On Monday, Oct. 22, a tropical wave formed in the western Caribbean. It received little or no notice from Space Coast residents who were busy with football, soccer, and Oktoberfest. And it still didn’t when it became a tropical depression, quickly strengthened, and was upgraded to a tropical storm just six hours later. It was the 18th named storm and the 10th hurricane of the 2012 season.
Sandy moved slowly northward, gradually strengthened and on Wed., Oct. 24, the storm was upgraded to a hurricane, shortly before making landfall in Jamaica. Upon moving farther north, Sandy re-entered water and made its second landfall in Cuba during the early morning of Oct. 25, as a Category 2 hurricane. And everyone assumed it would go into the Gulf or float off to the east. That night it weakened to a Category 1 and then to a tropical storm. Fizzling out was surely imminent.
Thursday, Oct. 25, started out picture-perfect with cloudless blue skies and bright sunshine. The waves were high, and lifeguards listed the waves as 4-6′ and choppy. They also posted warnings about strong currents which didn’t stop local surfers from taking advantage of the waves. But conditions deteriorated and by late afternoon lifeguards had two red flags up to warn swimmers to stay out of the water. They also slipped their jackets and hoodies on. Tropical storm Sandy was knocking on the Space Coast’s door. And locals sighed because this meant their plans for the weekend might be rained out. They never suspected that the strong breezes were the northern fringes of that pesky system somewhere near the Bahamas, nor did they realize what that system would eventually develop into. The waves were welcomed by the surfers and people still walked on the beach. The attached video demonstrates the casual attitude many coastal residents have about storms that pass by but don’t directly hit the shore. The cruise ship in the distance leads us to conclude that current conditions aside, things can’t be that bad if a cruise ship heads out to sea carrying thousands of passengers.
Thursday night, the causeways were challenging as winds were gaining strength, the Banana River had white caps and the ocean was rough. No-one was in the water. The National Hurricane Center was predicting that Sandy would brush the coast of Florida but no-one equated the current conditions with a storm that was 342 miles to the south.
Brevard has, over the course of time, experienced numerous ‘ brushes ‘ by storms and most residents take that prediction with a grain of salt. More often than not, a brush is equated with breezy conditions and larger than normal swells. Therefore, it came as a complete surprise when the announcement was made that schools would be closed the following day, Friday, Oct. 26.
That decision turned out to be a wise one because less than 12 hours later, Space Coast wave-watchers experienced a brush unlike one they’d ever seen before. By 8 p.m. Friday, Sandy was a categogy 1 hurricane and was 200 miles southeast of Cape Canaveral. Forecasters agreed that she would brush our coast and continue up the Eastern Seaboard where she would combine with two other weather systems, resulting in an unprecedented weather event, which the media called ” The Perfect Storm ” or ‘ Frankenstorm ‘ because of it’s close proximity to Halloween. Sandy finally had Brevard’s attention and most residents agreed that escaping with a mere brush was a lucky break.
More than just a brush
Whipping winds, fallen power lines and 8,500 Florida Power and Light customers without electricity taught many Space Coast residents a different meaning of ‘brushing the coast’. Late Friday afternoon, all along A1A, beach parking lots were barricaded and signs ” Beach closed “. signs were everywhere. At the one location where there were no signs, by Patrick Air Force Base Officer’s Club, several brave souls stood atop the dunes to watch Mother Nature assert her authority.
On the inland side of the dune, at the bottom of a large hill, foam lined the path up the hill. At the crest the dune simply stopped. There was no other side; it had disappeared. Wave after wave ripped at the roots of the vegetation struggling valiantly to hold on. Sand blew so hard that the only way to see was by squinting. This writer stayed long enough to talk to several groups of wave-watchers, most of whom only stayed for a few minutes before they left and were replaced by others. Young and old alike agreed that the conditions were unlike any ‘brush’ they’d ever experienced before. Native Floridians were duly impressed. The sea was a washing machine set on heavy duty yet in the sky directly behind us, the sun was peeking through the clouds. When a band of heavy rain poured forth from the dark swirling clouds, wave-watchers were reluctant to leave even though everyone said their skin burned from the rain and sand.
The term brush gains respect
By Friday evening the National Hurricane Center reported waves 60 miles offshore were 25-30 ft high. Florida Today later reported “Strong wind gusts — including blasts of 55 mph at Patrick Air Force Base and Melbourne International Airport — prompted Holmes Regional Medical Center to ground its rescue helicopter. ” The few cars that headed east over the causeway went single file in the center of two lanes and struggled to stay in the center. Several feet of beach sand had washed out to sea before Sandy was even parallel to the shore. It felt more like a direct hit of a tropical storm hit than a brush with one.
Without a doubt, Hurricane Sandy will go down in the record books. And residents of the Space Coast will just as certainly re-think their casual view of a storm ‘brushing’ their shores. This brush was a costly one: erosion from Sandy is estimated to cost the county $25 million dollars.