FLEMING ISLAND – Bill Patterson walked his dog along Westover Road on Sept. 5, a day after Hurricane Dorian made its run up the Florida coastline.
Unlike storms of the past, he didn’t need rubber boots, or even worse, a boat. Despite being a short chip shot away from the St. Johns River, his street and adjoining yards were void of standing water.
“We really dodged a bullet,” Patterson said.
Dorian originally was predicted to slam head-first into Central Florida, which would have brought damaging winds to Clay County. Then the temperamental storm was expected to change course and cut a path through Central Florida and exit through the Clay County’s back door, which would have resulted in catastrophic flooding. But when Dorian slowed down to unleash unspeakable death and destruction to the Bahamas, forecasters decided the storm would ramble up the coastline, far enough out to sea to merely tickle the state with slight wind and rain.
Patterson, who was knee-deep in water following Hurricane Irma two years ago, decided to ride the storm out after seeing the final storm track.
“It could have been awful,” he said. “We got lucky this time.”
His neighbor, Daniel, was even more relieved. His house still is under construction following Irma. He was supposed to move in at the end of the month, and he feared Dorian would wipe out years of work.
“We had 30 inches of water (with Irma), so we decided to remodel when we rebuilt the house,” Daniel said. “We raised the floor plan by 24 inches. The original floor plan was below the flood plain.
“When Dorian came at us, I couldn’t believe it. We were so close to finally getting back into our house. I’m glad it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Irma did enough damage.”
There was some localized flooding in low-lying areas, but not high enough to effect homes, acting Clay County Emergency Management Incident Commander John Ward said.
In fact, damage was no worse than a typical afternoon thunderstorm.
“We did have one tree on a home and that actually happened the night before landfall from that thunderstorm that came through, so that’s really the only reports of damage we have, that
tree on the home,” Ward said. “I don’t even think we got (a few inches) of rain. It was a very minimal amount.”
David Garner was out of the country, but he monitored the storm’s progress as it drew closer to his home off Creighton Road along Black Creek.
“I watched the track,” he said. “It’s not great when you’re out of the country and you don’t know what’s going on. I started to feel a little better when I saw the storm was staying out to sea. When I got home, we didn’t have any damage. We were lucky.”
While Clay escaped Dorian’s fury, Ward hopes residents don’t take future storms likely. He said hurricanes rarely follow a predicted path. Matthew, for example, changed course in 2016 after the county evoked evacuations ahead of that storm. But Matthew also skirted along the coastline without making a direct hit to Northeast Florida.
“That’s something in my prior career that we always fought was complacency,” Ward said. “With Matthew, we did an evacuation and the storm shifted east, so the question was: Are residents going to take it seriously and that’s where the county as a whole as a team, we really need to educate our citizens? This was a very close event for us, and we got very lucky. But we need residents to really heed the messages coming from the county and emergency management agency because they’ve got a lot of the information versus what’s seen on social media.”
As long as county residents continue to deal with the damage left in the wake of Irma, Ward believes most will take every warning seriously.
“I think after Irma, or hurricanes like Irma, you will see a big response,” he said. “Now, if you have a couple of storms like this that doesn’t cause us impact where the county initiates evacuations and stuff like that, as that goes on, the complacency gets worse and that’s something we’ve always fought.”
For now, Patterson is happy Dorian didn’t leave a trail a destruction in Clay County. He’s willing to put up with the anxiety and frustration of preparing, without any certainty, for the next storm.
Especially if it means he won’t be wading through water to walk his dog.
Staff writer Wesley LeBlanc contributed to this story.