3 Hurricanes Hit Azalea Park, FL In 6 Weeks

Our personal saga of Hurricane Charley began on Wednesday August 11, 2004. That day, the NWS and it's National Hurricane Center began forecasting that Tropical Depression Charley (also once known as TD 2), at that time located in the Caribbean Sea someplace SE of Jamaica, would begin strengthening and would begin a NW march taking it across the western end of Cuba and then up into the Florida Straits. The forecast had Charley becoming a CAT 1 hurricane and possibly striking Florida near Ft. Myers, wending its way NNE through Orlando and leaving the state somewhere around Daytona Beach, much as Hurricane Donna had done in 1960. Donna was the last hurricane to pass over Orlando and had long been the standard by which the region judged a storm's impact locally. As time progressed Charley began living large and threatened to become a much stronger storm, eventually becoming a CAT 4 storm with winds in excess of 145 mph at landfall. Thursday, August 12 brought a forecast change in direction. The storm was now being forecast to move further north along Florida's west coast, threatening the Tampa/St. Pete area. Residents of this area were being encouraged to begin evacuating, many of them heading up I4 to Orlando. Orlando itself began to relax a bit thinking that there would be, at worst, 40 to 50 mph gusts to deal with sometime Friday. Friday morning it seemed clear that Charley was most interested in Tampa, crossing the state much further north and entering the Atlantic somewhere north of Jacksonville. I made a trip to my dad's place in Leesburg, FL since Lake County was expected to see hurricane force winds, much worse than Orlando. By the time I got back, however, things had changed for the worse. Around 10:30 am forecasters began to predict Charley's turn to the NE much sooner than expected. Soon, Charley was again on a collison course with Orlando, first battering Charlotte County as he came ashore. Charley just hadn't listened to the weather guys who had said he was certain to travel further north before making landfall, instead turning a deaf ear to forecasters as early as Wednesday. The results for Orlando and Azalea Park were not good. For the unfortunate residents of Charlotte County, they were devastatingly deadly.

Hurricanes Frances (Sep. 4-6, 2004) and Jeanne (Sep. 25-26, 2004) followed on the heels of Charley. Both of these storms passed to the south and west of Orlando. Frances' closest approach was about 50 miles south, Jeanne's was about 55 miles to the WSW. Frances was a category 1 storm at this point, Jeanne was a category 2 storm. My weather station operated continuously during both of these storms, something it didn't do during Charley. For Frances, I recorded a high wind gust of 61 mph at 9:27 am on Sep. 5th and a total of 6.02 inches of rain. Jeanne was a bit more vicious, dumping less rain on us (4.10 inches) but blasting us with greater winds. I recorded a high wind gust of 72 mph at 7:14 am on Sep. 26th. Much to our surprise, we found that Charley had probably done us a few favors. We suffered no further damage during Frances; however, Jeanne managed to get the roof to leak over the garage and left a few more branches in the back yard. Charley had downed all the weak trees and branches in the area, then we did additional trimming; we boarded up windows, which at the very least made us feel like we were better prepared, and honestly, during preparations for Jeanne, I know we felt much less anxiety and dread. It seemed all of Central Florida felt the same way, almost as if this was becoming routine. There was a mix of determined confidence, an impatient "let's get this over with" attitude, and an overall sense of "shock and awe" about hosting our 3rd hurricane in 6 weeks. I personally hope to never experience rapid-fire hurricanes again.

The NWS issues reports on all storms that impact the US and, of course, hurricanes are no exception. I discovered that they even use "unofficial" data in their reports, I suppose to provide information for areas that don't have nearby NWS observation sites, or because their instrumentation occassionally fails, or for various other reasons. During Charley, my weather station failed for 2 reasons, 1.) a piece of vegetation jammed the anemometer, preventing it from measuring wind speeds and 2.) we lost power before the height of the storm and it wasn't restored for nearly 7 days. I don't have a UPS that will keep my weather station console, weather station computer and network devices running for that long. Further complicating this was a phone line that terminated on a tree branch rather than the phone box on the side of my house. Interestingly, the NWS hardware at Orlando Executive (KORL) also failed. For the next 2 hurricanes my equipment worked continuously, reporting my conditions to the Weather Underground and CWOP (APRSNet) throughout both storms. The NWS equipment at KORL failed again during Jeanne. Perhaps due to this, the NWS used my data, along with many other private weather stations' data, in their official reports. One report for Frances is located here and if you search for "CW0572" you'll find an entry from my station (CW0572 is my CWOP ID). The other is located here. On the latter, you need to search for "Azalea Park" for the entry. For Jeanne, clicking here and searching for "CW0572" again, finds my data.

Pictures Taken Just Prior To Charley's Arrival

Amy helps complete the cleanup of the yard around the house before the storm. She really worked very hard in the days to come despite recent surgeries on both feet.

The east side of the house. The is the side of the garage and where the electrical service and TV cable drops are located, just around the back of this side.

The electrical service stand, meter and panel. TV cable also drops to the house here. We moved the planters to this area for their protection. This is the north face of the house.

The back yard on the north side of the house. I have no idea what the stuff on the concrete is or why it's there. We'd already relocated the patio furniture to the garage. You can see where the planters had been located on the patio. In the background is our orange tree and block wall fence.

The back of the house. The windows to the right are on the family room, the window to the right of the a/c compressor is the kitchen window and the 2 windows to the left are bathroom windows. You can also see the stand for the weather station equipment and how I tried to tie it down with an additional guy wire. I figured the hose reel would be safe here too.

A picture down the street on the west side of the house. Note the stop sign. You'll see it again.

After Charley

The next several pictures, seemingly taken in the dark, were actually taken at 6:30 am the morning after the storm. I had been up since 4:00 am and had lost Sunny, one of our mini Schnauzers, at 4:30 am. The storm really freaked him out and he later spent some time at his vet's because of the stress. I had already begun moving things back into the yard from the garage, mostly to gain access to tools. The yard is literally covered in leaves and small branches and the air smelled strongly of chlorophyll.

A look down the east side of the house. You can see the limbs littering the yards here. You can just barely see the neighbor's phone line hanging down from the pole. In the background lurks a completely uprooted oak tree, covering my utility trailer and the fence and laying on the power line to the house.

A closer look at the top of the uprooted oak. The dark line you can see is the TV cable drop to the house, which the tree was resting on as well.

Remember that stop sign from above? This is from the opposite side of the sign, but you can see it's at an angle now. I found that the sign pole was actually bent at ground level at this angle rather than just being pushed over. Orlando International Arpt., 8 miles south, recorded sustained winds of 77 mph and gusts to 105 mph while downtown Orlando recorded 100 mph gusts. The station at Orlando Executive Arpt., 3 miles west, failed during the storm as did my own personal weather station. The next morning I found a strip of some vegetation wrapped around the shaft of the anemometer's cups jamming it. I did record a wind gust of 67 mph at 9:20 pm before it failed.

Both of the live oak trees in the front yard are heavily damaged. This surprised me as they are young and healthy trees. They stand on the south side of the house and are exposed to the east and west. We noticed that the first half of the storm's winds came from the east, between 9:00 and 9:30 pm, and then they switched to the south and seemed even stronger, lasting until about 10:10 pm. Laying on the ground just beyond the tree is the top half of the same tree. It fell across our phone line, completely pulling it off the house. It took 4 adults to move it after I had trimmed and pruned it and we had chopped off several branches. I am so glad it missed the house!

The vehicles survived unscathed. Go figure. In retrospect, we shouldn't have bunched them all together, since one tree or roof or shed (all of which we've seen in very odd places since the storm) could have damaged all 3 at the same time.

This picture gives you a good idea of how the outside of the house was plastered with leaves and various vegetation. The planters and their plants made it with little damage.

This is the oak tree that uprooted in the back yard. I've got a nice stack of firewood now for the next Big Chief Summit.

More of the same oak tree. The red reflection is from the light on my trailer.

A limb from a tree that stands behind my property. I had noticed this from inside early on during the storm. Again, we were lucky that nothing of this size seems to have hit the house.

Daylight better reveals the tasks ahead of us. Deb bought a chainsaw in Indianapolis and brought it home so I could deal with this. The bright green leaves to the left of my tree is a tree from the neighbor's yard that is also uprooted. This picture is from 7:45 am Saturday. The gutter is damaged along the roofline and it looks like it loosened the wood facia too. We had lots of neighbors and family who's electrical services were ripped from the sides of their homes due to trees landing on the power lines. Again, we were lucky.

A look at some of the debris in the back yard.

Another look at the top of one of the oaks in the front yard. Doesn't look too big but several people tried and failed to move this thing. It eventually took 4 people to get this to the side of the street. Later I was able to use the chainsaw to cut it into sections.

Besides being plastered with organic stuff, the cars were fine.

More of the tree on the power line. I was really concerned about this. The light on the front of the garage is wacked out now. It used to come on at dusk but doesn't now. I guess rain got into the motion and light sensing circuitry because the switches controlling the functions don't work now either.

The top of that tree again. Deb's working hard clearing the yard of debris. We found branches from tree types we don't have in our yards. Note the missing "Left Curve" sign in the background, which you can see in the very first picture above. Can you note a missing sign?

The stop sign again. Lots of people were out and rubber-necking on Saturday, like these bike riders were. You can see how the streets are awash in leaves.

We took a drive on Sunday morning around our neighborhood. This was a block away from home. That's a pickup truck in the driveway and a house under the tree.

Another look at the destroyed house and truck. The fire department taped the property off and it was condemned a couple of days later by the county.

One more look. This was not the only home in Azalea Park that was destroyed.

One of the many strange sights we were to behold over the next week.

Another lucky family.

There's a home under this too.

More uprooted trees.

This rubble used to be a billboard. This is along Goldenrod Rd. south of Colonial Drive.

Need any firewood? There's lot's of it here in Florida.

The amount of debris to be picked up is staggering. This particular row of limbs is over 6 feet tall and runs for 50 or more feet along the street. Local officials have said it will take 6 months before it's all collected.

One of the massive oaks lost on our street. This one is just a couple of doors down from us. It brought down these people's and their neighbor's power lines and damaged both their electrical services, but left untouched a basketball backboard and hoop just to the right of the edge of this photo. They have quotes of $15,000 and $20,000 to remove this and a similar sized tree from his back yard.

This gives you a good perspective of the size of this oak tree. Just in the next yard to the left of the uprooted tree is a tree of similar size that survived and only lost limbs. Our house is the grey and white one beyond the tree that survived.

This is the tree in the back yard of the same neighbor's house.

The damage to the ceiling in the family room from the leak in the roof.

Cleanup begins! I was surprised that they were already in our neighborhood doing this. Of course, they quit working around 3 pm because of "lightning at the dump", left the truck and the thing picking up the debris parked in our street overnight, came back the next morning and disappeared. They haven't been back since. After Frances, they did return and got everything else.

Not the best photo of the damage to the trees in the front yard, but the only one I got. There is a lot of dead stuff in this tree and a very large part of the tree is hanging over the front of the house.

The second tree in the front, this one had less damage. If you look closely you can see where the oft pictured top of this tree broke off from, in the very middle of the photo.

This is what was keeping this massive branch from falling onto the house.

Another look at what was hanging over the house, Amy adds perspective here.

Imagine the force required to twist a branch of this size to accomplish this!

Our newly bald tree.

Before Frances

For Frances, I managed to get my hands on 6 sheets of 3/4" architectural plywood (at $28.99 a sheet!) the Wednesday morning before she hit. I was surprised that Home Depot was open before 6 that morning, but they were. I remember standing in line to pay for them, talking to a guy who said he'd been told that another truckload of cheaper plywood was due shortly and replying that "A bird in the hand was worth 2 in the bush." I wasn't about to give up my expensive plywood!

The front boarded up.

What I boarded up in the back. Since I had only 6 sheets of plywood, which wasn't enough to board every window, I decided to try and keep the bedrooms safe. I really didn't relish the idea of sleeping in wet beds.

I also decided to board up the garage window, a bit of an after-thought, but felt like it might be a good idea to keep what supplies of water, fuel and tools stored here protected. The trailer is full of my neighbor's roof. It was all on the curb in her yard, but I was concerned that it might blow around and do damage to the cars and house, and being quite heavy, made a good anchor for the trailer.

This was one of the big motivators for boarding up the house! Orange County officials pleaded with residents to take a hand in getting debris like this to the dumpsites they had established all over the county. Friday morning I started to do this, but found that the lines at the dumpsites were incredibly long, taking up to an hour to make a roundtrip. They really set the sites up wrong, making every yahoo with a trailer back up to an abitrary line from which a frontend loader would then combine the debris and shove it into a bigger pile. This took a ridiculously long time given that most people can't back a trailer up. It would have been much easier, and very much faster, to have had it set up as a drive, or pull, through, but that's government and it's contractors for you. Make anything simple as difficult as possible whenever possible. Anyhow, on Friday, Orlando's Solid Waste Manager (I wouldn't want that title!), in a surprisingly bold move, told everyone to forget about the debris and leave it where it was! He demostrated that it wasn't going anywhere by backing an airboat up to a similar sized pile, starting it up and revving the engine, sending 70+ mph winds across the debris, which didn't move. I think Orange County was just trying to get something for nothing by exhorting people to do the work.

Just a nice picture I took of the mess of broken trees behind our backyard.

After Jeanne

We had very little debris to clean up after Jeanne. Our neighbors across the street, who didn't have their trees trimmed, had more work to do.

A shot of the leak in the garage above the Plymouth. I was glad it wasn't over the bike.

December 2004

As you can see by the date in these pictures (12-7-2004), it's been a few months since the last of the hurricanes. Even so, there are still piles of storm debris to be picked up.

There are still so many homes needing repairs. Everyplace we drive we see homes with tarps still covering leaky roofs, road signs mis-aligned, bent or just missing, traffic lights still not completely working, business signs blown out. This picture was taken from my side yard of a house just a short walk away having it's garage rebuilt. A tree had demolished the roof during one of the storms.

One of the debris crews still working here, picking up storm debris just down the street. You should see the mountains of mulch in the drop-offs!

Finally starting the ceiling repairs from the leak we experienced during all three storms. I had to replace the whole ceiling, a 19' x 8.5' area.

This is an image I created on the Keyhole application of an overlay of Charley's path of damage and where our home is located (the little house icon just to the right of Orlando.) You can see we were right in the thick of things.

A plot of Charley's wind swath over Florida done on Keyhole. We were in the 70-80 knot sustained swath. Our home is the little icon again. We received the worst of our damage from Charley.

Frances' plotted wind swath. Compared to Charley, Frances was a breeze! LOL!

And lastly, Jeanne's plotted wind swath. We fell into the 65-70 knot sustained swath, and for a long, long time too.

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