My Personal Account of
Hurricane Frances' Aftermath in Palm Beach County (Sept. 04-05, 2004)
 

 

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Hurricane Frances
by Phil Parker

September 14, 2004

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Hurricane Frances - Before, During and After my First Major Hurricane.

The following web page documents my personal experience with Hurricane Frances from where I live in Delray Beach (Palm Beach County), Florida.   It was my first hurricane experience and it was truly amazing. 

Once a Category 4 hurricane out at sea with winds of 145 mph, Frances slowed to a crawl and weakened to a Category 2 storm as it neared Florida.  Even as a Cat 2 hurricane, they are still deadly and can bring huge storm surges to low lying areas and beachfront properties and still pack a punch.  It was however, a deadly and very powerful storm that caused widespread distruction and uncomfort to tens of millions.  Winds receded to a peak of 105 mph as it hit landfall at Sewall's Point, Florida, north of Palm Beach at 1 a.m. ET on Sunday morning, Sept 5, 2004.  One gust was clocked at 115 mph.  A 100MPH wind can do a lot of damage.  

What made this hurricane so different from all others was moving at a crawl speed to as low as 4MPH.  You can almost walk that fast.   Once it made landfall, it took another 5.5 hours for the back side of the eye of the storm to reach land.  It was massively large storm as well, with a footprint that covered the entire state.

Preparing for the Storm

On the Wednesday prior to the storm hitting landfall, I and millions of other residence knew that danger loomed.  The media outlets began warning of the empending danger.  Hardware and food store became energized with people making preparations. 

The very next morning, I awoke at 5:30 a.m. to make my way to Home Depot.   When I arrived at 6:00 am, I was shocked to see the parking lot looked like a Saturday at noon.  I immediately turned around and made my way across the street to the Lowes, which was less crowded.   I was in luck as they had just unloaded an entire truckload of plywood, the hottest commodity used to board up windows and doorways.   I found a cart and found the line.  To my amazement, the line zigzagged through the store and was over 300 feet long - just for plywood. 

It took 2.5 hours to finally get my allocation of 10 sheets of plywood.  This was just the beginning or the nervousness that I felt.  I also had to acquire several boxes of Tapcon concrete screws to secure the panels to the walls.  Most homes here are made of concrete cender block construction to withstand the occasional winds.  I was lucky to find an open case on the floor in another part of the store.  I was set.

While in line, the guy in front of me told me that he had gone to his utility room where he lived to get his storm panels and they had been stolen.  What a surprise that must have been for him.

That day, I began securing the plywood and aluminum panels that came with the home up to the exposed windows and doors.  It was a brilliantly sunny day, hot and humid, due in part because of the oncomign storm.   I put on a nice tan that day. 

That night, I rode my motorcycle in strong winds to a friends garage to get it away from my home and out of harms way of possible flooding in the area. You see, I live on a canal and the news was warning of a pending tidal storm surge which might flood my home and the surrouding area.  This was the most worrysome part of this storm for me.

I spent the following day, Friday continuing to sweat with continued work on securing the storm panels and now putting my energy into raising everything in my home to as high as I could get it.  The boaters on the canal noted that the storm surge might be anywhere between 6 and 10 feet.  My home is at 7 feet, so go figure.   Yes - there was a since of urgency.

The bed was on top of 5-gal paint buckets, the TV placed on a pass-through.  All clothes were placed on the racks in the closets.  The tools were placed on top of the refrig and garbage cans turned upside down to store other important items. 

I was simply hoping for the best, but the storm track predictions were looking better with each update - well - at least for me.  The storm was tracking to the north of me, which meant that the storm surge would be worse on the northerly side of the eye.  I was still worried about flooding and continued to prepare for the worse. 

My next worries were those of discomfort.  I knew that this storm would cause widespread power outtages.  No AC, no stove, no refrig, no GAS !!! Ahhhh.   You have no idea what it is like here with no AC. 

To safeguard their boats, everyone on my canal moved their boats deeper into the canal and to the center of the canal away from the docks.  Just on my canal alone, there was hundreds and hundreds of feet of new boating lines (heavy duty ropes).   I could only imagine how much rope was purchased in South Florida alone. 

Later in the day, I called up the owner of a jetski that parks his craft at my dock to move it.  He arrived but needed help.  I stopped my work and gave him a hand by riding the jetski to the local boat launch which was about 4 miles away south on the Intracoastal.  On my way, I met only one othe boat.   The winds were beginning to pick up and the waves inside were beginning to build.  It was a nice break and the water was warm.

After finishing with my home, I took what few panels I had to board up my friends picture window at the condo (where I continue to stay as my home is still without power.)  This condo is located in between others and thus, was somewhat protected.

On Saturday, the winds continue to increase.  I awoke only to remember that I needed to get some videos, my family photos and my flashlight.  It was very windy and already, many many trees had already been toppled.  When I got back to the home that I was staying, there was another woman that had decided to join us.  She didn't want to be alone during this storm as it was sounding stronger and stronger. 


The Evacuations

Being on the water on a finger canal just off of the Intracoastal Waterway in Delray Beach, Fl, just south of Palm Beach, I was ordered to evacuate.  It wasn't known for sure where this storm would hit land and thus, everyone was on pins and needles.  The slow forward speed of the storm made it much more hard to predict, and with Hurricane Charlie hitting weeks early and suddenly changing directions just prior to hitting land, people weren't taking chances. 

The radio reported that as many as 200,000 people are believed to be spending Saturday night in the 407 evacuation shelters and centers set up across Florida.

During that evening, I would often go out on to the recessed screened porch to watch the trees bend in the currents of winds.  The winds at our location were blowing eastward toward the ocean, which would help to keep the storm surge at bay during the upcoming high tide that would peak at about the same time that Frances would hit land.   Luckily for us, the winds were blowing parallel to the condo and thus, the screen porch became a great viewing point if you stayed close to the door.   With increased frequency, bright blue and green flashes lit up the skies.  I'm told that this was either exploding utility pole transformers and lighting strikes combined with ice crystals.  Whatever it was, it was gorgeous.

The next morning, the there was still strong winds.  As soon as I could, I drove to my home to see the distruction.  There was little major structural damage, but tremendous tree damage and downed utilities. 

The slow movement of Frances was expected to cause more damage from flooding and wind, since the eye is expected to take 12 hours to complete its landfall and the hurricane could linger over Florida's peninsula for 24 hours, pouring up to 20 inches of rain onto parts of central Florida.

At one time, about 2.8 million residents in 40 counties were told to evacuate from coastal areas, barrier islands, mobile homes and low-lying areas.  The largest evacuation in state history sent 108,000 people to shelters.


No Power for Millions of Homes

It was reported that the storm might hit land that afternoon.  My 2:00 pm, we had lost our electricity.  We then switched to battery powered radios.  Every FM radio station has practically shut down normal programming and was re broadcasting either one of the two major local TV stations running 24 hour storm reporting.  The storm began to slow to a crawl.  It was then reported that the storm might hit at between 7 - 8pm.  Eight o'clock came and went and still the storm was a long ways away.  Over time, the storm was loosing power but still very powerful and ever so slow.  Normally, a hurricanes cruises past at 15 MPH, but this one was one of the slowest ever tracked.  This is where the damage would come from.  Not by destructive Cat 4 winds, but rather by 100MPH winds taking its toll for hours at a time and continued heavy rains. 

Without light and tiring of the reporting of the storm, I retired to bed at about 11:00 on Saturday evening. At about 2:00 am, I awoke with the sound of raging winds.  I went outside again and was blown away at what nature was throwing at us.  More amazing was how much trees can bend without breaking.  I later found out that I was experiencing the full force of the hurricane with sustained winds of 91 MPH.  The sound is pretty indescribable.  It often sounded like you lived near a massive factory with the roar of hundreds of industry grade motors roaring in the distance.

Florida Power and Light, which serves 8 million customers, or about half the state, reported 1.1 million without electricity by evening. The number is 300,000 fewer than earlier in the day because of efforts to restore service.  Progress Energy, serving 1.5 million customers in central Florida and along the coastal regions, said 40,000 were without power. 

As of Friday, Sept. 10, 2004, almost  a full week later, Florida Power & Light reported that 450,000 customers had no power in the following counties as of 5 p.m.: 

Counties
Lost Power
Restored Power
Still w/o Power
Broward
590,600
588.300
2,300
Indian River
44,000
12,500
31,500
Martin
84,000
50,200
33,800
Miami-Dade
423,400
423,400
0
Okeechobee
18,000
8,,100
9,900
Palm Beach
660,000
486,800
173,200
St. Lucie
95,000
42,500
52,500

Note: For the record, as of Tuesday, Sept 14, 2004, nine days after the storm, I am I am still without power at my home. 


The Aftermath

Initial reports of destruction did not rival the estimated $7.4 billion in insured damage caused by Hurricane Charley in southwest Florida three weeks ago.  Frances' path overlapped with some of the area hit by Charley, which killed 27 people. One risk-assessment company estimated insured losses as high as $5 billion in damages.

There are long lines waiting for gasoline deliveries, and there's a huge demand for everything for water and ice.

What Frances lost in sheer firepower it almost made up for by its enormous size. When it struck Florida a band of wind and rain extended the entire length of the East Coast from the Keys to Jacksonville and even into Georgia. The AP reported that two persons in the Gainesville area had died from accidents caused by falling trees. Two people in the Bahamas were also killed by storm related incidents. Frances was still strong enough to cause extensive damage, especially to vulnerable mobile homes and Florida's marinas.

Throughout the storm and the recovery, we have been tracking Hurricane Ivan (The Terrible), which is now reported to be the 6th most powerful hurricane to hit the Atlantic coast. 

Well, all in all, this was a very exciting hurricane in more ways than one.  All is safe, the home came through it with no damage other than downed trees.  Well - enough of this and on with the pictures.

Regards,

Phil Parker .


     
 

VIDEO CLIP (2.5 MB)
See Hurricane Frances track its way across the entire Atlantic, followed by Hurricane Ivan.  .It's very cool.

 


     
 

Hurricane Frances Storm Track

 

 

Hurricane Tables
The chart color codes intensity (category based on Saffir-Simpson scale):
Type Category
Pressure (mb)
Winds (knots)
Winds (mph)
Surge (ft)
Line Color
Depression (TD)
< 34
< 39
Green
Tropical Storm (TS)
34-63
39-73
Yellow
Hurricane 1
> 980
64-82
74-95
4-5
Red
Hurricane 2
965-980
83-95
96-110
6-8
Light Red
Hurricane 3
945-965
96-113
111-130
9-12
Magenta
Hurricane 4
920-945
114-135
131-155
13-18
Light Magenta
Hurricane 5
< 920
>135
>155
>18
White

NOTE:Pressures are in millibars and winds are in knots where one knot is equal to 1.15 mph.

 

     
 

View from Space of Hurricane Frances, followed by Hurricane Ivan (the Terrible)

 

 

     
 

NOAA Image from Space

 

 

     
 

NOAA Image from Space #2

 

 

     
 

This animation shows Hurricane Frances' movement from 6:15 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. ET Saturday.  It would be almost another full 4 hours before the eye hit landfall.  You didn't want to be on the north side of this storm as this is the area that is hardest hit by the storm surge.  The south side is protected somewhat by winds pushing waves and the storm surge back out to sea. 

My home is located 25 miles south of W.Palm Beach or about quarter of the way between WPB and Miami.

 

 

     
 

The evacuation begins with 2.5 million people evacuating along I-95 and the Florida Turnpike. 

 

 

     
 

View of my home with storm panels up and secured.  Pretty white trash looking ah !!!

 

 

     
 

Side view with white trash plywood storm panels.  My boat is on its trailer just to the left in this picture.  I secured the boat / trailer with heavy straps to the fence posts to keep it from tipping over.

 
     
 

This is a view of the canal.  Most of the boats move as far back off of the Intracoastal as possible.  My docks were very popular.  As you can see, the boats have all moved off of their docks and into the center of the canal so that they can move about more freely under high winds.  No damage to the boats was reported other than lots of tree branches and leaves and a lot of water.  Many plugged their boats to allow them to fill up with water to make them heavier.  By the way, the storm surge was only about 3 feet, which brought the water to just below the top of my docks.  The first two docks on the left  are my docks. 

 
 
     
 

The interior of the house is a mess due in part because I had to raise everything possible as high as possible to keep things dry should a storm surge hit.

 
     
 

Every thing on the ground had to be raised.

 
 
     
 

The Sunday morning Palm Beach Post says it all.  In reality, I think we were VERY lucky.  If the winds would have been 20 MPH higher, I think that there would have been heavy structural damage.  As it was, the trees suffered the most.  The sub heading read "500,000 customers are without electricity in Palm Beach County."   It also warns that power could be out for days.  For me, its moving onto 2 weeks. 

The yacht in the picture broke loose of it's mooring and began drifting within the Intracoastal Waterway.  The captain, who was contracted (foolishly) by the owner to keep an eye on the boat, while at the same time risking his own life and his crew's life, tried to save the boat.  He lost one of his two engines and the bow thruster.  The ships single engine could not keep up with the winds (which was prior to the storm hitting land).  The captain chose to drag anchors and run the boat ship aground.  I never heard the final outcome of this boat.

 
 
     
 

The Ft. Pierce Marina, located about 70 miles to the north, suffered major destruction.  Another report told of a $2M yacht broke loose of its mooring and later crushed into several $500K boats totally all of them.

 

 

  More Pictures

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