Part I, Lessons from Hurricane Ian – The Context

Posted originally on the conservative tree house on October 29, 2022 | Sundance

Many CTH readers know I have been involved in hurricane prep and recovery as a longtime member of a civilian emergency response team.  I have physically been through four direct hurricane impacts and responded to recovery efforts in more than fifteen locations, often staying for days or weeks after the initial event.

Through the years I have advised readers on best practices for events before, during and after the storm. In this outline my goal is to take the experience from Hurricane Ian and overlay what worked and what doesn’t work from a perspective of the worst-case scenario.

Hurricane Ian was a worst-case scenario.

Let me be clear from the outset, I am not advising anyone to put greater weight on my opinion or ignore local emergency officials or professionals in/around the disaster areas. What I am going to provide below is my own experience after decades of this stuff, against the backdrop of Ian, and just provide information that you may wish to consider if you are ever faced with a similar situation.

Hurricane preparation can be overlaid against other types of disaster preparation, there are some commonalities.  However, for the sake of those who live on/around the U.S. coastal areas where hurricanes have traditionally made impact, the specifics of preparation for this type of storm are more pertinent.  I’m going to skip over the basic hurricane preparation and get into more obscure and granular details, actual stuff that matters, that many may not be familiar with.

Let me start by sharing a graphic that you may overlay with the information you may have already seen from national media coverage.  The graphic below shows Hurricane Ian in relation to Southwest Florida and points to locations that you may have seen on the news.  The context of understanding Ian is going to be critical when contemplating preparation, so it must be emphasized.

This satellite image was likely taken around 4 to 7 pm on the evening of September 28, 2022, approximately three hours after Hurricane Ian officially made landfall at Bokeelia, a small community on the Northern end of Pine Island. All of my discussion below is from the ‘major impact zone’.

The satellite image above was taken during daylight after five or six hours of hurricane force winds (150+ mph) had already been impacting the SWFL coast.

For the areas of greatest impact, the event began roughly around 1:00pm and lasted until around 9:00pm.  Ignore the red and dark area (rainfall) and instead focus on the green/blue ring around the eye, that is the “eye wall”, or what we call the “buzzsaw“.

From the perspective of the Fort Myers Beach, Cape Coral, Pine Island and Sanibel area, the first round of severe winds came from East to West around lunchtime on 9/28.

By 2pm the entire SWFL coastal region was without power.  The easterly wind lasted about 2 hours, then as hurricane Ian meandered off the coast (retaining fuel) in a generally north-northeast direction, the winds shifted coming from the South.  This is when the buzzsaw really started destroying buildings and infrastructure.

Ian was only moving in a forward direction around 5 to 8mph.  That 150 mph buzzsaw (eyewall) is about 40 miles wide.  Only half of the buzzsaw (the eastern side) was over land.  The western side was providing hot water fuel the entire time.  That buzzsaw was over the SWFL coastline for more than 8 hours.

Sanibel Lighthouse, Before and After 

At approximately 5pm the most severe part of the storm surge started coming into the SWFL coast as the South and West winds began pushing massive amounts of water from the Gulf of Mexico onto the coast.

You have likely seen video from Fort Myers Beach as these moments were happening.  The storm surge continued growing in scale for several hours.  Combined with the wind, this storm surge is what erased most of the structures on Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel, Captiva, Upper Captiva Island, Saint James City, Pine Island, Matlacha and Bokeelia.

The 5 to 9pm timeframe is also when most of the flooding and storm surge damage took place in South Fort Myers and Cape Coral.  Even after the buzzsaw cleared the area (9pm), the winds from the West at the bottom of the storm kept the water level high.

The water exit (back into the Gulf of Mexico) did not begin until the tidal shift after midnight.  Due to the slow movement of the storm the total time of the storm surge impact was a jaw-dropping 8 to 10 hours.  Many people drowned.

The old axiom remained mostly true, “hunker down from wind, but run from water.”

Now, I say “mostly true“, because to be brutally honest -due to the unique nature of Ian- if you are going to be inside that killer buzzsaw for 8 hours, hunkering down is really not a safe option.  Fortunately, Ian was a rare system in terms of its slow-moving nature, even after hitting land.  Most hurricane impact events are less than 3 hours in duration.  Ian was dangerously unique.

To give scale to the size of the buzzsaw, again we are talking about the most dangerous part of any hurricane – the eyewall itself, this next image shows a comparison between the eyewall of Hurricane Charley in 2004 and the eyewall of Hurricane Ian in 2022.

That is the eye of Charley overlaid inside the eye of Ian in almost the same location.  You can see how much bigger the buzzsaw was for Ian as opposed to Charley.

Both Hurricane Charley (’04) and Hurricane Ian (’22) came ashore in generally the same place.  Charley made official landfall at Upper Captiva Island and Ian at Bokeelia. The distance between both landfall locations is only about 4 miles apart as the crow flies.

Both storms were Cat-4 landfall events.  However, Charley was much smaller, had a smaller buzzsaw and moved quickly around 20 mph.  Ian was big, had a much bigger buzzsaw and moved slowly around 5pmh.

The duration of Charley was around 2 to 3 hrs.  The duration of Ian was around 8 to 9 hrs.   Ian was bigger and just moved slower.  Inside this distinction you discover why, despite their almost identical regional proximity, the damage from Ian was much more severe.  Topography was changed.

I am focusing a lot of time on this similarity aspect because you cannot take a previous storm reference as a context for your ability to survive the next storm.  They are all different, even when they hit the same place.

While more SWFL people evacuated for Hurricane Ian, and that is a profoundly good thing, the memory of getting through Hurricane Charley likely made many people think they could just prep, hunker down and get through it.  The “I got this” reference of surviving through Charley may have led to people dying, because Ian wasn’t Charley…. not even close.

Having said that, I personally over prepare for these events.  This time it was critical.

You have likely seen video from the hurricane area during the event.  You have likely seen video from areas in/around the impact zone.

However, let me tell you something you have not seen…..

…. you have not seen any video of what was happening inside that eyewall.  You have not seen any video of the buzzsaw at work.

Why?  Because anyone who would attempt to step outside a structure into that buzzsaw would not survive.  Any CCTV equipment, camera or video recording attached to a structure inside that coastal buzzsaw was almost certainly destroyed.

A physical human body does not step into 150 MPH winds and return.

This is a fury of nature, a battle where the odds are against you, that you may or may not be aware you are contemplating when you are choosing to stay or evacuate.  It’s not the hurricane per se’, it’s that much smaller killer buzzsaw – the eyewall- that you are rolling the dice, never to see.

When it comes to the eyewall, the truest measure of the “cone of uncertainty“, the difference between scared out of your mind and almost certain death, is literally a matter of a few miles,….  and there ain’t no changing your mind once it starts.

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