Sunday, October 9, 2016

Hurricane Matthew: From Inside the Cone of Uncertainty

I grew up in the Midwest and left 10 years ago, trading the brutal winters for year-round sunshine. Although we have had a few near-hurricanes and tropical storms in my time as a Floridian, nothing has hit close to home like Hurricane Matthew. I live in Jacksonville, Florida about five miles from the coast, where we can afford a house but can also have our toes in the sand in 10 minutes flat, with my husband (also a teacher and a native Floridian) and our two children, 4 and 1.

On Monday, my husband texted me this picture and we talked vaguely about what would happen if the hurricane actually came near us in Jacksonville, but we didn't make any real plans.

On Tuesday, the clouds over my school looked a little ominous in the morning. The storm path hadn't changed much, so I stopped at the grocery store after school to stock up on water, snacks, and batteries and I filled my gas tank with a short wait.

By Wednesday, the mood around campus was that of uncertainly - Matthew had already torn through Haiti and Cuba and its strength was undeniable. The forecast path brought it closer to home. The students minds were filled with "What ifs" and I must have been asked if school would be canceled at least 50 times. Imagine teaching the day before a holiday break and multiply it by 10, that's how distracted these students' minds were, and mine was too. I was filled with uncertainty of what the weather would bring for me and my family and what decisions I should be making. I had a quiz scheduled (the end of the 1st quarter is nearing next week), but everyone was so preoccupied that I decided to make it open notes. I tried to make my lesson on slope as low-key as possible, we watched the Adventures of Slope Dude, took some notes and practiced with a Versatiles activity. I found that the kids needed the distraction as much as I did as the rain outside beat against the windows.
By the end of the last period of the day, the principal announced that school was canceled for Thursday and Friday and everyone, teachers included, needed to be off campus by 2:30. Leaving was so nerve-racking, not knowing what I would come back to. I unplugged everything, took a few pictures of my possessions, and headed out.
The few times I get to leave school at 2:30, I usually zip home and have free reign over all the stores. Today traffic was already building on the highways, and the line at the gas station stretched out onto the road with at least 10 cars waiting in each direction. I was happy to have already taken care of these stops earlier. When I got home, the news now projected this path:
Being a math teacher, I like making decisions based on odds and probability of events occurring, but it seemed like every time I looked at the news, the odds were changing. The meteorologists were giving the hurricane a 15 percent chance of making landfall in Jacksonville as a Category 4 storm. As I tried to go to bed that night - I began to truly understand the term "Cone of Uncertainty." Did it make sense for our family to leave town? Where would we go - we have family near Orlando and Tampa, but would the weather be just as bad there? And what would traffic be like as we went there and returned home after the storm? What if the storm did significant damage to our house and no one was there to protect it because we had left? What is the storm did significant damage to our house and we were there with our two babies? What would it be like to have two small children without power in our house? Would I be able to remain calm if a true category 4 hurricane came through? 

I decided to pack a bag with clothes for everyone for five days, snacks and water, and all my hard drives of family photos, and sleep on the decision. I woke to find this on my phone: 
The uncertainty was too much, and I knew staying and waiting would make me a nervous wreck for the next few days, which I knew would have a 100% chance of negatively impacting my parenting skills. My husband decided to stay back and board up the house and deal with any damages or issues, and I buckled the kids in their car seats and hit the road for Grandma's house. My mother-in-law lives just south of Orlando and their weather forecast called for 35 mph winds and rain, which sounded much better than the 100 mph winds that could be possible in Jacksonville. I decided that the worst-case scenario of evacuating would be a traffic jam, and the worse-case scenario of staying was being huddled into the bathroom with my two little ones as a tree crashed through our roof. 

My husband weathered the storm at home without ever losing power. The wind was fierce and the rain was relentless, but our house escaped unscathed, except for some downed tree branches and mud puddles in our backyard. Many of my friends and neighbors were not so lucky.

Today my husband asked me, "If you had this to do over again, would you do it the same?" Again comes that "Cone of Uncertainty," did I make the right decision? Did I over-react by leaving? Was it overkill to board up our windows?  As a math teacher, my brain is trained to be analytical, but Mother Nature cannot be tied down with logic and reason. I do know that as this storm shifted countless times with different trajectories, I was happy to be watching from a safe distance away. 

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