Buresh Blog: A visit to hurricane Michael's Ground Zero

Jan. 30, 2019 — Oh dear - the polar vortex is back in the news!  Let's get one thing straight first: the polar vortex has been around as long as our earth, its circulation & the atmosphere has existed such as it is. Scientists have "known" about it for nearly a century.  The polar vortex is a naturally occurring circulation over or near the northern provinces.... sort of the opposite of the Bermuda high I so often talk about during the summer & fall - dictates heat & how any hurricanes & tropical storms might move.   From Brian McNoldy, University of Miami:

"The polar vortex (also sometimes called the circumpolar vortex) is a large, persistent, upper-atmospheric, cyclonic circulation that forms and exists over the winter pole...The polar vortex is perfectly normal, and has been known about for at least 70 years. It is not a winter storm, or a storm of any kind. It's just a natural part of Earth's circulation 10 to 30 miles up in the atmosphere."

It just so happens that a "chunk" of the polar vortex broke off from near & north of Hudson Bay dropping southward into the U.S. this week (Jan. 29-31) resulting in some of the most frigid temps. in at least 20 years.  But the dip south was not as great as it could have been sparing Jacksonville & all of Florida a severe freeze. NOAA illustration:

So we turn the calendars to February.... averages at JIA:

Low / High - 1st: 43 / 66.... 28th: 48 / 71

Rainfall: 3.19"

Sunrise / Sunset: 1st - 7:17am / 6:03pm.... 28th - 6:54am / 6:25pm - GAIN 45 min. of daylight

I paid a visit to hurricane Michael's "Ground Zero" in the Florida Panhandle over the weekend.  You can see my FB Live hits * here* & * here *..... listen to a podcast ** here **.  Subsequent stories and video will be on CBS47/Fox30 as well posted on our website: www. Actionnewsjax.com

But here’s a bit of a recap + some pics of the sobering reality………

First of all, the Central Panhandle is still reeling after the historic hurricane – the strongest tropical cyclone to ever hit the Florida Panhandle – see the "Buresh Blog".

The day began at one of the few homes left standing on the beach in the devastated close-knit community of Mexico Beach.  Co-owner Russell King was kind enough to show me around his hurricane RESISTANT home that weathered the near Cat. 5 hurricane pretty well.  A little water was forced in by the extreme winds causing virtually no damage, however.  And a couple of east facing hurricane resistant windows cracked but the inside window remained intact.  And the same side of the home had ceiling light canisters that dropped several inches due to the wind.  In other words, there were indications that the wind was not too far from causing more serious damage.  Parts of the home – a side stairwell & the lowest storage area below living quarters were designed to break away during strong winds &/or high storm surge.  That’s exactly what happened.  Russell has pics of the devastation afterwards with huge piles of appliances near his home after the storm & a pier that’s gone save a few “stumps” still visible.  The dunes are gone & the beach now backs up to his home as the “beach” nearly doubled in size after the storm.

Photo below is the view from the 2nd story of Russell's home on Mexico Beach:

The thousands of appliances that were eventually crushed & hauled away:

What was left of the Mexico Beach pier:

Russell then introduced me to local chef Mike Scoggins whose “Killer Seafood” restaurant was wiped out.  With help from a friend in St. Simons Island – Chef Dave Snyder at Halyards restaurant – the two helped form “Camp Happy Tummies” in the days after the storm feeding survivors, first responders & whoever might be hungry 3 times a day, 7 days a week all the way through Thanksgiving!  Mike stayed in his home throughout the hurricane moving to his car in the garage when he feared trees could cause damage to his home.  The storm did indeed drop trees on his roof causing damage that still has to be fixed.  But through an emotional recount of the days since the mighty storm, Mike plans to stay in Mexico Beach AND to rebuild his restaurant.

The slab of "Killer Seafood":

Mike's home now vs. right after the storm:

That first day – Saturday – ended with a stop at the "Ground Zero White Tent".   Again – a very emotional & sober setting.  This tent is where any & all donated goods are kept.  Hurricane victims can come & shop – free of charge – whenever they need to.  The greatest needs right now are cleaning supplies, work tools, paper products & hygiene items.  Go * here * for a "wish list"/what's needed & * here * to the FB page.



Sunday began in Panama City Beach where damage west of the Hathaway Bridge is generally not all that bad & pretty sporadic but east of the bridge – Panama City – is a much different story with widespread damage that only intensifies as you drive east on Highway 98 with trees that are still standing bent toward the south (west or backside of the eye).

Panama City:

Tyndall AFB remains severely damaged......

About halfway between the Air Force Base & Mexico Beach – a distance of 5 miles – the trees are bent to the north (east side of the eye as Michael approached the coast).  Damage is then “complete” through Mexico Beach where we stopped again to do some more videotaping.

The rest of our Sunday was spent about 13 miles to the east in hard hit Port St. Joe.  Just across seaside highway 98, well built homes were devastated by wind & water.  It’s here that I met & talked with Clayton Studstill.  Clayton’s story is hard to fathom.  He & his wife planned to stay in their home during the storm.  Once water reached about 3 feet deep in the house, the couple went to the attic.  But a natural gas leak eventually led to a fire that engulfed their home.  Clayton & his wife jumped into the water & swam out of their home – about 9-10 feet of storm surge over the road – through a once tree-filled state park to a neighbor’s home for refuge.  Now Clayton finds himself sifting through ashes of his home – like an archaeologist – trying to salvage whatever treasures he might be able to find.  So far little more than some beads & coins.  Clayton’s 3 children are at least back in school not far from the slab of their home & there’s no doubt in Clayton’s mind that they will rebuild in the same spot.  His biggest regret is that he had checked off a long list of “to do” things before the hurricane hit but didn’t get to the gas shut off for his home.  Clayton says he & his wife were exhausted after preparing for Michael for 3 days nearly nonstop – it’s one of the primary reasons they did not evacuate (though they did get their kids to relatives well inland).

Port St. Joe:

Clayton sifting through ashes:

My last stop was at a home a few blocks away where a tree remains on a brick home that’s otherwise demolished – at least the bottom floor.  Nancy & Rex Buzzett are working through insurance “issues” but are entirely set on rebuilding on the plot of land they’ve owned & raised a family for 45 years.

25th wedding anniversary photo album:

So I came away from the Panhandle seeing folks - in more or less dire straits – trying to rally – emotional, strong, faithful, resilient, doing the best they can including taking care of each other.  I plan to revisit from time to time.  The devastation will – in my mind – be turned around – forever changed no doubt… Michael never forgotten but the Panhandle will come back stronger than ever.

In the meantime, they could use some help – actionable aid. Not only talk, thoughts & prayers but something tangible.  There is a sense of being forgotten.  Survivors are at that point now where they wake up each morning thinking it was all just a nightmare only to realize their situation is reality. Broken but not down & out.  Recovery & rebuild is the mantra.  The first building permits are expected to be issued approximately Feb. 11th – how symbolic the that paperwork will be.  Then it will be years of reconstruction.