Tropical Storm Debby made landfall in Florida two weeks ago, coincidentally on the same day we were driving from Myrtle Beach, SC, to my mother’s home in the Sunshine State. We stopped off in Brunswick, Georgia, on the way to watch the England-Italy match, then got to Gainesville around 7p.m. We’d been periodically touching base with my mother, who’d lost power for a couple of hours but then got it back. She’d also seen some major flooding on her street, though by the end of the afternoon it had receded enough that she could once again make out the road surface beneath the water.
By the time we got to Gainesville, we’d decided just to knock out the last three hours of the drive and get to my mother’s that night. But that was right when we encountered Debby, and after Lisa had to wade through two inches of water just to cross the single lane of parking lot separating our car from the restaurant where we were eating dinner at Butler Plaza, we decided to get a hotel and finish our journey the following morning. I was also, by that point, getting some disheartening (and somewhat terrifying) tweets from Pinellas County people on my Twitter feed.
So around noon the next day we crossed the Howard Frankland into Pinellas County. The rain had mostly let up by then, but the wind was still impressive enough that the waves from the bay were breaking over the concrete barriers to spill onto the edge of the road.
My mother lives on a barrier island off Florida’s Gulf Coast. The driveways across the street from her were completely submerged. That afternoon, Lisa, Boy and I went down to the beach, a block away, to have a look.
I knew intellectually that tourist beaches are artificially maintained, that sand has to be brought in to keep them up. But I’ve never before seen a beach simply wiped away by nature. We passed by the band of tall grasses that marks the start of the beach, and then the earth fell away vertically–so that the grasses’ roots were exposed–with water lapping at its base.
The water was still strong and choppy. I waded out a few steps, and even with it still just around my calves, I could clearly feel the undertow. We went along the beach a little, but had to turn back because the wind was picking at the sand. We could actually see ribbons of sand undulating through the air just above the ground–I managed to catch a little of it on the video. That sand was cutting into our forearms and our calves, and the pain was excruciating. And that was even with the sand blowing so lightly that it didn’t leave a single mark on us–something which surprised me when I examined myself, to be honest. I can’t imagine what a fullfledged sandstorm must be like; I now fully understand the idea of people being caught in storms like that having all their flesh etched away, leaving only bone.
So, much more eventful than if we hadn’t gone on holiday. I mean, here in Virginia, all they dealt with while we were gone was a sudden, devastating derecho.