On Friday, in Sarasota, we're warned online about a tropical storm on Florida's west coast potentially developing into a hurricane, hitting us most strongly midweek. We stock up on flashlights and batteries and foodstuffs that won't spoil if we lose refrigeration, hoping it will all be for nothing.
On Saturday, Tropical Depression 9 becomes Tropical Storm Ian. Weather forecasters trace routes it might follow, guessing strong winds and abundant rainfall might hit Sarasota directly on Wednesday. A neighbor tells us this condo complex is solid and substantial, built to hold up. We have three floors of condos above us; others extend on either side of ours. We're inland from the Gulf but counties listed as likely to be hit include Manatee, where we are, and Sarasota, where the kids are. I remember coastal sites we've visited: Venice, Osprey, Spanish Point, Sanibel Island (where I attended a writers' conference once), Captiva Island, and Fort Myers, Thomas Edison's house next to Henry Ford's house in Fort Myers Beach. We've strolled the beach on Siesta Key, dined in St. Armand's Circle, toured Mote Marine Aquarium, taken boat rides on Sarasota Bay. We're familiar with barrier islands offshore.
On Sunday, we walk the neighborhood on a familiar route, visit our kids at their home, and hear varying weather reports. One predicts a dip in the jet stream might pull the storm northward into the Panhandle or steer it into Florida's west coast. Tropical Storm Ian may be a hurricane then, cascading 4-8 inches of "extremely heavy rain," flooding low-lying street areas, rivers, and, most severely, coastal regions. Or maybe none of this will happen. It's a nice day.
On Monday, people in counties north of us around Tampa—Pinellas, Hillsborough, Hernando—are ordered to evacuate their homes. Schools and colleges there and in Sarasota and Manatee counties will close tomorrow, their buildings housing evacuees. A few years ago, Caroline, Tim, and the kids drove north to safety in Tennessee and returned to learn they hadn't needed to flee. Reports say Ian will attain Category 4 status just south of the Sarasota metro area. Promising support for residents, a Manatee County Administrator says, "Now is not the time to panic. But it is time to finalize your storm preparations." Having returned our rental car, we're now fully pedestrian. It's too late and too complicated to stay with the kids, who have boarded themselves up. It's unlikely we'll be flooded by a storm surge. Sarasota Bay is 5.1 miles from our condo complex, a 12-minute drive. The storm may not notice the distance.
I assemble flashlights, penlights, head lamp, lantern—they all work. An afternoon thunderstorm drenches the golf course behind us, soaks our lanai screens, and splashes on its tables. I move cushions indoors amidst very loud thunder. The rain ends and we plug in our computers again. Sue tutors online at 5:00 and we have dinner afterward. The stream behind us seems higher now, especially down near the bridge. We read The Ink Black Heart aloud while we have the chance before losing power. Electricity flickers off, then on, hinting at what's ahead. Accuweather still claims the hurricane will see "a fork in the road," and either way Tampa Bay might see 6-10 feet of storm surge. A loud warning on our iPhones claims the storm is 36 hours away, reassuring us the potential catastrophe is still on our way.
On Tuesday, on our morning walk, a Chinese woman tells us she's driving to Orlando to avoid the storm. Early reports suggest Ian won't flood our complex or the kids' neighborhood or our granddaughter's dorm in Daytona. In Manatee County, evacuation levels "based on hypothetical storm scenarios" indicating "the potential height of the saltwater inundation from storm surge" are announced and Mandatory Evacuation Orders issued for people in Levels A and B and Voluntary Evacuation Orders for Level C. Our daughter thinks we're in Level E. Manatee County Building Codes required homes built after March 2012 to sustain 150 mph winds on the coast. In the laundry room a long-time resident reassures me the buildings are solid and weather resistant. An old oak fell during Irma without damage to the complex. A storm beginning this evening will last through Wednesday into early Thursday. Newscasts are already getting excited about Ian's arrival in Georgia and the Carolinas. E. B. White noticed radio newscasts stop talking about Edna after it left Massachusetts and before it reached Maine, where he lived. I'm behaving toward Ian the way he did toward Edna, making random daily notes with no real certainty they will lead to anything more. In the early afternoon it's quiet on the golf course but before we retire, we're aware of stronger winds and heavier rainfall. We wonder what tomorrow will be like.