Chase Date: September 10, 2017
Adam Lucio, Evan Hatch
Robert Dewey, Kholby Martin
Miles Logged: 478
States Chased: FL
Severe Risks: SPC Outlooks
This was my first hurricane chase. It was also Adam’s first hurricane. So we were going into this pretty unexperienced. Irma was a Category 5 storm when we started making plans to fly to Florida and looked to make landfall as a Category 4 or 5 storm. The doomsday scenario’s playing out in all of our heads were real.
As you’d imagine, it’s not easy to plan to chase a hurricane, especially when each person is flying in and inexperienced. We all flew southwest, so at least we had 2 bags free. We each were responsible for checking a (new) gas can on the plane, since it’d be almost impossible to find what we needed when we landed.
It was also my intention to stream the entire thing for free use. Unfortunately I broke my HDMI cable mid hurricane and had to shut off the stream.
Getting to the airport
I had changed my flight so that I was leaving from OKC and heading to Dallas then to Tampa. That didn’t work so well, as the flight to OKC that went to Dallas was way late. I was going to miss my connection. Soooo, I drove the trip to Dallas in record time, rolling up to the curbside bag check just in time to get my bags on board. Parked my car and was on my way.
Arrival into Tampa
I reserved a suite for us at the Hilton Garden Inn in Sarasota, but we gathered all our supplies right after landing. We were able to get some drinks, some food and other supplies we were going to need. Also, we were able to get out gas cans filled in St Petersburg, luckily finding an open gas station.
After a late arrival, we slept like 3 dead men, leaving the hotel late.
Irma is suffering problems
Irma had skirted the northwestern Cuban coast and was losing strength. So much for this crazy category 4-5 storm we were expecting. We had breakfast and then got the car completely ready for chasing in the parking lot. This took us a couple hours, but we wrere ready and started to head south. The first gas station we’d find with gas was right in Sarasota, so we topped the tank just in case that was the last one we saw.
Working down the Florida Gulf Coast
As we worked down the gulf coast, we encountered a lot of what you’d expect in a hurricane. People boarding up houses and buildings, people leaving, etc. We wailed in line for what seemed an hour to get some checkers for food. And man was it delicious.
We worked down to Venice and went to the beach for a bit. It was deserted, not like you’d expect a beach in Florida.
We made it into Fort Myers by evening and scoped out parking garages and even found ourselves a gas station that still worked. This made it where we were able to top our tanks through Sunday morning. This left us with enough fuel to get out of Florida successfully.
We settled for the night in a parking garage in downtown Fort Myers. I stayed awake while the others tried to rest. At one point, my phone seemed to catch fire, so I tossed the phone out into the parking garage for awhile. Last thing we needed was a spark to blow up the 3 gas cans we had in the back.
So throughout the night we kept seeing this dude driving in and dropping cars off. He’d then get into the car his wife was driving, and they’d disappear again for about an hour. Then they’d show up with a new car. We finally asked, and found out that they lived on the beach but were snowbirds in Boston for the summer. They had flown down to move these cars from their Fort Myers Beach home to this parking garage.
This was also an issue in the parking garage. Since it was full of cars, it made the garage a perfect place to attempt to loot. Multiple people who I would imagine were under the influence of some illegal substance showed up. They all left pretty quickly once they saw movement in one of the vehicles.
The cops came by multiple times and gave us multiple ‘sniff tests’. They all ended up being very cool with us and were likely happy we were in the garage. We were running our stream with audio, and I later went back in chat and saw that Shane Adams had mentioned how good we were with talking to the cops.
At one point we headed to the top of the ramp to enjoy the rain showers and winds which were picking up.
As the sun came up around 7, we emerged from the parking garage. Our target first was to head down to Fort Myers Beach and see the water at first light. We were down there by 7:30 and started our Sunday off there.
The journey further southward found us heading down Fort Myers beach and to Lovers key and Estero Island area. None of us felt safe there, being our first hurricane chase and all. So we continued further south and found Bonito Beach. Shot a lot of footage there, then continued south into North Naples.
We ran into Robert Dewey at the Vanderbilt Beach parking garage and almost stuck there, but I still think we felt somewhat uneasy about getting stuck there. So we continued south into more intense rain bands and wind.
The parking garage we decided to stick around in was back at US41. We’d ride out the eye of Irma on the top deck of that – sort of. We were on the top deck mostly, but had a row of cars over us so the car was pretty protected in terms of wind and rain.
The eyewall was obviously the best part as it came ashore. Winds were gusting around 100 MPH which provided some fun. Obviously we were worried about getting the best video and also enjoying the thing.
I’ll be honest, my adrenaline had crashed and being up all night was getting to me. We drove around in the eye, expecting to see a lot of damage. To our surprise, there was very little damage to be found. The enhanced building codes in Florida ensured minimal damage in a hurricane that otherwise would have caused catastrophic damage.
Heading to a Hotel
We decided to boogey out of the hurricane pretty quickly after the eye. The storm was falling apart and did not have much of a punch once on shore. Around 5 pm we decided to start thinking about a hotel and heading out of there. It was decided we’d get a Embassy Suites in Orlando and head up there.
The damage was mostly not a big deal, but a big stop light jumped out of the dark at me. Also had some trees on I-75 to contend with. At some point I got extremely tired and had to switch off driving duties with Adam.
It was windy and rainy as we arrived at the Embassy. We were all tired, hungry, and grumpy and a shouting match ensued as we tried to find the door to get in. Eventually I figured it out and got our room key.
We piled ourselves and all our gear into the hotel room and the 3 of us passed out.
Monday was Adam’s birthday so Evan and I got him a cold 6 pack of Miller Lite and piled us all into the car and headed north. We had gotten our return flights changed to going out of Atlanta. To Atlanta we went!
Uh oh, Gas
I had emptied our gas cans into the gas tank already and we were starting to run low. We had about 90 miles to E as we got near to the Georgia state line. Eventually we found some gas, and later some food. It was Hardee’s and it was not good, but it tasted delicious because it was warm.
Kendra gracefully took us in for the evening and helped us return the rental car. She chauffeured us to the airport as well. Dropping off Adam and Evan first as their flights were earlier than mine. She took me over to Verizon where I picked out a brand new Pixel XL 128GB phone.
It was back to the airport and back to Dallas and home after that.