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Hurricane Wilma

Marco Island, Florida - Oct. 24, 2005

Hurricane Wilma Thrashes Florida.

Oct. 24th - Southwest Tip of Marco Island, South of Naples Florida

Despite predictions of weakening, Hurricane Wilma roared ashore as a strengthening strong category 3 storm. I encountered the calm eye of the storm just before sunrise and was actually able to look up and see the moon through the clear air. This did not last long though. The second half of Wilma was incredibly fierce, lashing the area with incredible winds & rain for hours. At one point, Wilma was the strongest category 5 hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic with a central pressure of 882 millibars!!

 

Hurricane Wilma You Tube


Leading up to the storm...

(Oct 21) - I met up with Tim Millar and Ryan Keelan in Sarasota a few days before the hurricane hit. Wilma was still stalled out over top of Cancun and Cozumel so we had a few day in order to get ready and prepared. The evening I arrived, we took a trip down to our initial target area of Naples. I had arranged to meet up with a CCN news crew and that evening I appeared live on Anderson Cooper 360 as he reported from the beachfront. It looked likely that we'd be returning to the area in a couple of days.

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Tim Millar preparing the truck for the chase. The (Almost) abandoned beaches in Naples. The CNN uplink truck. LIVE with Anderson Cooper.

(Oct 22) - More waiting as Wilma slowly moves away from Mexico. We decided to take a small boat and head out to sea to see how big the ocean swells in the Gulf of Mexico were getting. Well, they were impressive and we were tossed about as huge waves pounded the boat.

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A group of three dolphins circle our boat off of Sarasota. Video Clip of riding out the big ocean swells ahead of the hurricane

(Oct 23) - With only about 24hrs before the arrival of Wilma, we made our final preparations and took one last trip down to the ocean before departing again and heading south to our target area. The seas were really starting to pick up and it was becoming apparent that we had a long night ahead of us since the hurricane was due to arrive around daybreak.

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A large wave breaks as I film at the end of an old pier. A few surfers couldn't resist the waves ahead of the storm.

 

Landfall

(Oct 24) - It was obvious that Marco Island was going to be the best place to go so we made the trek down, filled up the tank one last time and searched out a suitable structure somewhere along the beach. We decided on the Radisson hotel on the southwestern tip of the island. It was in a great spot with lots of filming locations. Up on the balcony of the 12th floor, the wind speed was much greater than at ground level. and we could see the power grid failing across the city. There were green power explosions that would take out the power to entire neighborhoods at a time.

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The hurricane warning flag flying over Marco Island. Tim and Ryan doing web cast updates for cycloneresearch.com Power flashes on the horizon as the electricity fails one block at a time.s Tim, flying the Canadian flag in the extreme winds up on the 12th floor.

As the wind speeds increased, we went down to the beach and I caught a ride with the Marriot hotel security guards and we rode along the beach in their golf cart. It was bizarre to be off roading in this tiny golf cart in a hurricane. All I could do was laugh at the absurdity of it all. We went back to the Marriot and they gave me a handful of chemical glow sticks, then it was back to the Radisson. The woman driving had a lead foot and I almost fell off a number of times.

The eyewall was now approaching and when it hit, the debris really started flying. I was able to film an emergency exit sign break off and go flying. It was still illuminated as it went sailing off into the night.

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Radar image of the hurricane coming ashore. Strong winds in the eyewall of Wilma. An airborne emergency exit sign goes flying. Note that it's still lit up as it sails away. Driving around in the calm eye. There was some flooding and partially blocked roads.

When the actual eye of the storm reached us, it was incredibly calm. By looking at the radar, we knew that we had a while before the winds would increase again so we went out and looked at some of the other areas around Marco Island. It was the calmest hurricane eye that I have experienced so far and at one point, it was clear and calm enough to look up and clearly make out the half moon. After a while we figured that we needed to get back to a safe area before the second half of the storm hit and when we got back to the hotel we discovered a flat tire. No surprise really, with all of the debris littering the streets. We also decided to eat something before the show started up again. Tim had the foresight to bring along a gas grill so we made a chicken stir fry breakfast in the eye of the storm. Once I had a hot meal into me, I was ready for the show to start up again.

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No wind or rain at all as the eye of the storm passes overhead. What a treat it was to look up and see the moon through the clear eye of the hurricane. On our way back to the hotel, a flat tire. A hot meal! Using a gas grill, we made chicken stir fry...In the eye on the storm!

As if on cue, the daylight brought the second half of the hurricane, except this time it would be far stronger than the first half. Usually, a hurricane will weaken as it comes ashore and the second half is often much weaker than the first. Not this time. Wilma was fierce when the winds suddenly increased and the eyewall hit our area. Debris was flying around everywhere and it was impossible to stand up in some areas. Several sections of the first floor wall collapsed, exposing interior rooms to the elements. One of the walls fell right on the CNN satellite uplink truck.

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With the sunrise came the second half of the storm and the winds now shifted to the opposite direction. The second half of the storm was much stronger than the first. Pieces of the roof from the Hilton hotel begin to break off. A partial collapse of a wall at the Radisson.

The winds were so strong that there were whitecaps in the pool! It kept going on for hours like this. The sound was deafening and even the water in the toilets was heaving up and down with the pressure changes and wind gusts.

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The Pelican Pete's sign swings upside-down. Anderson Cooper again. This time reporting live from our hotel. The collapsed wall just happened to land on the CNN satellite truck. Probably not the best place to have parked.

When it was all over there was billions of dollars worth of damage across south Florida and millions were left without electricity. Wilma was the last hurricane name for the 2005 storm season. The next named storm had to be called Alpha, using the Greek alphabet. What a hurricane season - George.

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The tremendous winds made moving around treacherous.

A beach hut overturned by wind and surge.

More areas of collapsed walls at the Radisson hotel.

The trashed hotel courtyard.