Hurricane Irma proved, at least for the county, to be like one of those elderly aunts from youth whose arrival is dreaded and who coos, pinches cheeks and plants wet ones all over faces.



Hurricane Irma proved, at least for the county, to be like one of those elderly aunts from youth whose arrival is dreaded and who coos, pinches cheeks and plants wet ones all over faces.

That was Irma, plenty of anxiety over her arrival but in the end a lot of wind with a dash of lingering moisture.

The storm was enough to knock out power for many, roughly 2,000 at one point, fill ditches and topple the weak among tree branches, but, let’s be straight, it could have been much, much worse.

In Gulf County, Irma’s winds never reached a level sufficient to close bridges, 45 mph or 6 mph above tropical storm level, and the rain was well within the forecast range, 2-4 inches.

The Stump Hole rock revetment, the most concerning topography in the county with each tropical storm that brushes by, held, erosion was non-existent along the peninsula.

“It was not as bad as it could have been,” said Emergency Management Director Marshall Nelson. “We had a good response and everybody played well together.”

If one prediction was off, it was concerning storm surge.

The expected build-up of water in Indian Pass Lagoon and St. Joseph Bay, the expected erosion of peninsula beaches, did not happen.

Instead, the water went out, both in the bay and along the peninsula, sucked into the vortex of Irma and never returned in high volume.

Now, Irma certainly caused some pause in county officials, and a few quick beats of heart among residents, late last week, as she wobbled a tad much too westerly for comfort.

Local store shelves were scoured Thursday and Friday as if tropical storm winds had already arrived and were allowed in and by Saturday morning the county began to move people out as Irma made an uncomfortable tumble further west.

“We have the ability now to take the hurricane forecast and run that storm up both sides of the error cone,” Nelson said of current computer modeling. “We were able to walk that storm up that error cone and what it showed was a Category 3 storm hitting Cape San Blas.”

Nelson asked the Board of County Commissioners to implement evacuation orders for residents and visitors on the peninsula, in low-lying and coastal areas and inhabiting RVs.

Gulf District Schools, closed Friday and Monday by order of the governor and Tuesday by local school leaders, offered staging areas for RV at two local schools until after Irma passed late Monday.

By Saturday’s evening update, however, the hurricane had begun to make a turn in a more northerly direction and while commissioners urged guards to remain up, it was also clear Irma was on a more generous path as far as Gulf County was concerned.

“The key number one thing was that it stayed on that path and actually moved in a better direction (for Gulf County),” Nelson said. “On that track, once it hit land, it cut down the wind field, cut down the rain, took it down a notch.”

The rest of the state, particularly the Southwest, not so much.

Irma barged ashore near Naples, her second landfall in the continental U.S., as a Category 3 storm but quickly lost some steam while plowing along the west side of the peninsula.

“The thing about this one is we saw the impacts of the storm we were looking at while it was happening,” Nelson said of Irma’s path through the Caribbean to Florida. “You can look into the future.

“It was scary.”

Irma was in name only a tropical storm by the time she reached the Forgotten Coast, though thousands spent Sunday night and much of Monday without power; Irma, as Nelson predicted, largely a wind event.

The storm remained that way as it traveled north through Georgia, mitigating any potential of heavy rains to the north producing flooding issues down the line in the county.

But, in truth, this summer brought more ferocious storms to the county, which could once again, as it has for more than a decade, escaped the worst of another major tropical storm.

All residents and visitors had to do to understand their luck, good fortune, whatever one wished to call it, was to tune into broadcasts from Houston, from Naples, from Marco Island and the Caribbean.

Those images temper any and all relief emanating from Gulf County.