Monday, October 24, 2005

Cabin Fever

We spent a tense night waiting for Wilma, huddling in the house as thunderstorms raged outside. I'm used to powerful storms, which are a common summer occurrence in Florida. The problem with the turmoil whipped up by a hurricane is that it can easily spawn tornados.

We have a weather radio that turns on automatically when there is a severe weather warning. It kicked on several times yesterday, but none of the warnings were close to us. I was feeling pretty safe by the time I went to bed, but at 3 a.m. my husband roused me from my coma. The radio had spewed a middle-of-the-night warning that specifically mentioned Celebration.

I was much too sleepy to panic, or actually to have any sort of reaction. Finally I managed to sit up in bed, trying to force my foggy brain to digest the potential for danger. Our bedroom is on the second floor, with three big windows, so even in its sleep-addled state my mind realized that I probably should move to the downstairs futon. Unfortunately, my body wouldn't cooperate. The most I could manage was to stare out the window, trying to assess the dark, cloud-clotted sky. Unfortunately, that's nearly impossible in the middle of the night. During the day, a pre-tornado sky turns green (at least in the midwest), and a funnel cloud isn't hard to spot. In the darkness, I realized that trying to find one was a pointless exercise in futility.

I briefly debated calling some of our friends to warn them of the possible danger. It was 3 a.m., so I weighed the potential annoyance of a late-night phone call against the likeliness of a tornado actually touching down in Celebration. I figured that either a) the tornado wouldn't come, meaning I'd wake them for nothing; or b) if a funnel cloud was barreling towards us, we'd be wiped out before I could dial the first call. Neither outcome seemed too appealing (although I later learned that at least one of our friends had been awakened by her radio, too, and was debating the same thing).

Finally I decided that if I was going to die, I should at least do so in a well-rested state. I collapsed back in bed, the cats piled in with me, and soon I had returned to slumberland. Unfortunately, my poor husband couldn't push the worry from his mind, so he spent the rest of the night divided between radio and PC weather reports.

By morning, the rain was still coming down in sheets and the sky was an ominous shade of gray. I slept in because dragging my carcass out from between the sheets seemed pointless on such a depressing day. My husband slept late, too, due to his exhaustion from keeping his all-night vigil.

Eventually, as afternoon approaced, the rain slacked off and the sky slowly began to brighten. Oddly enough, the wind picked up too, even though the weather appeared to be clearing. We hadn't heard much wind overnight, but our outdoor umbrella had tipped over and our backyard tree had developed a noticable lean.

By this time, we were developing cabin fever. We'd been holed up in the house all morning, unwilling to brave the solid sheets of rain. The schools were shut down for the day, and even Disney World and Universal Studios were closed (inexplicably, Seaworld and Discovery Cove were open, although I can't imagine that too many people showed up). I wondered if the local businesses were closed, too, or if civilization would return to normal as soon as the storms had passed.

As soon as the rain retreated into a steady drizzle and the sun poked its way through the clouds, we were ready to head outdoors. It wasn't quite as exciting as exploring after last year's hurricane trio, since we hadn't suffered a direct hit. The hurricane's main muscle was focused in southern Florida, but we'd still had a rough little spate of wind and rain. We didn't see much evidence on our street, other than our tilted tree, but the street across from the preserve area was nearly lost beneath a coating of palm leaf debris. Plenty of trees around town had tilted, or even fallen. The ground was so soaked that any tree with a weak root system was a sitting duck for the wind.

Still, compared to Hurricane Charley, the damage wasn't much worse than what a strong summer thunderstorm might cause. Closing down the schools seemed like overkill, but after Florida's triple battering last year and Katrina's mass destruction in Mississippi and Louisiana this summer, I suspect that caution was running high. A shelter had even been opened in Celebration High School, although I doubt that anyone showed up.

It felt so good to finally be out and about once the storm had faded into oblivion. Oddly enough, the weather had gone from hot and humid on Sunday to a decided chill. Between the wind and a cold nip, it felt like autumn in Chicago. If I closed my eyes and used my imagination, I could easily convince myself that I was back in the state of my birth. But it didn't feel unpleasant; I found myself looking forward to finally opening the windows and airing out the house.

We joined up with some friends for a late lunch at T.G.I. Friday's, figuring that the restaurants on 192 should be open. Indeed, they were...but not Friday's! For some odd reason, it appeared to be the only eatery than was closed down.

Oh well, there were lots of other choices. We headed a couple blocks down to Perkins, which has a wonderful selection of both breakfast and lunch items. Even though it was past noon, breakfast actually sounded appealing to me. I ended up ordering eggs benedict, which included hash browns and a muffin. And what a muffin! I had their seasonal pumpkin variety, slathered thickly with cream cheese frosting, and I quickly realized that it possessed addictive properties.

Judging by the crowd in the restaurant, everyone else in the general area was itching to get outside too. By the time we had returned to Celebration, people were out and about as though it was just another normal day. The long, tense night and stormy morning felt as though they had happened a long, long time ago. It was hard to believe that we'd been suffering from cabin fever just a few hours earlier.

I know how easily the hurricane could have turned; if it had come ashore a little more north, we could have had another Charley on our hands. But thankfully it kept its distance, and we've only got a little over a month before Hurricane Season 2005 is just another memory. Then, hopefully, the weather radio will remain silent for the next eight or nine months until the cycle starts over again.

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