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Running From Hurricane Irma in an RV

Updated on October 4, 2017
Don Bobbitt profile image

Don has been an avid traveler and motorhome owner for most of his life and he shares his knowledge of motorhomes and other RVs.

Our Campsite in the Keys

Fiesta Key campsite set up for the daily Keys lifestyle.
Fiesta Key campsite set up for the daily Keys lifestyle. | Source

Camping and Working in the Florida Keys

This is an account of what we had to do to get away from Hurricane Irma as campers working in the Florida Keys.

By now everyone has heard about this amazing act of nature called Irma that recently hit Florida.

It was touted for days by the press as “the worst ever,” and thankfully, for most us on the mainland of America at least, it turned out to be a bit less than what the news media warned us of.

Oh sure, don't get me wrong, it was horribly devastating to so many tens of thousands of people that I hesitate to mention our personal good luck, but lucky we were.

All I’m saying is that, my wife and I, along with so many other people in Florida, were spared serious injury and most people were even spared the heavy damage to their homes that was expected.

Well, other than in the Keys, that is.

We live in Ruskin, Florida, just south of Tampa, but we really enjoy traveling around the country in our motorhome, and to make a few bucks to cover our expenses we are what our fellow campers call Work Campers.

What that means is, we take jobs at campgrounds in exchange for reduced rents for our campsite and a little money. Typically these jobs involve simple low-impact work: clerks, receptionists, lawn maintenance, garbage pickup, housekeeping and such.

Watching Irma Form and Head Towards Florida

Anyway, we were working at one of the popular RV resorts in the middle Keys, called Fiesta Key, when nature generated the now infamous Hurricane Irma.

We, and most of the people in the southeastern United States, watched expectantly as Irma tore through the islands of the Caribbean and approached the Keys.

And as we expected, everyone was eventually told to evacuate the campgrounds, hotels, and homes in the Lower Keys, and then the Middle Keys, and finally the Upper Keys.

Being a respectful observer of the damage Irma had already wreaked on the islands, my wife and I did as we were told, we ran.

At this point our escape goal was simple, we just wanted to stay away from this ferocious storm; and as it was predicted to head up the East Coast of Florida, we ran back to our home near Tampa, on the West Coast.

As we left the Keys for the mainland, we realized that when a hurricane is coming towards you in Florida, the shape of the state itself becomes a problem.

You see, this state is a very long and narrow strip of land that only provides two major paths of of escape to the North or South: one is I-95 and the other is I-75.

Oh, sure there are a lot of small town-hopping roads that you can use for escape, but typically they cannot handle much traffic before they bog down from the overload of vehicles and people.

Basically, this is what Floridians do when a hurricane is coming; if it’s predicted to hit the East Coast, everyone goes to the West Coast, or they do the opposite, run west to east if the prediction is for a West Coast hit.

Well, we got safely to our house, on the West Coast, stocked upon provisions, plugged our RV up to the house, to keep the batteries charged and the RV fridge cold. We loaded our fridge with food, and feeling we had two good places to stay in, we “hunkered down” for some strong winds and rain, at the worst; or so we figured.

The Fallacy of the Perfection of Hurricane Prediction Technology

Of course, as we all know now, Irma changed her mind, crossed the Keys, and headed up the West Coast of Florida, eventually hitting the Naples coastline as a Cat-3 hurricane.

By this time though, most of the Floridians who felt safe on the west side of Florida were trapped by their own trust in the science of weather forecasts.

The interstate highways in Florida were essentially parking lots filled with the last waves of scared residents wanting to leave, along with the few remaining tourists.

My wife and I?

Our RV was loaded with fuel, food and provisions to last us a couple of weeks, and it was plugged into our house in Ruskin, Florida, ready for us to leave again if necessary.

Once this was done, we were continually watching the hurricane's eye’s movement on TV and although we felt a certain level of safety in our house, we were also prepared to go over to one of the nearby public shelters, if necessary.

It was a harrowing night for us, of course, just sitting and waiting for the next forecast update on Irma's path.

As we watched, Irma slowly moved north, and luckily for my wife and I, she shifted a few more miles towards the center of Florida and away from the West coast.

To our relief, as Irma drew closer, she also dropped first to a Cat-2 and then to a Cat-1 hurricane, and as she came closer to, she went down to Tropical Storm level winds, and the eye missed our community.

Literally within minutes of the eye passing us, our community we lost power, so we were in the dark about anything that might happen next but seeing as there was nothing else we could do, we went to bed and got a restless nights sleep.

The next morning, we got up from our bed, fired up the generator in our RV, and had a nice breakfast as we talked to our fellow neighbors who had also stayed to “ride out the storm.”

Happily, as we were talking with one couple, our neighborhood power came back on and we finally caught up on the devastation Irma had wrought on so many others.

Getting out of Florida Takes Time and Gas

As we spent the next few days in our house—which had surprising very little damage, by the way—we were glued to the TV and saw the tens of thousands of people still trapped on the interstate highways trying to get out of the state.

And, once the storm had passed from the state, the southbound lanes began to become clogged with the anxious residents who had run away from danger and now wanted to see if their homes had survived.

Simply said, at this point in time, the whole interstate transportation system of Florida had collapsed under the demand put on it by refuges.

As I talked to more people, I heard that the combination of two northbound lanes filled by refugees and two southbound lanes filled with returnees was actually made worse by yet another group of travelers.

Mny of these other people were the ones who at one point or another, had projected to be safe from Irma’s projected path, and yet just had to go somewhere.

Of course, there were the tens of thousands who had relatives to stay with in Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, the Carolinas and other points north.

But there were some who ran to the north of Florida and then, when weather predictions changed on them, they had to run to Louisiana, Alabama or Georgia, just hoping for an open hotel room or condo, even though most were already deemed safe.

And many RV owners also ran to the panhandle and other points to the north and stayed in a campground, or maybe in a hotel or condo themselves. But after getting settled in, they would get scared yet again as the weather reports changed and off they would go to get even further away from Florida.

I think it would be a good analysis for someone to do: what happened with this traffic problem and how much gasoline was wasted by how many people.

What Can the Media Do Better?

What can the media do better to prepare Florida residents for a hurricane that may or may not affect them, rather than wait and force people to react at the last minute?

How Much of the Fear Was Driven by the media?

It seemed that certain people, the ones I started calling “Rabbits,” were just so scared that with every reported change in Irma’s path, they felt they had to jump to another place that they thought would be safer than wherever they happened to be.

Many of their decisions didn’t seem to be based on logic, but rather on some ever-changing level of fear they were getting from the news media.

And the news media were not helping the situation.

OK, I understand that they have to report the facts of such dangerous situations as a hurricane like Irma to the population.

I also understand that their ratings are based on their audience size, so the more sensational the dangers and damages being reported from something like a hurricane, then the better job they were doing.

But, honestly, their coverage was continually of the worst of the worst situations on the islands in the Caribbean as well as in Florida.

I don’t believe I saw one newscaster who said; Sure this is a big and very dangerous storm, but get real folks, everyone is not going to die and every house will not be damaged. So get smart and do the things you must do that are right to protect yourselves and your families, and we will all get through this.

And honestly, we the public should be used to this kind of reporting.

Instead we get media reports where the extreme is shown to us on our home TV screen and very little time is spent providing us with not only how much damage could be expected, but also some level of perspective about how many of us would be spared such extreme damage with just a little preparation.

Once Irma Had Left Town

So, Irma, like all extreme examples of nature's wrath, eventually beat itself to death as it progressed up the center of Florida, and once it was gone, we all came crawling out of our rabbit holes to check things out.

Sure, sad to say, there were some deaths, and injuries to people and animals and property. I have read numbers of the many billions of dollars that will need to be spent to repair or replace: homes, businesses, churches, and infrastructure.

And, I’m sure you have seen the pictures of the damaged property in Miami, the Keys, and other parts of Florida.

There are so many examples of homes and businesses damaged or totally destroyed by Irma. So many once manicured and landscaped sites are either empty of any sign of a building having existed there at all, or there are only skeletons of structures remaining.

In the Keys, the streets of the Overseas Highway had to be worked on for days just to remove the debris so they could open just one lane for rescue personnel to get through to Key West.

And the debris? Well, of course there was: remnants of trees, plants, and seaweed piled up high, five to ten feet and more.

And mixed into this detritus of nature were so many refrigerators, washing machines, dryers, beds, mattresses, sofas, TVs and even the occasional vehicle or boat. Before Irma you never would have thought so many appliances and pieces of furniture would have existed in the Keys.

And the tropical trees, that once provided lush landscaping to hide everyone’s homes, condos and hotels from the eyes of the people driving on the Overseas Highway, were now either snapped into pieces, blown away to some other location, or as with most, stripped of every leaf, leaving stark bare tree trunks.

Anyway, after the storm, my wife and I already had our RV loaded, so we took advantage of the situation to hop around Florida to a few of our favorite nearby campgrounds that were open.

Now, as we watch the resurrection of Florida and wait for our technology-driven society to get back onto its feet, I still realize that, Irma or no Irma, we still love the great feeling we get living here.

Build a FEMA Disaster Kit

Tips on Preparing for a Hurricane

© 2017 Don Bobbitt

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    • Don Bobbitt profile image
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      Don Bobbitt 2 weeks ago from Ruskin Florida

      Dianna Mendez - Thanks for the kind words. And we Floridians always hope an impending landfall for a hurricane is on the OTHER coast. LOL!

      Have a great day!

      DON

    • Don Bobbitt profile image
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      Don Bobbitt 2 weeks ago from Ruskin Florida

      Larry Fish - A hurricane is a sensational experience for anyone, and now that it's over, I am looking at the devastation down here at the Keys and feel I need to write another Hub on what I now see.

      Thanks for the great comment,

      DON

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 2 weeks ago

      Your story is fascinating. We stayed and were thankful the storm headed west; but, we prayed for those on the west coast who endured Irma's wrath. Glad you got out of the keys and escaped the full force of the storm.

    • Larry Fish profile image

      Larry W Fish 2 weeks ago from Raleigh

      An excellent article, Don. Hurricanes are unpredictable and make changes in direction at any time. Anyway I am glad that you and your wife are alright. I think the media does make it sound worse many times than it is, but they do want to sensationalize everything.

    • Don Bobbitt profile image
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      Don Bobbitt 3 weeks ago from Ruskin Florida

      Natalie Frank - I appreciate your kind words and that you enjoyed my article. Have a great day!

      DON

    • Natalie Frank profile image

      Natalie Frank 3 weeks ago from Chicago, IL

      You make a number of excellent points, especially about the impact of the media and Florida's infrastructure. I am glad you and your wife are safe. Thanks for the article.

    • Don Bobbitt profile image
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      Don Bobbitt 4 weeks ago from Ruskin Florida

      Tim Mitchell - I felt I had to write this for my fellow Rv owners who spend so much time down here in Florida. Of course, I got an editor's response that I shouldn't include personal advice.

      I said ..... What? That's what my fellow RV owners need for their own use if they ever get into such a fix with a hurricane breathing down their neck.

      Oh Well!

      Have a great Day!

      DON

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      Tim Mitchell 4 weeks ago from Escondido, CA

      Thank you Don for your first hand experience shared. I was wondering what the highways and freeways would be like when the hurricane shifted sides. I agree it should be or have been studied. I am glad you got through the storm fairly well some of my FB friends were on both sides of that fence.

    • Don Bobbitt profile image
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      Don Bobbitt 4 weeks ago from Ruskin Florida

      Eric - I'm glad that you liked my little rant on hurricanes, the news media, and the highway systems in Florida.

      DON

    • Don Bobbitt profile image
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      Don Bobbitt 4 weeks ago from Ruskin Florida

      Nell - You're right, this little phenomenon of hurricanes is often very disastrous for the USA as well as the Caribbean Islands.

      But, I do have to say that if you love tropical weather like what we have in Florida, and the Islands, its all worth the occasional risks involved to most of us.

      Of course, when we do get hit our perspective changes a bit.

      Not that I am making light of the deaths and damages attributed to these weather monsters, but honestly we all tend to assume that the worst things happen to others, and not ourselves. Until it does!

      Have a good day!

      DON

    • Don Bobbitt profile image
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      Don Bobbitt 4 weeks ago from Ruskin Florida

      Bill - Good to hear from you. Throughout this situation, my wife and I tried to maintain a reasonable yet safe perspective on our situation. And, as I mentioned, this was hard to do at times when the media were pumping out SO MUCH information that was, sad to say, repetitive and sensational for those of us in different parts of Florida.

      Thanks for the read and comment though,

      DON

    • Don Bobbitt profile image
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      Don Bobbitt 4 weeks ago from Ruskin Florida

      Louise Powles - Thanks for your concern, but as is always the case, the further back such a situation gets in your mind, the less dangerous it seems.

      Thanks again,

      DON

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 4 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Thank you Don for bringing it all together. All I can say is WOW!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 4 weeks ago from England

      Good to know you are safe. We watched the whole thing over here in England, and thought we moan about the rain! glad we don't get those over here! then along came Maria! so sad what is going on over there at the moment, and of course Mexico too.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Well I'm glad you are safe, Don! That was one mean storm and thank goodness it didn't do more damage or take more lives.

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      Louise Powles 4 weeks ago from Norfolk, England

      I watched the news from England about Hurricane Irma. I'm glad that you and your wife are safe.