“Is it over? Like, it’s past us?”
Margaret Luce asked the questions Tuesday afternoon as she sat in front of an antique, 1940s Art Deco glass bar in her spacious house near Jupiter Inlet.
Hurricane Dorian’s passage felt anticlimactic in Palm Beach County after days of anxiously watching The Weather Channel and going through a check list of necessary supplies.
Luce’s home is around 100 due west of where Hurricane Dorian — initially a Category 5 storm with winds gusts over 200 mph — paused to ravage the Bahamas for nearly two days over Labor Day weekend. Forecasters struggled to predict if and when the deadly storm might make landfall in Florida, and how bad it would be.
All they seemed to agree on was that Palm Beachers should prepare for the worst.
Last week passed in a blur of anxious preparations. As it turned out, in Palm Beach the worst part of the storm was the wait. It barely sideswiped the county on its track north.
“You just never know when it’s the one,” Luce said. The former model and Palm Beach socialite and volunteer had flown back from New York early Sunday to ensure she would be with her family in Palm Beach during the storm.
Many Palm Beachers from coastal neighborhoods spent days in hotels or shelters, expecting the worst to come at any moment. Others, spent it alone in boarded-up homes without a sliver of natural light for days. The Luce home has hurricane-impact glass.
Still, by Monday morning, the Luce family was also feeling the stress of being cooped up too long. Calls and texts came in constantly from worried friends and relatives. School was out in Palm Beach County and the two kids had been in the house since Friday.
“I could tell my daughter was nervous,” Luce said. Claire, 12, flitted around the house.
“I’m really scared of flooding,” said Claire as she described how high waters had already reached the top of the dock behind her home.
When someone mentioned the drowning death of a young boy in the Bahamas, Claire responded with alarm. “Is that going to happen to me?!” she asked. Her mother assured her that it would not, saying hurricane glass was the family’s blessing.
“I am a physical person and I like to just shake it off physically,” Luce said. “And I thought why sit around and eat chips and watch TV?”
Luce and and her friend Marcia Wolf took Claire to spend the afternoon outside at the Jupiter Inlet jetty, enjoying patches of weak sunlight in between rain showers and feeling the powerful wind in their faces.
“I think all the waiting increases anxiety,” said Wolf who lives alone in a boarded up home in Juno Beach. They joined Luce’s elderly mother for an early dinner at Paris in Town, a quaint French cafe, the only establishment still open in North Palm Beach.
“What’s the big panic?” said Luce’s spunky Irish mother, Margie Mannion, as the group ate dessert. “What’s going to happen is happening.”
At closing time, an employee put up the final hurricane shutters as forecasters predicted the slow-moving storm may hit Florida in the early morning. The group didn’t really believe it anymore.
“We believe it’s going to get here by Christmas,” Wolf said.
On Tuesday, again Palm Beach woke to news that the storm was still stalled over the Bahamas. The waiting game was back on.
“I just can’t believe we’ve been at this for this long,” said Luce’s husband, David, as they watched the news on the big screen.
But life in the Luce household trudged forward, and weather predictions began to look like the storm might pass Palm Beach County entirely. Her 14-year-old son Conrad played video games.
Claire discovered a new talent doing handstands in between checking storm projections on the internet.
Luce exercised with a friend who came over mid-morning. “I got an amazing work out,” Luce said. “Then I came home waiting for this big storm.”
For the second day in a row, they met up with Wolf at Jupiter Inlet Colony. While the conditions looked more menacing than the day before, the northern-most city in Palm Beach County had already experienced the worst of it.
The storm had shifted north. Almost instantly, hotels and shelters began to empty of patrons who had spent the days inside with little to do. Others opened their shutters to let in sunlight.
“I don’t want to lose sight of how lucky we are,” Wolf said. “I probably would have lost my roof, maybe everything. Boredom is a small price to pay.”
“It’s hard to make light of something when so many others have suffered,” Luce said. “You’re happy that it’s passed you by but you know it’s going in another direction where it can cause harm. It’s left complete devastation.”