Sunday, October 23, 2005

Waiting for Wilma

Hurricane Wilma is heading towards Florida, and the storms are already here. We're under a tornado warning, which apparently has a different meaning in the Sunshine State than it does in the Land of Lincoln. In Illinois, a tornado watch meant that the conditions were ripe for a tornado to form. A tornado warning meant that a funnel cloud was literally on its way. Here in Celebration, I've been following a so-called Osceola County "tornado warning" on television for the past hour. When it was first issued, the bulletins said that one was likely to form. The warning continued for about half an hour before an actual tornado was reported. Supposedly one is out there somewhere now, but the warning has shifted to Brevard and Polk Counties.

My midwestern home was near the area known as "Tornado Alley," so I'm used to a whirlwind of watches and warnings. I've even seen a funnel cloud up in the sky, but thankfully it didn't touch down. It's impossible to describe the eerieness of seeing the sky turn green and watching a tornado do its demented dance in the distance.

Although we never had a strike near our condo, one memorable storm wiped out many buildings in Plainfield, including the homes of some of my co-workers. Apartments had their top stories sheared right off, and all that remained of some of the houses were concrete slabs strewn with debris. Since our condo was on the top floor of a three-story building, I often wondered what we would do if a tornado was imminent. I knew we'd have at least a few precious minutes to prepare, since virtually every town in the Chicago area has a tornado siren. When a twister is on the way, it wails out a warning that means "Get your butt in the basement!"

Unfortunately, our condo building had no basement, and in our living room we had massive cathedral ceilings with floor-to-ceiling windows. In an emergency, I suppose we would have gathered up the cats and bird and huddled in the downstairs hallway. It wouldn't have been as good as a basement, but at least it was enclosed by solid brick and a fire door. Fortunately, we never had to test its structural integrity because the tornados kept away.

Here in Celebration, we don't have a basement either. When you live on a former swamp, basements are virtually non-existent. Duloc Manor is solidly constructed, but it's definitely not the most confidence-inspiring shelter for a tornado. I supposed we'd pile into the Harry Potter bathroom, which has no windows and is built against a cinderblock wall. Then, if the rest of the house collapsed in shambles around us, we'd have to hope we could dig out way out somehow.

Hurricanes are not as threatening as tornados because they are usually not as concentrated, and at least you know that they're coming. Of course, many hurricanes spawn tornados, so you're often in for a double whammy.

We've been expecting Wilma for days now. Everyone has been bringing in their outdoor furniture and Halloween decorations and battening down the hatches. I haven't seen any boarding up, since we won't be getting a direct hit, but just about everyone I know has stocked up on bottled water and some extra canned food. This afternoon, we stopped by the church pumpkin patch, where any items that could blow away were moved inside and the pumpkins were re-distributed among the pallets to keep them on one level (normally they're stacked in modified pyramids).

After we left the church, we headed over to Joe's Crab Shack for dinner. Since the weather might keep us inside for the next 24 hours or so, we decided to treat ourselves to a nice little feast. I love the create-your-own combo; I invariably order snow crab legs and coconut shrimp. My husband's tastes are similar, but he takes the lazy route and opts for crab cracking required.

Next, we popped over to Goodings, which is in its final death throes. The majority of the shelves were barren, the aisles were deserted, and the whole place had a funereal atmosphere. I was hoping to find some of my favorite organic chocolate pudding, since Publix was out of it. I knew that the odds were 50 to 1 against it, but surprise surprise! There, in the nearly bare refirgerator case, were several tubs of my prized pudding. Better yet, the expiration date was still three weeks in the future.

On the way out, we passed some of the toiletries and I paused to check out the shampoo and conditioner. It was very weird...sitting above each label on the shelf was one bottle. Just one of each! They stood forlornly like lone sentinels guarding the space where their shelfmates used to stand. How odd to have a single bottle of each variety. I noticed a new V05 "flavor" called Wild Blueberry. One sniff and I was tempted to drink it rather than put it on my hair. Unfortunately, I buy two bottles of conditioner for every one bottle of shampoo, so the single bottles did me no good. Besides, I was a bit hesitant to disturb the obsessive/compulsive arrangement that looked like something out of "Sleeping With The Enemy." Instead, we just left with the precious pudding.

In our little homestead, we've got some extra food and water (and pudding) and a weather radio/flashlight combo that can be powered with batteries or a hand crank. We don't expect to lose electricity, since Celebration's power lines are underground, but we've got portable lights and candles just in case. I don't think we'll get too much impact from Wilma, but it's better to play it safe.

It was cloudy and gray all day, but the rain only started this evening. It's settled into a steady downpour, occasionally punctuated with thunder and lightning. I'm sure the wind will pick up by tomorrow, but so far it's relatively calm.

Tomorrow we welcome Wilma; hopefully she'll be a brief visitor.

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