There is an old Florida tradition that we’re just learning about called “riding out the storm.” Since moving to the Sunshine State, I’ve heard many locals tell exciting tales of braving the ferocities of hurricanes and tropical storms, so I’ve been bracing myself for my first real chance to ride out a famous Florida storm. I never guessed it would be a winter storm!
As a seasoned veteran of the Intermountain West, I was fearless when I heard that there was a winter storm approaching the Pensacola … yeah, right! I grew up in the mountains where I remember temperatures reaching 50 or 60 below zero, so a couple of days of 20 or 30 degree weather with the “chance” of ice and snow just didn’t impress me.
You can imagine my surprise when I received a text from my boss telling me that work was canceled for the next few days to keep us safe from the oncoming winter storm. With my tongue planted firmly in my cheek, I promised I’d do my best to stay warm and safe during my Florida snow day.
Next, imagine how I laughed when I heard that the locals were raiding the grocery stores to stock up on milk, bottled water and batteries. Really? The weather forecast called for two days of cold with the “chance” of freezing rain and snow. Just the mention of the possibility of snow had the southerners hoarding food and water!
Now picture my reaction when I saw on TV that they had actually named the terrible winter storm that was raging down toward us. According to the Weather Channel, the South was about to be invaded by “WINTER STORM LEON (mentally insert dramatic music here.)”
The forecast was for two cold days with the chance of snow … that’s pretty much every week in January for the rest of the country so I just couldn’t figure out what all the fuss was about. I wrote the whole thing off to media hysteria … and then Leon showed up.
As advertised the temperatures dropped about 40 degrees and it started raining. Sandra and I were running errands getting ready to move into our new waterfront condo later this week (yes, I said waterfront condo … it is still Florida after all) when the rain started turning to sleet.
Hoping that the rain would stop by the end of the week, I was generally underwhelmed by the dreaded WINTER STORM LEON (insert dramatic music again). When we arrived back at our motel the wind had picked up and I actually felt the need to zip up my jacket.
Then the rain turned to ice … instantly!
When I dismissed the severity of WINTER STORM LEON (more dramatic music), I had forgotten about the constant humidity down here. The air in Florida is so humid that I’m not sure that it can be classified as gaseous; it’s more of a semi-solid water-air mixture. When I go running here it feels like I could cut out chunks of air and shove them down my windpipe … it’s thick stuff.
It turns out that when it gets cold here, the air itself actually freezes and distributes sheets of ice over everything … I didn’t see that coming. When you add the fact that no one here has the equipment or experience to drive on icy streets, then factor in a frozen bridge every other block and you’ve got yourself a no kidding WINTER STORM (insert ironic, yet still dramatic music).
Being a native westerner, I have snow cables in my trunk and could probably have venture out if I really wanted to … but why would I? Given the choice of relaxing in our well stocked motel room or venturing out into the cold and sharing the roads with southerners who have never driven on ice … I’m just fine right here!
The Weather Channel says it will be sunny and warm again by today so I figure we’ll get moved into our new home on time and life will return to normal soon enough. When I go back to the office I’ll be able to share my own stories about “riding out the storm.”
Yup, I’ll have harrowing stories of watching old movies and ordering room service while surviving the ravages of WINTER STORM LEON (insert dramatic music and fade to black…)
Rick Seley is an award-winning columnits.