Anxiously Tracking Ian

Sunday, September 25

Here we go again. Checking the National Hurricane Center’s website every three hours for the latest forecast. Scrambling to buy bottled water and canned food at Publix. Suspiciously eying our aging laurel oak, wondering if it’s going to make it (relatively) unscathed though another big storm. In short, we are tracking Ian and trying to prepare for it as it heads our way.

And Ian could turn out to be a huge one. After an exceedingly quiet hurricane season so far this year, we’ve got Tropical Storm Ian, soon to be major hurricane Ian, headed our way in Tampa Bay.

The Many Paths of Ian

As I start to write this post on September 25th, Ian has shifted a bit west of us. For a little while there, Ian was projected pierce the heart of the Tampa Bay area. Now, its projected path has moved westward and so forecast to make landfall in the Big Bend area of the state.

But storms can be fickle, veering off course gradually or even suddenly. We’re still in the “cone of uncertainty,” so we don’t really know how intense it’ll get for us.

This year, we’ve invested in a water filtration system, purchased a small Jackery (which I’d wanted for camping anyway and should arrive later today), and bought a portable solar panels (which which theoretically arrive Monday). If and when the power goes out, these minor investments should, in theory, keep some of our electronics (phones, fans, lights) functional. 

Of course, that’s assuming we get through the storm without injury or major damage…which is fairly optimistic of me.

Well, first comes the waiting game. And if you’ve never had to track a tropical storm before, you can get a taste of the experience vicariously here.

11 AM Sunday: Tampa Bay is still in the cone but the storm is no longer projected to roll straight through downtown. Small mercies…so far.

2 PM Sunday: The storm is staying on course for the Big Bend region of Florida, where we were vacationing just a few weeks ago.

Still, if the storm passes to the west of us as a major hurricane, we’re going to see some weather, and the beaches are bound to get torn up.

8 PM Sunday: Hmm, is the projection moving east a bit? Yes, I think so, which is a tad worrisome.

I’ve added the forecast tracking line so the movement is more apparent in future forecasts. The good news is that we now have our Jackery E240, which is basically a 240 Wh lithium battery with a plug and couple of USB jacks. At least it should help charge our electronics and a couple of small electric fans if electricity goes down.

6 AM Monday: Woke up to a big “Uh Oh” this morning.

The 5 AM projected path shows continued movement eastward. Now the projected storm path is just off Tampa Bay’s coast and expected to make landfall somewhere around Cedar Key, I think.

But there’s just no telling exactly where it’s going to go. It could easily come right at us poor suckers hunkering down on the sizeable sandbar known as Pinellas County. I don’t think Cyndi and I (and the cats) are going to evacuate but the idea is starting to look more appealing.

8 AM Monday: Ugh, this course is no better. Maybe a smidge worse. I don’t like the direction this is heading, literally.

2 PM Monday: Oh shit shit shit. The H is just about touching our house now.

The good news is we got our solar panels this afternoon. Now we can charge the Jackery if we need to. (At this rate, we’ll almost certainly need to).

5 PM Monday: Oh fuck-a-duck. The big H is now covering the whole of Pinellas County. Could the track get worst than that? Yeah, now that I think about it, it could be a big M instead, which would indicate 110 MPH+ winds. The way our luck is running…

I’m trying to get my work-related stuff done while also doing what we can batten down the hatches (stow away outdoor furniture, move planters, put bags of dirt down in front of the garage, etc.) Because we have a house made of brick and cinderblock, I’ve never made hurricane shutters from plywood for it as I did for our wooden Kenwood home. With this kind of setup, I’ve always assumed we needed to have special metal shutters made and those can be super expensive. So, we’ve done without. Even if we could afford it, it’s too late to do anything about that now. Wish we had a basement but basements are few and far between in Florida.

I just helped one of my neighbors put up some shutters that she had some guy build for her a few years back. Light plywood and plastic board. She has a wooden house so these will work for her. The same thing wouldn’t work well for us but now that I’ve seen her system, I think maybe I could build something that would work. Maybe. I’ll definitely look into that before the next big blow (he says, still optimistically)

5 AM Tuesday: Remember when I say it’d be worse if the big M was covering Pinellas County? Well…

8 AM Tuesday: Looks like the same pattern. I guess it’s stabilized for now. And aimed at us like God’s own arrow. Hope Cuba is faring as well as possible.

11 AM Tuesday: Another small shift. I can see Pinellas on this one. This path has Ian making landfall closer to Sarasota. (Sorry Sarasota!)

We’re still in the red zone, of course, and anything can happen. I imagine the folks down in Fort Myers are not happy with the way this is shifting. Regardless, we’ll be moving some indoor furniture this evening to barricade the bigger windows as much as we can.

5 PM Tuesday: The storm’s predicted path has changed again, this time headed toward Fort Meyers.

Although I’m feeling a little better about our own situation in St. Petersburg, we’re still in the red zone and likely still bound for a big blow. I feel lousy for the folks in Fort Meyers. Ian may be doing something similar to what Hurricane Charley did back in 2004, taking a fairly sudden right-hand curve, giving the folks down there precious little time to react and prepare.

Of course, anyone who has lived on this coast for a few years knows how unpredictable these storms are, and the old hands know they need to prepare regardless. But it’s one thing to know that intellectually and it’s quite another to see the NHC plot a course right through your back yard.

8 PM Tuesday: We’re still in the red zone, of course, but it’s looking like Fort Meyers and Punta Gordo will get the first shock of the storm tomorrow afternoon.

Now the trajectory is going taking Ian bi-coastal like some demonic Florida tourist. Not only may Orlando get a taste but so might St. Augustine and Jacksonville! The folks in those towns are like, “WTF! How did get we suddenly dragged into this?”

But if you go back and look (which is what this post is designed for), you’ll see they were in the cone of uncertainty all along. Damn! They don’t call it uncertain for nothing.

In the meantime, I bought a new ladder so I can more easily get onto the roof with a tarp if I need to. The question is, do we still move around a lot of our indoor furniture to cover some of bigger windows now that eye of the storm seems to be going east of us?

Uncertain. Stay tuned.

I’m supposed to do a research presentation for a virtual event tomorrow. I’m hoping the power won’t go out till after that. It shouldn’t matter, since we have contingency plans in case I can’t make it. Still, it’d nice to at least get through that while the power is on.

Will the power go off even though the path will (theoretically) be to the east of us? Probably. This is a humongous storm that covers a lot of territory. Have a look at the NOAA image below to get an idea.

Tomorrow there will an even better image. Of course, I won’t be able to easily access it if the power gets knocked out. Hoping that the local cell towers continue to work…and that my phone is up to the job of hotspotting.

5 AM Wednesday: We’re still in the red zone this morning, but it looks like the Fort Meyers/Port Charlotte/Punta Gorda area remains the projected landfall.

It’s been raining here most of the night. It started as a nice light, barely noticeable (from inside the house, that is) rain but it’s now a regular steady rain, the kind of thing associated with any sizeable storm. The wind is blowing but not hard yet. It’ll be “go time” later today and tomorrow for us, but we’re likely to get the worst off the storm this afternoon, evening, and tonight as we (try to) sleep.

For now, I need to put on my proverbial work hat and get prepared to do a presentation this morning. As the Japanese say, “Ganbare!”

8:30 AM Wednesday: Oy, the storm is nearly a Cat 5 now. It’s a monster, much larger than Charley was in terms of its sheer scope. This is going to be brutal.

Here’s Charley versus Ian in terms of the sheer scope of the storm.


11:15 AM Wednesday: X marks the spot. Ian is right on the coast and coming in quickly as a major hurricane.

Got through my online presentation but our lights are starting to flicker and the wind is really picking up.

1 PM Wednesday: Power still on but wind picking up madly now.

Made an ice run to one of those huge neighborhood ice machines. Whiffed on the first one but got ice from the second. The few people we met at the machines were all really nice. One guy offered to give me some ice if I didn’t have the cash. Everybody tells you “Stay safe” despite the fact we’re the ones out in the middle of a hurricane seeking some nice-to-have ice. Most sensible people are staying off the streets. Have seldom seen 22nd Avenue so lightly traveled.

3 PM Wednesday: The eye of the storm should be coming onshore right about now.

We’ve still got power, though it’s been blinking on and off occasionally. It’s pretty windy out, to the tune of about 46 mph. But that’s a very far cry from the 155 mph winds closer to the center of Ian.

Yeah, NOAA says the storm has officially made landfall at Cayo Costa, which is a state park and large barrier island. That’s reasonably good news (that is, that it hits a barrier island first), though Cayo Costa is just west of Fort Myers.

Sure hope the folks down there aren’t getting too pummeled. With luck, Ian will go from a major hurricane to a regular hurricane once it’s over land.

Meanwhile, Cyndi is cooking up a storm, so to speak, ensuring we can have some cooler-kept meals if and when the power goes out for good.

The good news for us is that the track is taking the storm east quickly, which means away from St. Petersburg. We’ll still feel the effects of the storm up through tomorrow morning, at least, but Pinellas has dodged the bullet of a full frontal impact. Of course, that only means that other Floridians took the brunt. When that happens, you feel simultaneous waves of relief and guilt.

Regardless, we’ve still got a long way to go yet. And after the storm proper, comes the cleanup and recovery.

Here’s a recent radar image. You can see the eye of the storm right over Charlotte Harbor.

6 PM: Amazingly, our power remains on! We’re fortunate because some parts of St. Pete are dark. Kudos to Duke for keeping our power on this long in this kind of blow.

Yeah, there’s a lot of debris down under our oak, and a sizeable hunk of a neighbor’s Jacaranda is down.

Still, we’ve been fortunate so far. Wind gusts around here are up to 77 mph at the moment, according to Accuweather.

I can’t quite tell when the eye of the storm will be closest to us. The way it’s traveling, we’ll stay fairly close to the center up until around 2 or 3am tomorrow (that is, tonight). So, it may yet get worse around here, or may stay similar to how it is now until the main storm moves out of range sometime Thursday afternoon or evening.

The power just went out but then blinked back on. Impressive.

By the way, here’s an image that shows where Cayo Costa is (see far left). That’s where the storm made landfall.

9 PM Wednesday: Still in the red zone, still rainy and hyper-windy, still a lot of debris from trees, still some downed streetlamp wires, and still can’t get the cat to go outside and take a poo (don’t ask). All in all, though, we have little room to complain.

The hurricane is headed to Cat 2 status and moving northeast. I’m hoping that by dawn we will have seen the worst of it, but you never want want to count your hurricane chickens before they’ve flown the coop…or something. You know what I mean.

We’ll hope for no rude awakenings in the wee hours and see what the morning brings. With luck, the break of dawn will come without too much more storm breakage.

The latest radar image shows the eye of the storm almost directly to the east of us now, which suggests the storm is moving faster than (I, at least) originally anticipated. That’d be a good thing and would mean the wind should have died down considerably by morning. Guess we’ll find out.

8 AM Thursday: Ian is down to a tropical storm, and the eye is on the other coast of Florida now. But it’s still blowing pretty hard in my neighborhood, a testament to the sheer scope of the storm.

Though the storm is not over, we feel extremely fortunate thus far. We are no longer in a red zone, so yay to that!

Noon Thursday: Ian is leaving the Florida east coast and the track has it bowing out over the Atlantic till it makes landfall again in South Carolina, which is now in the red zone.

Hopefully, the storm won’t have enough time over the water to turn into a major hurricane again. Not that a “regular” hurricane can’t rock your world.

Just took down a neighbor’s storm shutters. Guy with chainsaw is cutting up the fallen jacaranda next door. People wasting no time around here, though we’ll fully clean our yard of fallen debris from the oak tree once the wind stops gusting.

Feeling terrible for the folks down near Fort Myers. This is the second time in 18 years that they wound up taking the thrust of a major storm that we were “supposed to” get in Pinellas.

2 PM Thursday: Ian is back over the water. Watch out, Charleston and company, here he comes!

This is Ian’s track so far.

5:30 PM Thursday: Here’s the crazy part. In St. Pete, we STILL have gusty winds from Ian even through the eye is in the Atlantic Ocean on the other coast.

How can that possibly be? Because huge doesn’t begin to describe this system. To get a sense of it, check out the graphic below. Even now, we are inside the system and just leaving the purple part that indicates a high probability of tropical force winds. It boggles the mind. You’re a frigging monster, Ian!

Although this extended blog post is focused on tracking the storm from the perspective of one person in the Tampa Bay area, I should note that it’s now being reported that the storm might be the deadliest in Florida history.

I suspect it’s way too soon to be able to say that with any certainty, and I hope it’s not true. Despite the uncertainties surrounding this storm, we all have far more time to prepare for these events thanks to modern meteorology.

The mistake we all make, despite the many warnings of the NOAA, is to take the predicted track too literally. We should all be paying much more attention to the cone of uncertainty than to the track itself. As this blog post makes clear, the track tends to shift from hour to hour, but the cone tends to be more stable. If we’re in the cone, we need to understand that the storm may well be coming our way no matter what the specific track-of-the-hour says.

Some Links to Ian Aftermath Photos:

Paths of Destruction Photos

UPI Photo of Flooding Among the Palms and Condos

Leaning Palm on Power Wires

Surreal Banyan Near the Dali Museum

Upside Down Airplane

Woman on Staircase Next to Beached Boat

Man Walking Flats in Red Raingear

Devastation of Battered Boats

5 AM Friday: All is finally quiet in our neck of Florida, but Ian is fast approaching South Carolina. Somewhere near Bull’s Bay, maybe?

In the meantime, our neighborhood did a lot of cleanup yesterday. Tree debris is now nearly lined up along the road waiting for “The Claw'” As a recall, that’s huge truck that will go up and down the roads of St. Petersburg grabbing up storm-torn branches with its metal claw and feeding them into its bed or its wood-chipping maw.

Some photos of debris and cleanup

When debris flies in a storm, it often ends up flush against the house
By and by, it all gets put on the side of the road, ready for The City Claw to come take it away.
You can see what’s left of our neighbor’s Jacaranda in the stacked wood. They took down the whole tree.
There were various fallen or falling limbs in the neighborhood

8 AM Friday: Ian is “just” a regular hurricane now, which means the winds are anywhere from 74 to 110 miles per hour. But its scope is still huge as you can see by the map. That means that many South and North Carolinians are already feeling the impact of the storm. It’ll make landfall again soon.

Noon: Friday: Ian just about to make landfall again in South Carolina

5 pm Friday: Ian’s eye is now onshore and the main thrust of the storm will be visiting North Carolina soon. But this is projected to be the storm’s last hurrah before becoming a tropical depression on Saturday afternoon. Good luck to all you South and North Carolinians. I need to give you the obligatory “Stay safe!” sign-off.

With this, I’ll say goodbye to tracking Ian.

A relatively large number of people (for my humble blog) have followed this (highly extended) post. I’ll leave it up for anyone who wants to get an idea of what it’s like to live in the cone.

Of course, lately I’ve been feeling as if extended anxiety is common to the whole of humanity given given Putin’s nuclear threats (especially!), worsening global warming, spreading threats to democracy, newly projected economic disasters, and the most recent predictions of the AI apocalypse, among other things.

Compared to those kinds of things, hurricanes are easy to track, prepare for and even avoid. I hope that someday we’ll have as much tracking and relative control over other would-be devastations. Until then, however, welcome to the cone of uncertainty.