The October Hurricane Not Soon To Be Forgotten

The mandatory evacuation of Amelia Island began on October 6, 2016 at 6 am as Matthew approached.

“Should I Stay Or Should I Go?”

When the warnings start about a hurricane looming, anxiety surrounds the decision of whether to stay or go. Plenty procrastinate, continuing to watch projected paths and the “cone of uncertainty,” naturally hoping a turn will be in their favor.

But as time ticks away, the call has to be made.

Matthew Stayed Off Shore of Florida
Matthew Stayed Off Shore As It Passed By Florida

Amelia Islanders have only faced this decision twice in the past two decades, when a “mandatory evacuation” has been issued for those living on the northeast Florida island near the Georgia border.

For those who heed the pleas of local officials to leave, there’s a flurry of activity to pack. Trying to fit a lifetime of memories, sentimental stuff, things that can’t be replaced — into the finite space of passenger vehicle. Getting on the road, not knowing what the future holds.

Before Hurricane Matthew passed by off shore on October 7, 2016, the prior time islanders fled was from “Floyd”  back in September of 1999.

Not all heed the warnings, opting to stay at their island homes, rather than evacuate. In both cases, these two hurricanes made a turn away, so the worst of what could have been did not occur here on Amelia Island. Lucky for all, and especially for those who stayed.

Amelia Island Category 1 Evacuation Zone

For those less familiar with the Atlantic hurricane season, it officially starts each year on June 1st and ends November 30th. In the event that a hurricane’s projected path is near northeast Florida, there will be a mandatory evacuation of Amelia Island. According to Nassau County’s website, “Once sustained winds reach 39 MPH, bridges will be closed for safety, so evacuation of the island must already be complete.”

Residents and newcomers should stay current with hurricane preparedness tips and be ready for the next storm that eventually will show its wrath in the Sunshine State. See city of Fernandina Beach hurricane preparedness tips and info at city’s website.

Hopefully Matthew becomes a distant memory, not to be repeated anytime soon. This northeast area of Florida is a region where hurricanes have less tendency to show up, according to historical patterns. In fact, in 2015, Fernandina Beach landed on a list of “10 Safest Florida Cities from Hurricanes,” (see more about this list and research).

Recounting Matthew’s Approach

The mandatory evacuation of Amelia Island began on Thursday, October 6, 2016 at 6 am. The hurricane was trekking up the Atlantic coastline from South Florida as a Cat 4.

“Hide From Wind, Run From Water”

A hurricane saying surfaced during this time, “hide from wind, run from water.” This emphasizes the biggest concern — the storm surge.

Matthew, thankfully, did remain off shore all the way up Florida’s coast, as did Floyd, never actually making landfall in the Sunshine State. Matthew was reportedly closer to the coast as it passed by Daytona and Jacksonville just south of here, but then moved a bit further away from the coast as it passed by Amelia Island.

Nassau County’s Public Information Officer, Dave Richardson, stated “We were preparing for a Category 4 hurricane. It wobbled away from the coast and dropped to a Category 2, so we didn’t have the storm surge we would have expected.”

(Also read related article and browse post-Matthew photo gallery, “Feeling Fortunate in Fernandina Beach.”)

Even so, according to the Weather Channel, “On Oct. 7 in Florida, a peak surge of 9.88 feet above normal was measured at an NOS tide gauge at Fernandina Beach, Florida.” So we all can imagine what could have been, had the hurricane not weakened a bit and moved further away.

We also dodged the worst rainfall bands. Precipitation from Hurricane Matthew turned out to be minimal in Fernandina, by hurricane/tropical storm standards. Fernandina Beach got rainfall measuring just 3.39 inches on Friday, October 7th, hurricane day, according to published meteorological data. Consider by comparison that Savannah, Ga, (located about an hour and 45 minutes drive north of Amelia), reportedly got a whopping 17.49 inches.

Local Government: Job Well Done

Most properties on Amelia Island had electric restored quickly — within 24 hours. Kudos to all local officials and responders who did a terrific job in the days leading up to the storm, managing the evacuation, and all the work that continues as the county recovers. The list includes (but is not limited to) Nassau County Emergency Management, Florida Public Utilities and FPL, the city of Fernandina Police Department, the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office, Fernandina’s Mayor, Johnny Miller, and Manager, Dale Martin. Plus all emergency workers, city and county government employees and volunteers who aided the community.

Huge Oak Tree Downed By Matthew
Huge Oak Tree Downed By Matthew, Amelia Island

But some Nassau neighbors were not as lucky as others. Early estimates indicate hundreds of homes had some type of damage throughout Nassau (a county with population of around 78,000). But thankfully, no lives were lost here.

Prior to Matthew, the hurricane local “old-timers” remember most was Hurricane Dora, a Cat 2, whose eye moved over St. Augustine on September 10, 1964. Dora caused some homes on the north end of Amelia Island to wash out to sea.

Matthew appears to be one of the strongest storms to near the northeast Florida/southeast Georgia coast since the late 1800s. In fact, downtown Fernandina’s “old” train depot is circa 1899 because the former one was destroyed in the 1898 hurricane.

Damage assessments in the aftermath of Matthew still remain in early stages county-wide and final figures and info will be coming out as time goes by.

But consider what happened just an hour or so down the coast. The early damage estimates from Matthew is reportedly “two billion” or more — mind boggling — in St. Johns County (with around 226,000 residents, including America’s oldest city of St. Augustine). And sadly, in far off Haiti and a few states away in North Carolina, extraordinary destruction occurred, loss of life, and horrific flooding from Matthew. All those suffering are surely in our thoughts.

Neighborhood Cleanup Post-Matthew
Neighborhood Cleanup Post-Matthew, Amelia Island
Yard Clean-up Underway

Lots of trees and branches came down during Matthew. Upon return to the island, the sound of chain saws could be heard, the scent of fresh cut wood in the air. Busy residents created curbside piles in every neighborhood awaiting pick up. Contractors were brought in from other states, as well, to expedite the cleanup. And things, for the most part, are getting back to normal around here as the days go by.

The clean up of the beaches, however, may take longer. In the days after Matthew, debris floating around the sea has been washing up — lots of marsh grass, tree trunks, and the remnants of docks and piers. Patience is a virtue.

— Related article: Feeling Fortunate in Fernandina Beach” with photo gallery.