I’ve been enjoying the fact that, for the last couple of weeks, my life has not been dictated by the weather. It’s rained a couple of times, but I didn’t have to worry whether anything was leaking. I don’t care how much the wind is blowing, if I even realize that it’s blowing, because my house doesn’t rock in the wind. The daytime temperatures have been in the mid to upper eighties, but I have air conditioning now, so I don’t really care. I’ve been doing a lot of work in the yard, but there’s always a cold beverage in the refrigerator.
So, I wasn’t real happy to see Tropical Storm, then Hurricane Matthew making its way through the Caribbean. I thought for sure it would turn east after hitting the Dominican Republic, but it kept moving northwest through the Bahamas. As it moved farther north, the models started showing a track much closer to Saint Marys than I liked. No hurricane has come ashore in Georgia since “the Georgia Hurricane of 1898,” back before hurricanes were named. The reason why is a simple fact of geography. The Georgia Bight, but Saint Marys in particular, is the westernmost point of the East Coast. Hurricanes either go to the Gulf of Mexico, land in Florida and lose power, or get pushed of the Georgia coast by larger weather systems moving from the west. But Matthew wasn’t following the pattern. Thus it was that we found ourselves heading out to Madge last Tuesday and Wednesday to prepare for a hurricane. I was pretty confident that our mooring ball was well secured, but needed to lengthen and double up our mooring lines. On Monday, Matthew was predicted to pass about 250 miles off the coast as a Category 2 or 3 hurricane, which would not be much of a problem. But by Tuesday, it was predicted to pass within 50 miles of the coast, possibly as a Cat 4 hurricane. At that distance, we might see winds in excess of 100 mph. The potential storm surge for a Cat 3 is in the range of 9 to 12 feet, but a Cat 4 has a potential surge of 13-18 feet. Our house is 13 feet above Mean Sea Level. We added an additional 50 feet to our mooring lines and doubled them up, adding chafe protection at every rub point. We lashed everything down as best we could, and took everything valuable that could be removed off the boat. Madge would have to ride the storm out alone.
The coastal areas of Florida and South Carolina were being evacuated, but no such word came from the Georgia EMA. By Wednesday, we had filled some jerry cans with water and had them sitting in the bathtub. The Suburban was full of gas and I had a couple of jerry cans filled with extra gasoline. We brought our portable generator in off the boat. I checked the National Weather Service flood inundation maps for our area, and it looked like our house could be on an island when the surge rolled in. We might get stuck at home, but we would have food, water and power. I wasn’t worried about trees falling on the house, since we’d had everything trimmed back last fall, and a couple of trees removed. Wednesday evening, some friends who live in north Georgia us shelter. Since Matthew was still heading toward us, we decided to take them up on their offer. We secured the house, protected most breakable objects, and picked things up off the floor in case we got some water intrusion. On Thursday morning, as Georgia was suggesting a voluntary evacuation of the coast, we headed inland. Later that day, the voluntary evacuation became a mandatory one, even though a number of our friends decided to stay. We avoided the interstates because of all the traffic coming out of Florida. Even on the secondary roads, there was enough traffic that a normal six hour trip took us almost nine hours.
My buddy, Paul, used to work with me at the World’s Busiest Airport. Several years ago, he left to work on the new Abu Dhabi airport, but now he’s in Salt Lake City. Not too long ago, he and his wife, Jennifer, bought some land in Washington, GA, near her mom. Paul is always gone (in SLC), and Jennifer’s mom now lives with her. With their kids grown, they had plenty of room for us. We had dumped the entire contents of our refrigerator into coolers when we evacuated, so we had enough to feed all of us for the entire weekend. We had a great visit, ate a lot, drank a bit, and tried to keep track of what was going on at home. We were fortunate that Matthew took a slight turn to the east on Friday, just as it reached Jacksonville, about 80 miles south of Saint Marys. By the time the worst part passed our town, Matthew was about 100 miles offshore. The winds in Saint Marys never got above 60 mph around Saint Marys. We couldn’t find any news about the town, though. The TV was no help. Neither were our city, county or state government websites. Finally, I stumbled across the Facebook page of the Saint Marys Police Department. What a find! Our Men in Blue took videos as they made their rounds and posted them to their FB page. We saw video of some street flooding along the waterfront, but it was minor — only about a foot or so. Some businesses got flooded, but there was no major damage. The marinas survived in good shape. There were no reports of damaged boats in the river. SMPD had some video close to our neighborhood, and there was no flooding there. Power went out for awhile, and that was about it. The hurricane did not pass at high tide. We got a little over three inches of rain. The wind reached about 45 mph, with gusts up to 60 mph. We knew Madge would be okay.
Next, we had to worry about getting back home. We kept waiting all day Saturday for the okay to return, but it never came. We thought about going home on Sunday, but heard the roads were still closed. We decided we would go home on Monday, regardless of the conditions, but before we could get on the road that morning, the quarantine was lifted. When we got to the interstate, it was a parking lot — so we stayed on the secondary roads and made good time.
We found a lot of tree debris — limbs, tips of branches and leaf litter — in our yard, but that was it. No fallen trees. No broken windows. No water damage. The power hadn’t even been out long enough to run down the battery for our alarm system. Everything was in good shape and working. Even so, it’s taken us two full days to pick up all the tree debris, and we have four large piles (about two cubic yards each) waiting at the curb for the city to haul away.
Madge did fine, too. We gave her as close an inspection as we could from the shore with our binoculars. In a couple of days, we’ll put the dinghy back in the water and go give her a more thorough check-up. In the meantime, we’ll count our blessings that we’ve survived another hurricane — that’s two in six weeks.