Hurricane Charley hit 15 years ago. It was a year that changed attitudes about hurricane season.
The hurricane season lasts half the year, but the core hurricane season is August and September. Which would be right now. So far, so good.
Fifteen years ago during core hurricane season, this week in fact, was when Hurricane Charley hit town. It was the first of three hurricanes that buffeted Volusia and Flagler within six weeks in 2004 — four if you count the remains of Hurricane Ivan and I do. It was a year that changed attitudes about hurricane season here.
[READ MORE: Decade later, memories of Charley, other hurricanes linger]
Before 2004, it was common for Volusia and Flagler county residents to believe we lived within a hurricane-resistant dome. Sure, we had had brushes with the edges of weakened storms here in the past, but nothing major. Hurricanes were mostly a South Florida thing.
The Daytona Beach area had never recorded a hurricane wind gust above 99 mph, and that record was set in Hurricane Donna, which was back in 1960, the time of the ancients.
Hurricane Charley made landfall in Charlotte County in southwest Florida, packing winds of more than 145 mph. As hurricanes do when they move over land, it steadily weakened as it moved northeast, slanting across the state and going out to sea around Ormond Beach.
Its highest recorded gust in Daytona Beach was 83 mph and highest sustained wind was 55 mph. (Although it should be noted that the power went out at the airport weather station, so not all gusts were recorded.)
Still, this was all just Category 1 stuff by the time storm reached here. A smallish storm in the larger scheme of things. Even so, for me, as for most people here, they were quite sufficient. The strongest winds I had ever experienced.
Near the coast, the highest winds whipped up late at night after the electricity went out. A nighttime storm can be a good thing if you can sleep through one, but that’s something only the most accomplished sleepers can do. It was alarming to hear things crashing out there in the dark. It sounded like furniture was being dropped on my roof. But at least I spared the sight of big tree limbs crashing around me.
I live in a wood-frame house. A wood-frame house whose roof, it would later turn out, was in shaky condition at the time. Which is why the house made noises that night that it has never made since. Creaks and ghost-in-the-attic noises. Noises like nails being wrestled out and rafters sounding like they were bending. It sounded like being in a storm-tossed wooden boat.
I read by flashlight and finally got to sleep only to be awakened the next morning by the sound of chain saws chewing wood in the distance. It was still sprinkling outside, and already people far more industrious than I had begun clearing storm debris. I emerged from the house to see downed trees on the streets and my yard blanketed with leaves and branches.
I would not get around to really cleaning up until later. Which was a good thing: There were three more hurricanes by the end of September that year. If you got things in perfect shape too fast, the next storm would just undo it all. I was hauling wood around the yard until Christmas decorations went up.
Most of the traffic lights were out and trees were blocking many roads, so I got to work by bicycle and worked in a darkened office without air conditioning because The News-Journal was operating on power generators.
Quite a year. Which is why I tend to celebrate Hurricane Charley Day as the start of the for-real hurricane season. And why I’ll be nervously checking weather maps from now until Halloween.
Today’s National Hurricane Center map says, "Tropical cyclone activity not expected during the next 48 hours." Lovely words to see on Hurricane Charley Day. I hope to see them a lot this summer.