As fall break quickly approached, I was excited to be in my family's vacation spot in Boca Grande and be reunited with our dog. Meanwhile, Rollins College Campus Safety and the president were monitoring Hurricane Matthew. In the library Tuesday morning, a friend told me that classes may be cancelled Thursday and she had heard it from a trusted source. To be honest, I had no idea Hurricane Matthew was headed for Florida until she told me.
Later that afternoon, I was scrolling through Facebook avoiding the copious amounts of work I had to do and saw a post saying classes for Thursday and Friday were cancelled. At first, I was surprised because not only what my friend had told me came true, but in fact, Hurricane Matthew was projected to hit southern Florida's coastline and continue its way up to the Carolinas.
Imagine someone who boasts about being from Kansas, but has never experienced a tornado, and then is suddenly presented with the high possibility of an even stronger force of nature on its way to Orlando. Of course, I freaked out. College does not just cancel class for no reason (with the exception of Fox Day).
Anyways, I called my dad who was already en route to Florida, and planned to gather some friends to get gas, flash lights, water, and snacks. Well, my dad arrived late Wednesday night and we decided to leave the next afternoon. After debating staying in shelter in Orlando or making our way towards Tampa and hopefully Boca Grande, we packed up our car and headed west.
We made contingency plans, had go and no-go points, and were basically prepared for the worst case scenario. Here are 6 things that happened on our drive to Tampa as a first stop and eventual arrival in Boca Grande:
1. No Airconditioning
Earlier that morning, my dad had driven to two different gas stations of which both were closed, so to preserve gas, we did not use air conditioning. Until we reached our "go" point, we decided not to use it until we knew we were safe and in the clear. It honestly was not that bad because we opened the windows and sunroof to have some natural wind. Even when it started raining, we left the windows open a little to cool off.
2. Gas stations were out of gas
That being said, there were several places in Florida where gasoline was limited if not gone. When my dad told me he went to two gas stations that both were closed, I really thought about staying in shelter. But, I knew my dad was an eagle scout and always prepared. Using Google Maps, we thankfully avoided I-4 traffic until it was absolutely necessary to take it. On our way, things were looking bad and we almost decided to turn around, but we were so close! Finally, after passing three gas stations with plastic bags on the nozzles and as we got closer to Tampa, we found a gas station with gasoline.
3. Establishing "go" and "no-go" points
As I said earlier, we had these designated spots where we would decide to turn around or to keep going. Thankfully Google Maps helped us avoid I-4 traffic and we went on the turnpike. If traffic was bad there, then we would turn around. It was not bad, and even the tolls were suspended! Another point was a hotel about 100 miles into our journey where we had reservations as a back-up.
Quite a few times my dad considered turning around and me being terrified of the idea of sheltering from the hurricane, persuaded him that this traffic was "normal" and usual for interstate. We only were caught in traffic a few times, and as we made our way to Tampa, I could feel the tension in the car easing up.
4. Having lots of food
Being an eagle scout, my dad had bought a lot of non-cook food meaning we could eat it without cooking it. So, if we had to stay in Orlando, we were prepared and if we got stranded on the highway, we were prepared. We snacked on Frosted Flakes and Tortilla chips until we reached a "go" point and could seek out a rest stop.
As we neared Tampa, we saw a sign for Sonic and decided to take the exit. Well, the Sonic was 2 miles from the interstate, and Florida drivers being Florida drivers, we had to do a little off-road driving to get back on the highway.
5. Weather updates
The radio is a magical thing. While driving west, we wanted to keep ourselves aware of the storm's location in case we did need to turn around and take shelter. After hearing the firs reports of devastation in Haiti, I was so anxious and scared for my friends still at Rollins. Looking back, I know the government and weather channel reporters do emphasize the need to evacuate to everyone because the affect of the storm can be different for various areas. For example, I have heard and seen videos of Rollins and a few trees fell and plants were blown everywhere. In Jacksonville, there was a large storm surge and pieces of hotels and other building debris moving on the streets.
So, while the affect might not have been quite so drastic in Florida as it was in Haiti and the Bahamas, I am glad these weather reporters kept us updated about Hurricane Matthew and encouraged people to evacuate.
Once we reached Tampa and got gas, we decided to make the last leg of the journey to Boca Grande. My brother and I convinced our dad that this was a pretty good "go" point and that we could turn the air conditioning on. After we got to our hotel, we were way to hyped up from the thought of being stranded or sitting out the storm and were so happy we made it.