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Carl Wernicke: An Ice Storm To Remember



 As a community, we tend to mark the passage of time through memorable events whose impacts are as powerful mentally as they are physically. Just as the memory of the great hurricanes of 1906, 1916 and 1926 imprinted itself on past generations of Pensacolians, many of us today will carry the marker of Hurricane Ivan in 2004 for the rest of our lives.

And now we’ve all had our tickets punched by the great ice storm of 2014. Yes, it was short in duration, and at least the visible impacts were short-lived. But it was a powerful marker for our psyches. Because to steal a line from Monty Python, nobody in Northwest Florida expects a blizzard.

A longer-lasting concern, however, is the impact the severe cold had on local citrus, which has undergone such a renaissance that locally grown fruit had begun showing up in area stores, and local food banks developed a program to harvest fruit from homes across the area. It has become a common sight in East Hill, Downtown and other areas to see citrus trees laden with fruit.

At my mother’s home on Gull Point, we have become accustomed to harvesting oranges and lemons from her trees, and trading them for a neighbor’s juicy white grapefruit.

But, of course, the only constant is change. Sometimes it occurs slowly, and then one day we realize that citrus trees are all over town. And sometimes it comes quickly, and a two-day ice storm threatens to reverse years of gradual change.

Well, I hope I don’t sound pretentious, but it is ever thus. We think life the way we know it is the way it is, and then a freight train barrels down from the Arctic and resets our understanding of the world.

But Pensacola didn’t wash or blow away in 1906 or 2004, and the deep freeze of 2014 isn’t putting us on ice, either. While our memories might be short, the long view brings some perspective.

Doing a little research, I found references to citrus-killing freezes across Florida in 1835, 1894, 1899, 1917, 1927 and, well, you get the picture. Oldtimers told me about Satsuma groves in Ensley in the 1920s, which might explain street names just off North Palafox like Satsuma Avenue and Orange Avenue. Of course, Ensley also has streets named Pecan, Poplar, Cherry and Juniper, but let’s try to stick to my narrative here, OK?

I found a reference to plans by a local entrepreneur to plant a 50-acre Satsuma grove in 1923 between Floridatown and Mulat, and someone even built something named the Satsuma Beach Pavilion at Floridatown, only to see it wrecked by the 1926 storm.

And a recent article by Kim Blair in the Pensacola News Journal noted the remnants of an orange tree plantation from the 1800s in the Gulf Islands National Seashore’s Naval Live Oaks Preserve outside Gulf Breeze.

The theme is constant: a hurricane knocks us down, we rebuild; a freeze kills our citrus, we replant. We lose the memories of the past, acquire new ones, and keep going.

One thing I think we can all agree on: the hope that the great ice storm of 2014 was such a singular event that it remains a prominent mental marker. If this is going to happen every year, it might be time to move somewhere warm, like Florida. 

Carl Wernicke is a native of Pensacola. He graduated from the University of Florida in 1975 with a degree in journalism. After 33 years as a reporter and editor, he retired from the Pensacola News Journal in April 2012; he spent the last 15 years at the PNJ as editor of the editorial page. He joined the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in 2012 as Senior Writer and Communications Manager, and retired from IHMC in 2015.His hobbies include reading, traveling, gardening, hiking, enjoying nature around his home in Downtown Pensacola, as well as watching baseball and college football, especially the Florida Gators and New York Yankees. His wife, Patti, retired as a senior vice president at Gulf Winds Federal Credit Union and is a Master Gardener. Carl is a regular contributor to WUWF. His commentaries focus on life in and around the Pensacola area and range in subject matter from birding to downtown redevelopment and from preserving our natural heritage to life in local neighborhoods.