Looking back to September 10th, 2017, Category 3 Hurricane Irma with winds speeds of 115 mph hit landfall approximately 26 miles northwest of Chokoloskee Island, where our fifth wheel was parked at Outdoor Resorts (ORA). A few days later, we were taking pictures of our devastated rig that had experienced an 8-ft storm surge. It, along with every rig parked at ORA was totaled. On that day, Vivian and I revised our impending fulltime RV lifestyle with the decision to never leave our rig, be it a fifth wheel or otherwise on Chokoloskee Island during hurricane season. And if we have the misfortune of being in a location under hurricane watch, we would promptly leave.
Shortly after Irma, we bought our current fifth wheel, a Grand Design Reflection 303rls and have lived fulltime in it since June 2018. Because we travel with our home, we have mostly stayed a safe distance from hurricanes and tropical storms. This year, we spent much of hurricane season in the northern parts of the Midwest where our weather consciousness and vocabulary expanded thanks to polar vortexes and derechos. As we headed into the fall season, we bid Michigan adieu and moved on to Indiana for our yearly service to the RV suspension and to have a new pin box installed. After that, we were off to White River Campground near Indianapolis to visit family. While our minds were wrapped up in traveling, RV maintenance and upgrade, and visits with family, one faraway thing kept tugging at us like an incessant child impossible to ignore- a storm brewing in the tropics and heading toward Florida’s Gulf Coast.
On September 25, 2022, we pulled out of White River Campground and drove to Columbus, Ohio, near which we parked at a KOA for three nights before heading further east to Erie, PA. The Ohio weather had turned cold and harsh with looming dark clouds, bitter winds and rain. For the past six days, we had fixated on a tropical wave east of the Caribbean that had strengthened into a tropical depression the day before we left Indiana.
On September 28th, we drove from Ohio to Erie PA as Category 4 Hurricane Ian made landfall on the Florida Gulf Coast with sustained winds of 150 mph. Facebook pages were buzzing, and the one we kept close watch on was the ORA at Chokoloskee page. On the low side of a gulf island, ORA floods easily – an inevitable event about to happen. Until power was lost, owners gathered as much information as possible, the most reliable coming from the park cameras and a few people that stayed there and gave reports.
Watching what was going on in Florida while driving through Ohio felt surreal. The estimated storm surge level on the morning of Sep 28 was in the 12-18 ft range near the Fort Myers area, and 8-12 feet south of there to Chokoloskee Island. We knew the island would be greatly affected but it would fare much better than neighbors to the north. The highest observed water levels on record in Naples and Fort Myers occurred that day.
Ironically and quite fortunately, we were going to Erie to visit friends who also own an RV lot at ORA. The plan was to stay at Camp Eriez on Lake Erie where our friends live parttime in the summer. It is essentially a fish camp and while our visit was to give Vivian an opportunity to fish, the weather turned sour, leaving us way too much time to cogitate on Hurricane Ian. Mine and Vivian’s home on wheels was safe. On the other hand, our friends’ fifth wheel and boat were on the island and therefore, they had additional damage to deal with. Calls to insurance agents, spotty communication with the park manager and getting updated posts on the Facebook page helped the four of us navigate through the post-hurricane confusion from a distance.
The damage was done, and there was little we could do because we had a few more weeks on the road before returning to Chokoloskee. No point in getting there any time sooner, so we enjoyed the remains of our travels and the cooler temperatures that followed us.
Our visit to West Virginia that included mostly the New River Gorge National Park and a few other locations can be summed up well with the following slideshow.
Following West Virginia, we at last arrived in Florida, with temperatures remaining cool. Here are a few images from our Florida leg that included two beautiful campgrounds.
Despite the clean up and dealing with a broken shed door and a shed full of water logged stuff that mostly had to be thrown away, things began to look up nicely on Chokoloskee Island. With that, we settle in for the winter in our tropical paradise – until next hurricane season.
One last note, if you enjoyed this blog and photos, check out this one I wrote about another hurricane that tried to spoil our travels in Arkansas, titled “Running from Laura“.