In 2004, Hurricane Charlie hit the state of Florida at Fort Myers on August 13. Hurricane Francis struck the east coast near Stuart on September 5. That was the same day that Ivan went from a tropical storm to a hurricane. 18 hours later it was a category 4 storm and still strengthening.
So it's probably not accurate to say Hurricane Ivan took the state by surprise, but in its early days Florida was dealing with the aftermath of those other two storms. On the morning of September 8, 2004, WUWF newsman John Richardson led his morning newscast with updates on Hurricanes Charlie and Francis, saying congress had approved 2 billion dollars in emergency funds for relief efforts.
On Capitol Hill Senator Bill Nelson gave a speech on the senate floor comparing the situation in Florida with the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew. His comments now seems eerily prophetic, saying "that was just one hurricane...but now we have two and Lord help us if we have three".
And in the State Emergency Operations center in Tallahassee, then Governor Jeb Bush talked about the relief efforts already underway calling it "the largest relief effort that the American Red Cross has ever undertaken".
And after reporting on other Charlie and Francis related news, Richardson ended his newscast with a note about Hurricane Ivan, saying it was "about 210 miles west of Grenada".
By the next day, September 9, even though Ivan was still a week away from landfall, officials were beginning to take notice. During his daily update on the relief efforts ongoing in the state, Governor Bush warned people to take Hurricane Ivan seriously, saying it had the potential to "be worse than anything we've seen so far".
By Friday, September 10, Ivan was passing south of Jamaica with winds at 150 MPH and was heading towards the Gulf. But at that point forecasters were still unsure where the storm would eventually end up. Fast forward to the following Monday afternoon, September 13. WUWF's Dave Dunwoody reported that Escambia Country was under a local state of emergency. Ivan was located near Cuba with 160 MPH winds and the forecast projections put a bullseye right on the panhandle.
By the next morning, Tuesday the 14, the track of the storm was becoming clear. On WUWF that morning, John Richardson's first newscast was all about preparing for Ivan. Governor Jeb Bush: "This is not the time to be defiant or to let people know you're a macho man...this is a powerful force of nature that you don't want to be messing with"
Officials had ordered mandatory evacuations in some of the areas surrounding Pensacola, but not for the city. Around town people were getting ready to ride out the storm. Stores were filled with people getting the essentials and gas stations were trying to keep up with demand.
At the time, Gulf Power company had sent many of its crews to south Florida to help with repairs after Charlie and Francis. Now, with Ivan just hours away, the company said it was time to get ready here at home and all crews were back, ready to take on whatever Ivan had to offer.
So now it's Wednesday morning, September 15 and Ivan is closing in on the Gulf Coast with 140 MPH winds. At this point a section of the Navarre Pier had already been washed away into the Gulf. Don Chinery, the public information officer for Santa Rosa County summed up the feelings of a lot of people saying "it's gonna be a long night be we'll get through it, we've done this before."
The area is expecting the worst. That's exactly what it got.
(Tomorrow Part 2: Ivan Strikes!)