I never thought I would live through a hurricane. Midwesterners know thunderstorms and blizzards. Extreme winds back home are just mildly inconvenient at worst. I don’t why, but I assumed it was one of those things that people talked about — but would never actually happen.

But as I curled up on an air mattress on the second of the news station — just months after arriving in Southwest Florida — I couldn’t help but wonder what I would tell people about what it was like to survive a hurricane.

Wrapped up in Wisconsin… I realized I covered myself in what felt familiar in such an unfamiliar time. My WINK hurricane survival kit included:

  • 3 Wisconsin T-shirts
  • 2 Wisconsin Sweatshirts
  • 2 Wisconsin tie-blankets
  • 1 Wisconsin Baseball cap

No, that’s not all I brought with me. But as I laid there, actually trying to fall asleep in my workplace, I realized I was subconsciously comforting myself with things that reminded me of the place I called home for the last four years.

While my new home became threatening, I brought in my old home to keep me safe.

For some reason, as I laid there, I thought about what I would tell my future kids. Years from now, what would I have to say? What will I remember most about this super storm?

It felt surreal. 
Although the hurricane hit Fort Myers, I only saw the storm through the screens in the station — making it still feel like just something that was happening on TV. Despite being stuck at the station for days, I struggled to wrap my head around the fact that it was actually going on around us. I think that’s why I didn’t know have anything profound to say about it to friends or family after the fact.

It was scary. It was crazy. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before. That’s it.

Irma caused widespread flooding, power outages, and destruction. 
Irma left behind catastrophic damage in parts of Florida. As pictures and videos of the aftermath began to flood our inbox, I couldn’t believe some of the images I was seeing. It was heartbreaking.

People went into a state of panic — especially since Irma came through right after Hurricane Harvey devastated Texas. 
It was a little like what I imagined the end of the world to be like. In the days before the storm, crowds rushed to the grocery stores, wiping out the bottled water supplies and flashlights. Gas suddenly become the most sought-after commodity. Both before and after the storm, lines that backed up onto main streets, leaving many people waiting for gas for hours. We heard stories of people waiting for two hours only for the gas stations to run out by the time they got to the pump. Others were taking advantage of the shortage — filling up gas containers, and trying to turn a profit off of other people still stuck in the lines.

The hurricane brought out the best and the worst of people. 
We had the pleasure of telling stories of communities coming together to help each other out in the wake of a natural disaster. And people really stepped up. Neighbors helping neighbors, strangers helping strangers. It was truly incredible to see our reporters telling the stories of people who risked their lives and spent hours in the heat, helping others clean up the mess after Irma. At the same time, it was distressing to hear the stories of people who took advantage of others, like the looters who stole tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment that a pastor used to spread the word of God.

Working during Hurricane Irma was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. 
When my family and friends up North found out that I had to stay to work during the hurricane, they freaked out.  They were scared. They didn’t want me to stay. Governor Scott was telling millions to evacuate and, admittedly, it was scary. I didn’t fully know what to expect. Irma had a pretty uncertain path for a long time — and it definitely raised concerns. But I can’t tell you how proud I am to have been a part of something like that. I watched hundreds of emails pour in about how grateful people were that we were there for them throughout the storm. And I knew, if I had to, I would do it all over again. We were there from Saturday morning to Monday night straight, and we were on the air for more than 80 hours in a row. We couldn’t shower. A few people even washed their hair in the bathroom sinks. Everyone was exhausted. But it was worth it. We provided vital information for people in their time of need.

When I was 16, I wrote a paper in AP Comp about how I wanted to save people through my writing, because I realized I no longer wanted to be a doctor. I knew my calling was writing. But I had a really hard time believing in myself for the longest time. When I have kids, I want them to know that Hurricane Irma taught me how valuable what I am doing really is.

I often wonder if what I’m doing is worth it– the long hours, the odd hours, the lack of time I have to have a life outside of work. But as I laid on that air mattress on the second floor of the news station, I couldn’t help but think: if I make it through this, I can make it through anything.