Florida made headlines in 2004 for being the first state to be hit by four hurricanes in one season since it happened to the Texas coast in 1886. Hurricane Charley kicked off the season coming across Orlando from the west coast but just days later it was followed by Hurricanes Frances, Ivan and Jeanne all approaching from the east coast. Combine all 4 of the above hurricanes with the tornadoes, tropical depressions, tropical storms and feeder bands from hurricanes that hit our neighboring states and you get a widespread area of disaster everywhere you look.
Hurricane Charley was the third named storm, but the second hurricane of the 2004 season that came from the Atlantic. Unfortunately when it started its path on August 9th it seemed destined to hit us in some shape or form. On August 11th Jeb Bush, Governor at the time, issued a state of emergency declaration realizing that Charley was going to hit Florida somewhere and it would be deadly if we didn’t prepare. With winds peaking at 150 mph, this Category 4 storm made landfall in southwest Florida at first and quickly reminded people of Hurricane Andrew that occurred just twelve years earlier.Since Hurricane Floyd threatened Florida during the beginning of my junior year of high school in 1999, my family and I hadn’t had another reason to evacuate the barrier island we resided on. Our hearts went out to the 1.9 million people on the west coast that were strongly urged to quickly evacuate as it was something we were accustomed to from living on the east coast. In the end only 1.42 million actually did evacuate while MacDill Air Force Base and Kennedy Space Center limited their staff for their safety.
On Friday the 13th Hurricane Charley made its presence known as it crossed Cuba as a Category 3 hurricane before crossing over the Dry Tortugas. This was just the beginning of headline news for my fine state. Twenty-two hours earlier Tropical Storm Bonnie had struck northwest Florida making the Sunshine State the first in history to be struck by two tropical cyclones in the same twenty-four hour period. Our very own local meteorologist, Tom Terry from WFTV, did break with national news forecasts and stated at 11 AM on the 13th that Charley was going to turn early and strike around Charlotte Harbor before heading straight for Orlando.
We were lucky that Charley was a tight storm that moved quickly as that actually limited the scope and severity of the damage at the time. However, with sustained winds above 85 mph and Orlando International Airport clocking in gusts up to 106 mph, Orlando suffered a previously unheard of amount of destruction before 10:00 PM on Friday the 13th. In preparation of the storm I watched as Disney and other neighboring theme parks shut down for the safety of their guests. Being a cast member at the time I watched the preparations from the front line and was amazed to know that this was only the second time in history that Disney had shut its doors since the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971. The first was when Hurricane Floyd came through in 1999, but this was just the beginning of the 2004 hurricane contingencies at the local theme parks.
When all was said and done, Hurricane Charley placed 7th on the NOAA’s chart for costliest US Atlantic Hurricanes with $15.1 billion in total estimated property damage. Unfortunately, Frances and Irene were to later join that chart by also making the top ten list. Charley took a total eight lives directly and 16 more indirectly in the days to follow. 2 million customers found themselves without electricity. Our agriculture suffered substantially since the citrus crops were hit hard. Schools, businesses and homes were obliterated in areas all across Central Florida and this was just the beginning of what was to come.