still standing. This is because so much of that city was rebuilt to the new Florida building code. Our home, built in 2016-2017, was built similarly.

Our community has a canal system that leads to a lagoon, which then joins into the Charlotte Harbor, which then feeds into the Gulf of Mexico. Normally, when a hurricane approaches it sucks all of the water out of the harbors that flow into the Gulf, only to have it come rushing back with force once the storm passes over. It was this phenomenon that caused so much catastrophic damage throughout Southwest Florida.

Unlike with the Florida building code upgrade of 2002, there is no code or amount of sand bags that will keep the raging Gulf in check when it gets tossed ashore by a CAT 4 hurricane. This was a major cause of so much of the destruction and loss of life we are seeing with this storm.

We are lucky where we are situated, because the lagoon that connects our community to the Harbor via a series of canals is surrounded by mangroves, and most importantly, has a lock that opens and closes so boats can pass through. The water cannot freely just flow in and out from the lagoon to the harbor, it has to work a little harder if it wants to flood. This is a big reason we didn't get hammered by the surge as badly as they did in other places.

This reverse surge phenomenon was observable in the Charlotte Harbor as Ian approached.

A photo of the Charlotte Harbor with the water having receded prior to hurricane Ian

The Aftermath of the Storm

In the immediate aftermath of the storm, with literally no communications working, it felt like a loooong wait until we could get some news on our friends, neighbours and property. My husband's BFF is a concractor stateside, and he offered to go down to our house, take stock of the damage, and secure the roof to repair any shingles and make sure it was watertight.

We were so relieved and grateful to him for this offer that when we finally did get a text from our neighbour shortly thereafter, it took me a full minute to process it. After reassuring us that all was well and the property came through like a champ, things took a turn for the weird. At the end of her text was the following note.

"you have a couple from the UK staying in your house. Very nice. Didn't ask how long they were renting. No power or water still."


Our October rental showed up. From the UK. The day after the storm. They had booked through the home management company for the month, and apparently not wanting to miss their holiday and not having gotten any correspondence from the management company, flew from the UK to go to a rental house in a town where literally 24 hours prior, a CAT 4 hurricane had made landfall and left destruction and chaos in its wake. We were stunned. We had not even been able to get in touch with our home management company ourselves at this point. No comms were working anywhere near us. We had no idea if the people who manage our home were even accounted for at this point.

We figured the British holidaymakers must gotten a welcome email from the rental company with all the codes to get in, and I guess just figured they'd just pitch up and hope for the best. But I'm not gonna lie, Im having a hard time wrapping my head around it. Laying aside the appropriateness of the whole thing, Just to arrive there, they had to have driven through a lot of heartbreaking devastation. At that point there was still a lot of flooding and debris on the roadways. It is actually kind of a miracle they arrived without being stopped, or worse yet without having gotten themselves in serious trouble or killed by a downed power line or some such.

Like everyone at that point, we had no power in the house. No water. No AC. No sewer. At the time of this posting, we still don't have power, a week later. We did for about a day, then a damaged transformer blew. So power may be a bit of a wait. In addition, most of the screens were blown out of the lanai, and parts of the cage were twisted and loose, making opening any doors to the house an invitation to every bug in Charlotte County. But by golly these people wanted to stay. There was no way to cook or bathe. They had apparently picked up enough info to know to flush the toilets with a bucket of water, but what they couldn't know is that the houses in our area have mini sewers, a septic-type system that fills to a certain point, then a pump kicks in to suck the waste out to the main sewer. If you have no electricity, you have no pump. Eventually if you keep flushing toilets with no power, that sewage is gonna back right up into your drains and come shooting out at you through your shower drain while you're in your bathroom, unsuspectingly plucking your eyebrows.

This was not the post hurricane problem set I was anticipating, and my husband and I were quite literally stunned into silence. With no comms working and our management company AWOL, how can we even begin to approach this? Renters in the house with no power! When there's no light people burn candles! My imagination was running through house burning down scenarios on a loop.

My husband did finally get to speak to the people in our house, thanks to our neighbour. I have to say, it took my husband considerable time and energy to convince them that they needed to pack up and vacate our home until we could secure it and services were restored. That not so fun job fell to him because of the two of us, he is the diplomat. If you need conflict resolution, he's your man. If you need someone to reach into the chest of your enemy and pull out his beating heart while looking him in the eye à la Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, that's my department.

In the end, common sense prevailed, and the couple, who were reportedly very nice, moved to another property, or maybe got refunded...I actually don't know, and I don't care. The point is they vacated and allowed us to get on with the task of damage assessment and repair. But that whole completely unanticipated and utterly weird experience did provide me with a rather stark reminder that in life, not everything is always as clear and obvious to others as it may be to us.

So that's it. That's our brush with Ian. It is absolutely small potatoes compared to what many people in our area are going to have to endure for a very long time. If you wish to contribute to the ongoing relief efforts, I'm leaving some links below. If you wish to support us directly, the best way to do so is to make a purchase from the Highland Fashionista Etsy shop, or contribute to the blog. Stay safe everyone, and check the weather before you go on that vacation!

Feeding Florida: coordinating all of the food banks in the state to help provide food for displaced people in the state of FL

World Central Kitchen: providing meals in response to humanitarian, climate, and community crises

Direct Relief: works to equip health professionals in resource-poor and hard hit communities.

American Red Cross: the Red Cross is focusing on providing safe shelter, meals and comfort to victims of Hurricane Ian.

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Oh my goodness I can't believe that the people still went on with their holiday - that would definitely be a unique experience for them! I hope the damage to your house is small and easily fixed!

Hope you are having a wonderful weekend :) Quiet Sunday for us as it's cold and rainy today!

Replying to

It's nothing compared to what other people have to deal with. It's still causing us to have to rethink some of the things we wanted to do and come up with a significant sum, but we're not starting over, so we're grateful that we still have a place.

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