It’s Aug. 13. Nearly two-and-a-half months of hurricane season are behind us. Not a single major storm has headed toward Florida. Time to breathe a collective sigh of relief?
Five years ago, on Aug. 13, 2004, Longboat Key was nearly deserted while residents braced for Hurricane Charley. It was the first hurricane to head toward Florida that year. Longboat was lucky. Charley took an unexpected turn.
Then came Frances. Then Ivan. By the time Jeanne swept through, it was Sept. 26.
Hurricane season doesn’t traditionally peak until Sept. 10.
But according to Longboat Key Fire Rescue Chief Rich Dickerson, who, in 2004 was fire chief of Sanibel Island, one of the areas hit hardest by Hurricane Charley, people sometimes get complacent by mid-hurricane season when few, if any, storms have developed.
“I think everyone’s guard tends to go down,” he said.
Just one storm could permanently alter Longboat’s landscape.
Here’s a look back at Longboat’s busiest hurricane season in memory as seen in The Longboat Observer.
It was Friday the 13th. The Longboat Observer published a minute-by-minute account of the day’s events in its Aug. 19, 2004 issue.
7 a.m. — Friday, Aug. 13, 2004. Whitney Beach Plaza and Longboat Key Liquor Store owner Andrew Hlywa tells Longboat Key police officers he plans to ride out Charley on the Key. He vows that the liquor store will stay open. Their response: “You’re probably going to die.”
8 a.m. — Gulf of Mexico Drive is empty.
9 a.m. — Longboat Key’s water main is shut off.
9:30 a.m. — Longboat Key’s Critical Incident Response team, also known as the “last-out, first-in” team, begins to load a bulldozer on a flatbed to be taken to safety off of the Key.
2 p.m. — Charley begins to head east of Longboat Key.
4:15 p.m. — Charley makes landfall in Port Charlotte, 50 miles south of Longboat Key.
6 p.m. — Police Chief Al Hogle and Town Manager Bruce St. Denis inspect the Key for damage. Tree branches scatter the island, but no trees or lines are down.
6 a.m. — Saturday, Aug. 14, 2004. Longboat Key is still Longboat Key. Paradise … not lost.
Town crews were on standby beginning Friday, Sept. 3, waiting for Frances. They waited. The winds didn’t start until Saturday afternoon. Longboaters spent two days in their homes while winds soared to as high as 50 mph, peaking at 2 a.m. Monday, Sept. 6. Power went out early that morning as well.
By Monday afternoon, power had been restored everywhere except for Lyons Lane, which didn’t get its power back until 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.
St. Denis worried about the effect of the storm on Key beaches.
But, by the time The Longboat Observer published the headline “Battered, not Beaten” on Sept. 9, 2004, Longboat Key was in emergency-preparation mode.
Ivan was coming.
On Sept. 10, 2004, Hurricane Ivan had its eye on Longboat Key.
With 185 mph winds and tropical-storm-force winds radiating 265 miles from the eye, Longboaters weren’t going to challenge Ivan.
Resident Verna Ritter, who, in 24 years of living on a coast had never bought plywood for a storm, told The Longboat Observer that she stood in line for four hours at Lowe’s Home Improvement store to buy plywood.
“We all thought this was the one,” she said.
At Longboat Hardware, manager Jim Stonecypher vowed not to remove boards from the store’s windows until Ivan reached Georgia.
The Longboat Key Public Works Department delivered 2,000 sandbags. But Sept. 11 and Sept. 12, Ivan made a turn to the northeast, toward Florida’s Panhandle.
Ivan made the front page of the Sept. 16 and Sept. 23, 2004, issues of The Longboat Observer.
But by the Sept. 30 issue, there was a new name in the headlines: Jeanne.
Longboaters knew the drill with Jeanne: Prepare. Evacuate. Clean up.
Hurricane Jeanne ripped through Florida quickly, bringing wind gusts of up to 70 mph to Longboat Key Sept. 26.
After the storm, town officials and residents assessed the damage. Longboat Arms lost most of its carport roof, and the four-unit Apollo condominium lost its roof as well. Jeanne’s winds blew off most of the loose clay in the Longboat Key Public Tennis Center courts’ Har-Tru clay surfaces and swept away a 2-foot layer of beach sand. Everyone agreed: Longboat got lucky.
With two months to go until Nov. 30, the official end of hurricane season, Longboaters weren’t sure if the worst was over. Officials at the National Hurricane Center in Miami warned that approximately 18% of named storms happen in October or November.
But Jeanne was the last of Longboat Key’s hurricane season of 2004.
By December, it was business as usual. Making headlines in the Dec. 2, 2004 issue of The Longboat Observer: A mangrove dispute. Jewfish Key dredging. And the Observer’s annual “Light up the Key” contest.