FORT MYERS, Fla. - When Hurricane Charley roared ashore 30 miles north of here in the heart of Charlotte County, much of Southwest Florida was surprised.
Until about five hours before landfall on that August 13th afternoon, forecasters expected the storm to track north into the Tampa area. WINK News Chief Meteorologist Jim Farrell was the first to notice a slight deviation in the hurricane's path, and alerted viewers in the midst of wall-to-wall coverage.
"One of the problems inherent to living in Southwest Florida with any storm coming from the south is the slightest movement east or west can mean the difference between hitting Marco Island or Sarasota," Farrell says.
Charley's "turn" wasn't really a turn at all, Farrell says. Because the hurricane largely parallelled the Southwest Florida coast, a jog to the east by a few miles dramatically changed the storm's point of landfall.
As computers and technology have improved, so has the accuracy of hurricane prediction. Forecast "cones" commonly used to show the path of a hurricane or tropical storm are generally more narrow and more reliable than ten years ago.
But Farrell says a storm on a track similar to Charley could still waver and prove difficult to forecast accurately close to land.
It's why Floridians like Leif Lustig take preparation so seriously.
"We were looking at winds around 40 or 50 miles an hour," Lustig remembered about the day Charley made landfall. "We weren't expecting hurricane strength because [the storm was] going to go farther North in the Gulf."
As Dock Master for the Fort Myers River Basin Yacht Club, Lustig says he was glad he prepared for more than expected.
"The winds kept getting stronger and stronger," Lustig remembers. "The mood got darker, and everybody got ready ... not knowing just what we were going to experience."
Because the yacht club took extra steps to prepare in the then-unlikely event Charley made landfall, Lustig says he and his crew came through unscathed.
"We didn't sit around hoping it was going to be okay," Lustig remembers. "We ran around and secured everything.... Luckily, not a single boat was damaged."