Isaac, the storm that “missed” Wellington, Florida

9 years ago ilse Comments Off on Isaac, the storm that “missed” Wellington, Florida


WELLINGTON, Florida, Aug. 29–You won’t have heard about any major impact on South Florida on the international or even the national news. As far as the media in the rest of the world is concerned, the only link between tropical storm Isaac and Florida is how much it may affect the Republican convention being held in Tampa. If you live in Wellington, home of the Winter Equestrian Festival and the Global Dressage Festival, you may have grounds to argue.

The wrought iron gate to what is normally carefully manicured polo fields on Southfields Road. It would now be a perfectly functional water polo venue © 2012 Ilse Schwarz/

As I write this I am on board an American Airlines Boeing 767 flight being bounced around by turbulence as we fly over the Gulf Coast and what is now Hurricane Isaac.

About 10 days ago a tropical system left the coast of Africa and started to make its way across the Atlantic Ocean. For those of you who didn’t know, at this time of year that is where most of our tropical disturbances originate. Those of us who live year-round in South Florida make a habit of noting the tropical update on the local weather report and the track and likelihood of development and then going on with our day. The track of the system that became Isaac did actually cause me to pause and listen to the report in detail, all the forecast models, the “spaghetti” models had tropical disturbance Isaac heading straight to us. I mean STRAIGHT to us, not even one of the models varied. I breathed a sigh of relief… sounds stupid right? But my experience has been that if the models have you pinpointed with such accuracy a week out, the chances are that it will deviate in its course.

The storm had to negotiate the mountains of Hispanola and then Cuba and I just couldn’t believe that both of these land masses wouldn’t affect the course. Of course I had an added incentive to watch the track of this system, not only did I need it to miss Wellington but it also had to bypass Miami as I was scheduled to fly out of Miami to give a series of clinics in Australia. It is difficult enough to carve out the time to travel for such a long trip, but once organized, the thought of rescheduling 10 days of teaching and the associated eight flights is actually too daunting.

I followed the track of Isaac pretty carefully, allowing myself a feeling of relief as the track turned more and more westerly, ultimately moving at 20-mile-an-hour west northwest with sustained wind speeds below 70 miles per hour (at 70 mph-112 kilometer per hour it becomes a hurricane). We were on the easterly side of the storm, the wettest side, so we figured we would see strong wind gusts and maybe four to six inches of rain. The storm continued to track west and we as a community relaxed enough to compete in a horse show the day before the storm was forecast to make its effects felt. What no-one had forecast was that the wind pattern would suck storms over us days before the outer bands of the storm was even supposed to approach, so we had some pretty wicked storms as a warning of what was to come.

Storms approaching the day before tropical storm Isaac. © 2012 Ilse Schwarz/

I decided to get to the barn freakishly early to get as many horses ridden on Sunday morning before the worst of the forecast rain started. It is dark at 6:15 am in Wellington, but it wasn’t raining… until I got on the first horse. OK, at least I was up early!!! After the first shower passed I got my 10-year-old mare, Sauvignon (Sandro Hit x de Niro x Landadel) ridden and schooled and then the sky started to look majorly forbidding.

The first of the rain bands of Isaac approaches my arena. © 2012 Ilse Schwarz/

I just made it into the barn before the first of the outer rain bands of Isaac arrived and left, horizontally, in a hurry leaving about a half inch of rain. My barn manager and I quickly realized that there was no way all eight horses were getting ridden properly before the rain really set in so as my arena was a wee little swimming pool, we each grabbed a horse and walked up and down the dry tarmac roads in between the storms. Mission accomplished, horses all exercised before noon. This was important as I was pretty certain that they wouldn’t get out of their stalls on Monday. Boy, was I right.

My arena became a "wee" swimming pool after the first significant band of storms. © 2012 Ilse Schwarz/

We had a round of afternoon storms, wind gusts not too bad–probably no more than 45 miles an hour–and quiet in between but so much rain during each rain band. During a break in the severe storms, I went to do evening stables. Windy, rainy but bearable. Two of the stables were already pretty wet, uh, oh, didn’t bode well for overnight.

Horses were all tucked in, fed, loved and the barn locked up for the night. I had forgotten how much I hated tropical systems. I have ridden out hurricanes Fran, Jeanne and Wilma (which took our roof) during my time in Wellington and I try to remember that naive girl from country Australia who thought it may be fun to experience a “small” hurricane. Did I say  naive? I meant stupid!

I am well educated now and genuinely fear the huge gusty storms, torrential rain, tornado warnings, power outages (we were lucky with Isaac, the power came on again quite quickly with each outage), thunder, lightning. Lots of all of it for hours and hours. All of this was unpleasant, but unless we actually got a tornado, it was unlikely to blow our roof off. I had continual weather reports on the television and it quickly became apparent that the estimates of four to six inches of rain was a gross underestimate. Again, not too much worry.

Wellington is built around canals; many, many canals for drainage. We can get a summer storm with two inches of rain in an hour and not miss a beat, the water just “disappears”.

The entrance to my barn, "Magnolia Farm" after approximately 10 inches of rain. © 2012 Ilse Schwarz/

The next morning, it was clear that we had had maybe 10 inches of rain and there was local flooding in Palm Beach County.  Some schools were closed but garbage pick up continued, mail was getting delivered, stores were open. etc etc. We were all pretending it was a normal day.The troublesome thing was that the strong storms just continued, relentlessly over the top of us. I leaned that there is a term for it: “training” which is when storm after storm continue over the same track.

Well, Wellington “trained” all night and was showing no sign of stopping.


The only exit from my house to the barn, Big Blue Trace, 10:30 am Aug. 27, 2012 © 2012 Ilse Schwarz/

Mid-morning, I decided to drive to the barn and grab a few things from the store. My first shock was when I pulled onto the main road from the development where my house is. The road was flooded… like seriously flooded.

I looked at my Mazda 3, looked at the road, thought about our floodway at my house in Armidale, Australia and how deep the water would be before Dad would either start up the 1964 Austin cattle truck, or the trusty Massey Ferguson tractor. I also watched a car smaller than mine make it through the water… on the wrong side of the road. So, I did the same, and made it… slowly.

Once I reached the main road through Wellington’s main drag, South Shore Boulevard, it was remarkably clear of water, although it was obvious that no-one was leaving the Palm Beach Polo Club through the west exit. Very flooded. I got to the road leading to the barn.

I stopped the car and got out and walked, to see how deep it was. The road had vanished under water, but it was barely knee deep so I slowly crawled with my car into the barn and left it running, hoping I hadn’t killed it.

Anyone for waterpolo? © 2012 Ilse Schwarz/

The horses were happy, two stalls underwater, so a little rearranging and they were all high and dry again.

However, the polo grounds around us were designed, apparently , for water polo. The next onslaught of rain (more “training”) was imminent so I said bye to my barn manager, who has a nice BIG, typically American SUV which was not bothered at all by the flooding.

That afternoon as another four to six inches of rain fell, reports of damage and flooding started appearing all over Facebook.

My friends only one hour north had received only half as much rain as us. Wellington was truly under seige, all from a storm we thought was going to cause more annoyance than anything else. In fact I had no idea about the extent of the flooding until a friend called me to say they had seen the road in front of my house on the local news. Road closed and people kayaking up and down it.

Big Blue Trace, Wellington, 6 p.m. Aug. 27, 2012. © 2012 Ilse Schwarz/

Apparently after about eight inches of rain overnight, the canals reached their full capacity, the pumping stations working overtime could not keep up and the water had nowhere to go. After the last of our training storms, about 36 hours after it had started (the center of the storm was some 350 miles away in the Gulf of Mexico, and it had been pulling the storms over the top of us) the rain finally eased and the true extent of flooding became obvious. I was actually flooded in now, no chance I was getting out.

Hundreds of people who had gone out as normal in the morning had to park their cars elsewhere and get rides to their houses with friends with really big typically USA-style trucks. F350s were pretty desirable property.

The official figures–Tropical Storm Isaac dumped about 16 inches (400mm) of rain on Wellington from late Sunday night through Monday afternoon, nearly double the worst of South Florida’s recent hurricanes dropped on the community. Wellington saw 8.1 inches of rain during Hurricane Frances over four days in September 2004, Hurricanes Jeanne, the other September 2004 storm, dumped 5.5 inches. Hurricane Wilma brought 2.2 inches of rain in October 2005.

Tami Hoag: New York Times best selling author, had several eventful episodes during the rain.

“Thanks to hurricane Isaac, it’s water, water everywhere, and in south Florida that means alligators! Look closely, and get a load of the size of the head on this bad boy. That fence he’s peering through is at the farm where my horses live (not normally waterfront property). He’s waiting for my friend’s chihuahuas to come by for snack time. Yikes!” She illustrates this comment with a very large alligator nose right at her fence.

And this comment, written as only a best selling author can write! “Hurricane Isaac is now in my office. We’ve had 13 inches of rain, most of which has come in through the roof I have had ‘fixed’ three times. I give up. You can only say WTF?! So many times before you have to start drinking. I’m going to make a cocktail and watch my office ceiling fall in while plotting my next book: JUSTIFIABLE HOMICIDE, about the brutal murder of an incompetent roofing crew. Sure to be a bestseller in south Florida!”

Heidi Degle, a local FEI trainer who lives in neighboring Loxahatchee, finally had to evacuate her horses, the day AFTER the rain ended as there was still nowhere for the water to go and it finally impacted her barn