The eye of a hurricane is an area of completely calm conditions, which is surrounded by the strongest winds of the hurricane. In many cases, you are able to look up through the eye and see blue sky for several minutes, or even an hour. After the eye passes, severe winds and extreme rain instantly resume.
I was hoping to experience this amazing phenomenon with Hermine, but the conditions were not going to perfect. For starters, the “eye” made landfall around 2am.
Furthermore, there was not exactly a true eye. There was a very well defined center, but no real clearing in the sky. It was more just an area where much less rain was falling, and the winds subsided a bit.
As far as our position was concerned, we never actually had the “eye” pass directly over top of us. The right side of the eye ran right over us, and we never ended up “inside” of the eye.
Arriving in Perry, FL
After repeatedly examining the likely landfall locations of Hurricane Hermine, it was evident that Perry, FL would be the most feasible place to get as close as possible to the strongest part of Hermine.
There are not many communities in the Big Bend area of Florida, as the area is all swamp and otherwise forested wetlands. Perry was the closest place to both the eyewall and the Gulf of Mexico where I could sit at a motel all night and watch the storm unfold.
The Royal Inn was a very clean and surprising well kept 1950s motel, setup perfectly for witnessing the storm. The layout enabled us to sit on the porch directly outside of our room, facing the parking lot. The wind was at our back, so the porch awning provided ample water protection for the camera.
The Indian gentlemen running the hotel was one of the most friendly people I have ever met, and there are a lot of friendly and amazing people out there in hidden places. He was enthusiastic in regards to attempting to understand what I was doing in the small and poor town of Perry.
Awaiting the Winds
We were settled into our room by 7:30pm, and the anticipation of the storm was growing for quite awhile, before boredom began to surface. It was after 9:00pm and the outer bands had been moving through for quite a while, and the center of Hermine was growing ever close.
Yet, it seemed as if nothing was happening. Hurricane warnings were everywhere, a Tornado watch was in effect, and now Tornado warnings were beginning to pop up near us. (Isolated spinups were very likely as the bands of Hermine moved ashore.)
From our view out the front and back windows of the motel, the trees were nearly still and light rain was falling. The wind had not gusted to more than 15mph.
On The Weather Channel, one of the several live reporters was on a pier over the Gulf of Mexico, attempting to hype the storm as best as possible.
He picked up a small dead branch off the ground and was attempting to persuade the audience of damage, yet openly acknowledged it was a dead branch already having fallen from a tree. In a moment of desperation, he picked up a couple of very small green leaves.
Holding the leaves with two fingers, he said “Look! These are green, they are healthy damage.” The leaves were not larger than a small pair of tweezers.
It was at that moment Sarah decided she had enough. “I’m getting tired of this silly nonstop coverage!”
We turned the TV to anything else. I eventually found a college football game. I’m not even sure why it was on at all, just because. Next time, we won’t forget to bring books.
A little after 10pm during a tornado warning, we experienced a sudden drastic increase in winds. A deep and very loud howling sound was coming from the southeast, well behind all of the trees.
The noise increased and began to sound like both a waterfall and a low roaring sound. Within several more seconds, the wind gusted to around 70mph. Numerous small objects were suddenly twirling through the air, and several palm leaves flew by.
Unlike regular leaves, palm leaves are very strong. When palm leaves are trimmed by landscapers in Florida, they use chainsaws to cut each leaf off the tree.
After only twenty seconds, the wind subsided completely and the roaring noise moved past. Given that we were under a Tornado warning and a small circulation was very nearby on radar, it seems very likely that this may have been a small and very weak tornado. These types of tornadoes are common with land falling tropical cyclones.
During the “possible tornado”, one of our neighbors apparently must have been locked out of his room. As the peak gusts of winds lasted for around five seconds, they were banging on the door next to us, before it finally was opened. We had a good laugh afterwards.
Another thirty minutes passed before the winds became noteworthy again, but this time they begain to become more sustained. The lights in the room were now beginning to subtly flicker rather frequently.
While Sarah was inside for a few moments, the lights in the parking lot and the entire building abruptly went out, before immediately flickering back on.
The parking lot lights were very dim and needed a few minutes of warming before they would be fully lit again. This allowed me to see a very bright blue and green flash in the sky that was likely a few miles away.
Transformers and power lines were now visibly beginning to be affected. The lights flickered on and off several more times subtly, causing the storm to seem more eerie as the winds continued to increase.
As luck and technology would have it, my camera screen suddenly went black. The battery suddenly went from 100% to 25% in less than 30 minutes. Before the indicator dropped any further or notifying me of “low battery”, the camera abruptly turned off.
I scrambled inside to grab another battery, and had it inserted and powered back up in less than 20 seconds. The new battery indicated it had 8 hours of charge remaining. This would be more than ample, unless of course the camera was completely full of shit and attempting to deliberately piss us off.
“Error recording data. Would you like to recover data?” The camera mockingly asked me when I attempted to get the proverbial film rolling yet again. I angrily yelled “yes” despite knowing the camera couldn’t physically understand my anger.
This message had shown it’s ugly face one other time, and once I clicked “yes” there were no more issues. However, the camera had other plans tonight, knowing fully I was attempting to record a hurricane.
“Recovery Failed. Error Code X0610Whatevermyass”
Okay cool. So whatever the last video I had taken was now gone. I really don’t care at this point, just please work again because the sky is lighting up with exploding powerlines.
I restarted the camera again and hit “No” on recovery. I began recording again, and everything seemed fine.
As the camera was rolling, nothing signficant happened for the next minute. “Buffer Overload, unable to record, writing was not completed in time.”
What? What the hell does this even mean? I had never received this error message before. It appeared the whole memory card was corrupted, or the camera itself was intentionally refusing to record now.
Despite always using only the best of the best quality memory cards, it seemed they were consipring against these critical moments yet again.
I somewhat urgently commanded Sarah to record whatever was happening with her phone. I stormed back in the room and threw the laptop onto the dresser in the motel room, which was only 12 inches off of the ground.
The only thing that could be done at this moment was to copy all of the data off of the memory card and format it. Beyond this, the camera would have to be declared legally dead.
Obviously, this was going to take several minutes and there was no doubt that something insane would end up happening outside. At the very least, the power would be going out during these few minutes.
I went back outside as soon as the transfer started, and decided to just run out into the pouring rain and wind. What a soul-cleansing feeling an intense wind-driven downpour brings.
While stepping back onto the porch of the motel and turning around to face the parking lot, the lights flickered again. A bright green flash was seen in the nearby sky, and now the entire building and parking lot went dark.
This time we knew the power was out for good. A couple more bright green flashes occurred in the distance. Luckily, Sarah managed to capture them on her phone while my shitty camera card was inside being an asshole.
A couple of minutes later the camera was back up and recording for real this time, however it seemed pointless to me for the most part now. It was the middle of the night and with the power out, there were no lights around to provide the camera some illumination.
The best shot I had at recording something interesting occurring would be additional power flashes in the distance. Otherwise, there would be mostly a dark screen and loud howling for the video. I suppose the howling is quite mesmerizing, but only for several seconds worth.
After spending quite of bit of time outside recording, I went back in order to compile a video to upload for news networks. Of course, with no power and in such a small remote town, accessing the internet was going to present some problems.
There was a basketcase of problems this time around. I will spare you the tedious and infuriating details, but let’s just say that there was more than enough reason to smash the video camera directly through the laptop screen, and perhaps to continue hammering it through using the smartphone.
Perhaps the most unexpected and startling moment of the night came while I was yelling at the computer and Sarah was on her phone next to the back window. I thought I was hallucinating or perhaps seeing something from Sarah’s phone when I was noticing a repeated flashing in the corner of my eye.
But then I heard a noise. It was a loud, dull buzzing sound. I turned around and what I saw momentarily left me speechless. It seemed as if a transformer was exploding directly against our window.
The glass itself was quite opague, so you were not able to see through the window when it was closed. Despite that, the entire room was now illuminating a bright glowing green light, as if ailens were right outside the window.
The light pulsed on and off every second for nearly 15 seconds, and with it a very loud and even lowering buzzing or subtle vibrating noise could be both heard and felt through out the room. Without a doubt, this was the most bizzare fiften seconds of my life.
“Sarah…….GET AWAY!” was all that I could muster from the otherside of the small room. I had no idea what was about to happen but it certainly didn’t seem good.
After those brief exciting moments, nothing else happened out of that window. Upon looking again in the morning, there were no power lines or electrical boxes adjacent to the window. So, we aren’t exactly sure where the glowing was coming from, but it was most likely from a transformer on the motel that we could not see.
Dark and Howling Morning
Sarah was too tired to continue and thus ended up missing the peak of the storm. It was just after 1:00am when steady winds of around 40 to 50mph were howling through Perry.
Trees were howling and thrashing around. At times, the wind produced a distinct roaring sound that echoed through the air with great might.
As the center of Hermine passed by, the rains came to a halt but the wind continued to gust. In fact, the wind maintained strong tropical storm force gusts for several hours. Looking at the radar, I assumed the worst of the wind would be done by 3:00am.
This was not the case at all. As the night became morning, I sat cross-legged on the porch drinking a few beers and observing the power of nature. The thrashing of the trees, roaring throughout the air, and occasional blue glowing in the sky continued until just after 5:00am.
As the winds now slowly but notably begin to die down, I decided to get a couple hours of sleep before we would leave at daylight. Not 40 minutes passed before I was woken up by our neighbors, who decided it was time to stand outside our door and talk extremely loud.
While attempting to fall back asleep, I did hear them remark that it did not seem all that bad, which I had to agree with this time around.
Due to the forecast of 8 to 12 or more inches of rain in the area we were staying, I fully expected for the car to be under at least a foot of water when Hermine was done. However, the parking lot never did become flooded.
In fact, the pavement was basically dry by 8:00am that morning. After looking at rain gauge totals from around North Florida, most areas only received between 2.75″ and 4.25″ of rainfall. This fell well short of the predicted 5 to 15″ of rainfall that was expected, depending on the location.
The parking lot of the motel indicated nothing but trivial “damage.” There was not much besides leaves and very small branches thrown around, along with small pieces of scrap.
Damage Around Perry
Upon looking around Perry, there was actually a good deal of noteworthy damage. Some of the items we came across included a Hardee’s drive-thru sign blown out of the ground. Roofing material from a Bealls Outlet was torn off and thrown across the parking lot. Numerous store signs were blown out and scattered throughout the road.
A bit further into town, there was a very large oak tree down on the side of a main road. I decided to get some stock video of it. Upon getting closer, a truck was revealed to be buried under the tree.
Someone was going to have a bad day when they discovered this! A lady was standing near the truck and talking on the phone, before she hung up and walked away. After asking, she informed me that it was “the credit union’s truck, not hers.”
Creeping up a little closer, another car was hiding deep under the tree that no one else seemed to notice. It was a nice looking red Nissan Altima, or used to be nice. Now, it was completely crushed!
I really hope those people had comprehensive coverage. Throughout the rest of Perry, there were scattered trees knocked down or uprooted. For the most part, the trees were on the smaller side, although there were a couple of very large trees broken as well. Power lines were down in many places.
The trip home along US 19/98 revealed a surprising scene, or moreover the lack of a scene. As this highway was only four miles from the coast in an extremely swampy area, we fully expected the road to be completely underwater.
The road was entirely dry, and even the ditches along the road did not have much if any water along the way. A few streams were high, including the Suwannee River, Florida’s most storied river. However, it was certainly nowhere near what we had anticipated in terms of flooding.
As far as wind damage, there were plenty of power lines and trees down. During the 60 mile drive back, we accidentally ran over power lines down across the four lane highway at least once. There were several dozen other instances of power lines hanging down to the ground, often with a tree on top of them. Power crews were already hard at work at 9:30am, but it was obviously going to take a long time to put everything back together.
After checking news outlets, it seems that Cedar Key suffered by far the worst of the storm. Despite the center passing almost 70 miles from the small island, storm surge devastated several local homes and businesses.
One motel located near the water lost it’s entire first floor as water pushed through the building. The storm surge was reported as high as ten feet. This, as I mentioned in a previous post, completed inundated the island with water. The island is very small and just a few feet above sea level, making it very vulnerable to storm surge.
While Hermine certainly did not seem as damaging as predicted on the whole scale, residents and frequent visitors of Cedar Key will disagree. The devastation brought on by the storm surge caused likely over ten million dollars of damage to the island of only 1,000 people. This is not a south Florida island either, most of the homes and businesses are very old and modest at best.
The people of Cedar Key are in my thoughts, and I hope they see a very quick and strong recovery.