I would say that was a fun experience, but that would be lying. It was certainly a memorable one and not one I want to have again any time soon. Or any time ever to be honest.
Hurricane Sally looked like it was going to make landfall west of where we were staying - Navarre, Florida. Predictions were going with the Mississippi coast or even Louisiana, but as the day progressed, it kept stalling and changing paths. Tuesday evening it looked like it was going to strike Mobile, Alabama as a Category 1 hurricane. As we readied for bed, the wind and overall noise made us decide to move away from the room overlooking the Gulf of Mexico to the other side of the rental. Sleep did not come as the sounds of the approaching storm got louder and louder and the weather alerts were popping up on our phones warning us of flash flooding or an upgraded hurricane warning.
At about 5:00 am, we gave up on sleep entirely. Opening the door from the bedroom to the rest of the condo was eerie. There were vertical blinds covering the big windows and they were moving back and forth as if being blown by the wind. But how can that be with the doors closed and locked? Well, because there was a lot of wind and it was finding its way through every small gap around the doors. Water was seeping in and pooling on the floor. The hurricane had made landfall; not in Mobile as a Category 1 storm, rather it had strengthened to a Category 2 storm and moved easterly to make landfall over Gulf Shores, Alabama, a rather short distance from Navarre. We were in the thick of it.
For the next hours we sat and waited for the storm to move along. We stayed clear of the big picture windows as there were getting the brunt of the wind and rain. We watched as the water level across the street on the bay side of the island continued to rise. We heard noises from above and below but could not make out what they were. All we could do is wait.
My wife and I are accustomed to strong thunderstorms as we have both lived in the south for most of our lives. During the summer, strong storms can often appear, make a lot of noise, and then leave. This is especially true on the Gulf Coast during the summer. While we knew the hurricane would not be the same, it was our point of reference. We were not ready for how intense and how long lasting all of the wind and rain and sound would be.
The duration, perhaps more than anything else, was what made the day such a challenge to deal with. Hour after hour of noise and rain that would not let up. There was no escaping it either. The whole condo was awash in noise.
Finally, around 3:00 pm, the storm moved away. The rain slowed and then stopped. The wind took much longer to subside, but the clouds parted and we could emerge and breathe a sigh of relief.
After The Storm
Luckily, we kept our power during the entire storm. It would flicker a bit from time to time as the strong winds moved through, but other than that everything stayed on. We did lose internet access so we had to rely on our cellular internet access which became slower and slower as more and more people had that as their only access. After everything settled down we were able to take a good look around to see what kind of damage was left behind.
One of the main issues, and the one that had taken a lot of our attention, was the water level from the storm surge. As all the rain fell and as the wind blew, we were watching as the water levels on the island began to rise. We had assumed that being on the beach that we would see a lot of the surge directly where we were, but it ended up being an issue for the other side of the island, the shore that faced the bay. We had watched as water got higher and higher across the street. People moved cars to higher areas but soon those too were flooding as well. In our parking lot and in general on the gulf side of the island, the water stayed put.
There was a fair amount of wind damage on our side mostly in the form of the garage area in the condo tower being blown out. There were two sections of the garage where the wind tore through the wall taking out the metal studs, the sheet rock, the plaster, and damaging a lot of plumbing. Many of the lamps in the parking lot had lost their lights in the wind. And there was a lot of plant matter that had been blown around. The leaves from palm trees were everywhere and the fibrous part of the palm bark stuck to and got embedded in many surfaces.
We were able to get out for a closer look on Thursday. The morning we went looking for food as we assumed that everything was mostly fine in our area. What we had not realized is that while we had power, a lot of the region did not. Traffic lights were either in emergency mode or were not working at all which made driving especially dangerous. Most restaurants were without power and those that were serving were very busy. When we returned to the condo I went out for a run along the island to get a better feel for the state of things. The flooding had moved out for the most part though there were many areas of standing water.
Power was certainly an issue for most of the island. Many of the other condo towers were running on generators for essentials. Beach houses that had generators were using them or windows and doors were open to keep the temperatures down. And it looked as though many people had left, cutting their time at the beach short, a decision that we too had to make.
Decisions to Make
While we had power, there was one problem with our building that kept coming back every so often, water. When the garage walls had been blown out, lots of the plumbing in that part of the building had been damaged or ripped away completely. For a large percentage of time while the storm was on us, we did not have running water, but shortly after thing settled down again, the water was on. And then it was off and then it was on.
By later Thursday afternoon the water was off again. My wife and I decided to take a walk along the beach in the early evening hours to enjoy the sun and cool weather that had followed the storm. The waves were subdued and it was the kind of weather we were hoping to have all along. But since this is still 2020 and nothing goes as expected, I got a phone call and a text. It was the rental agency informing us that they had been contacted by the management of the building, our water along with that of 1/3rd of the building was turned off and probably would not be back on for many days.
Calling the agent back, he informed me that he was looking for other places to put us, but there was nothing where we were currently located. He had a property about 40 minutes away in the Destin, Florida area if we would like to go over there for our last day and two nights. So it was now 7:00 in the evening, we had no water, were going to have to pack up and move to another area where beaches may still be closed.
We decided to cut our losses and head home.
The Journey Home
We packed and stuffed everything into the car. We had to decide what leftover food to take and what to leave. We had not had dinner and now we were ready to be done with this trip. We finished our remaining ice cream cups as we knew those would not make the trip. I wiped off the windows of the car as much as possible with the toilet paper we had on hand and we took off.
It would be nice to say that our trip home was simple and uneventful. It was not.
My car gets really good gas mileage. We had not done lots of driving around when we got down to the beach, but we had done some and in the back of my mind I was thinking that perhaps I should fill up, but I had plenty of time to fill up before we head home. Until I didn't. So I started the car and looked at my gas gauge - 100 miles.
100 miles is ok. That should be more than enough to get to a gas station even if none in town had gas left. And that would have been the end of it if indeed there had been gas stations along our way home. The path down to the beach had taken us through a lot of nothing and our route back was going to do the same and I had miscalculated when we would run into that long stretch of nothingness. So as we left Navarre and stated back we were soon away from everything. No phone service, few towns and those that we did pass through either did not have gas or their stations were already closed.
We turned off the air conditioner to improve fuel economy. Windows were cracked enough to keep the car from getting too warm and stuffy but not enough to cause additional drag. I kept my speed around 50 mph even when the speed limit was higher as that seemed to be the sweet spot. And so we drove and drove in the dark. We had left about 8:30 pm and now we were driving through the Conecuh National Forest while it was going on 10:00 with nowhere to go but onward.
We knew that we certainly did not want to get stuck out there or in some other out of the way part of our route home. We also knew that we were going to be passing close to Andalusia, Alabama, so we updated out route to take us there with the hoped that they would have stations open and still have gas. We drove into town and the first station we passed was closed. It was after 10 and this is a small town. It was very possible that they did not have anything open late, but we kept going, hoping that something would be open otherwise we would have to find a hotel, or maybe even sleep in the car.
And then we saw a station. The lights were on. There were people, but were the pumps working where so many others we had passed had bags over the handles saying "Out of Service"? Yes, yes they were. With another huge sigh of relief we pulled in and were able to fill up. The distance from Navarre to Andalusia is about 80 miles, perhaps a bit more. We had stared out trip with a distance of perhaps 100 miles on that tank. I optimized as much as I could and by the time we pulled in, the estimate still read 40 miles to go. So we could have gone even further had we needed, but I know my car and I know that as soon as I hit that last tick mark on the fuel gauge, my mileage estimate drops very quickly.
We filled up, got a bite to eat, and then hit the road again. Two and a half hours later we pulled into our garage. Both of us said that we were worried something else was going to happen on our way home but neither one saying anything lest we jinx ourselves. We unloaded the foodstuffs from the car and the wet and dirty closed and crashed into bed for a fitful night.
So that was our main vacation for 2020. All we can really say is that we are glad to be safe and that we have stories and will remember this trip. It is now Sunday and we both have work tomorrow and have to get back to routine and neither of us feels rested or restored. It was a difficult and stressful week. We know that there will be opportunities in the future and that it could have been so much worse, but at the moment that is small comfort.