There is nothing quite like news of a hurricane to crystallise your thoughts when you are about to set off on holiday, especially when your accommodation lies right in its predicted path. This unfortunate situation has been visited on me twice and on both occasions I found myself glued to the weather reports.
The First Event
The first hurricane that did its best to disrupt my holiday was back in the late 80’s when I was heading for New Orleans. A few days before I was due to leave there were fears that the storm was heading straight for the city and was due to make land fall two days before my arrival. I was unsure as to whether my holiday was going to be washed out and I was riveted to the satellite images that charted the storms inexorable progress towards the Louisiana coast.
Fortunately the Hurricane was to miss New Orleans and hit Lafayette instead. I touched down in the Big Easy to find the city completely undisturbed by the storm. It was a very different story when I decided to take a trip into the countryside to visit a plantation house and to take a tour of the bayous. Just a few miles from New Orleans there were many devastated buildings. I passed a petrol station that had completely collapsed and several houses that were missing their roofs. It was a sobering sight and I was heartily glad that I hadn’t been caught up in the action. I made a mental note to avoid hurricanes at all cost but years later I ignored my own warning.
In 2005 I was heading for Florida but so was a significant hurricane. The first portion of my holiday was to be spent in Orlando which looked to be sitting in the path of the storm. I was debating the wisdom of travelling especially as my airline had offered me a change of date but in the end I decided to risk it. I didn’t know whether to pack my usual holiday attire or to leave my new night shirt, shorts and bikini behind in favour of survival gear or a wetsuit! By the time I actually arrived the path of the storm had altered and it was now due to miss Orlando and pass straight up the gulf of Mexico. The change of course had come so late in proceedings that most other tourists had evidently cancelled because the theme parks were almost empty.
I had a brilliant time with the parks almost to myself and had no impact from the weather but I was due to spend the last few days of the trip on Marco Island to the south and another hurricane was now on its way. This time I wasn’t so lucky and as the hurricane approached the tides started to surge and much of the region was flooded.
The Big Day
On the morning of the storm’s arrival I went down onto the beach and watched in awe as the surf began to whip up and the sea moved inexorably up the beach. The winds were getting stronger and stronger until the gusts could hold my body weight as I leaned into them. The palm trees were being blown almost flat and I was ushered to my room by the hotel staff and asked to remain there until given the all clear.
We were only on the edge of the storm but when it passed it was like Armageddon. The storm surge drove the ocean right up the beach and over the marshes into the hotel pool area. The building was rattling and shaking and the noise was incredible. I was eternally grateful that the eye of the storm was out in the Gulf somewhere.
When I drove back to the airport there was devastation everywhere. The region had missed the worst of the hurricane but the storm system and brought tornados with it and it was these that had done the real damage. I also discovered that the day after I had left Orlando it had been struck but yet another hurricane which had seen everyone confined to their rooms there.
Experiencing a hurricane was extremely exciting but I had been lucky. I narrowly missed being involved in something really serious and have made another metal note to avoid such situations in the future. I wonder if I will keep my resolution this time!
Article by Sally Stacey