I needed a survival guide for living in Orlando when I moved to Central Florida from the Washington, DC area in 1987. I love life in the Orlando area now and have never seriously considered moving back north. Orlando is home now. That’s not to say there wasn’t an adjustment period for me. Central Florida living requires some adjustments.
Clearly, we benefit from the ability to undertake outdoor activities on a year round basis. You can throw away your car window ice scraper. You won’t need it here. Further, forget about the gray days of winter up north and the barren trees in the winter. Florida remains sunny year round and the trees stay green, although they do lose their leaves. I can attest to quite a bit of raking from leaves falling in my yard.
Unrelenting Heat and Humidity
We used to have days in Washington, DC in which the temperatures well exceeded 90 degrees. The difference is that other places have some eighty degree days mixed in with the hotter Credit: wikipedia commons public domain - User:Akampferweather. Most every day in Central Florida from May through September has temperatures of about 95 degrees coupled with 90 percent humidity. I didn’t think I was going to be able to handle it during my first summer in Orlando. Fortunately, my body adjusted some and I also learned a thing or two about life in Central Florida.
You figure out after a time that outdoor activities are done in the morning or the evening. You should avoid any kind of strenuous outdoor activity in the heat of the day. Even when you’re outside, you gravitate to the shaded areas. If you are outdoors during the hottest part of the day, the water bottle is your friend. You need to hydrate early and often.
For most of the summer, absent any hurricane threats, the TV weather men and women could probably take a leave of absence. The heat index is the same day after day. Most days have at least a threat of a thunder shower if not an actual downpour.
My first summer in Orlando I lived in a trailer. I would see the black clouds come rolling in most afternoons and was truly frightened. I actually drove to a nearby mall a couple times when the clouds looked especially threatening. Luckily, the trailer was never blown away.
Most storms are quick hitters. The clouds roll in from the coast and dump some water for onlyCredit: wikipedia commons public domain - Rackas321 a few minutes, then the clouds blow away. It’s amazing how fast the storms occur and then everything is sunny again. Unfortunately, the storms don’t give much relief from the heat.
You also learn that afternoon outdoor activities, even if later in the day when it’s a bit cooler, often have to be delayed or postponed due to thunder showers. You generally can’t rely on the thunder boomers staying away for an afternoon. The lightning is dangerous and can’t be ignored. Most public pools have a detection system to alert life guards when there is danger of lightning in the area and will clear the pool until the storm passes.
The Summer of 2004
I never thought the threat of hurricanes was all that real until I had been in Central Florida for over 15 years. The weather forecasters would always predict the possibility of several tropical storms and hurricanes and the storms always went elsewhere. That was the pattern until 2004, when we had Charley, Frances and Jeanne all rumble through Central Florida. My neighborhood didn’t suffer a direct hit from any of them, but we did have downed trees and a loss of electricity.
When we lost power the first time after Hurricane Charley, I joked with my kids that we were playing “Pioneer Days.” After that storm, the power outage was somewhat short and we didn’t have much yard debris. The other two storms caused more substantial damage and the power remained out for a few days. I still recall my daughter standing next to me in the yard with rake in hand proclaiming that “Pioneer Days stink.” I totally agreed with her. I also understood why the population of Florida was sparse until air conditioning became widely available.
I noticed that no one ever gave a thought about hurricane preparation before Charley hit the area in 2004. The warnings of the TV weather men were completely ignored. After Charley nailed us that summer, the supermarkets and hardware stores were crowded as Frances threatened. Everyone was uneasy and felt the need to prepare. By the time Jeanne was starting to point at us, the entire area seemed to be panicked. The grocery and home supply stores were mad houses. Hit us a couple times in succession and we get the message.
You need to have some cases of bottled water on hand, some canned goods and plenty of candles. You also should have plenty of batteries and a first aid kit. Many folks in our area also bought small electric generators, but that seems a bit extreme for the inconvenience of the loss of power only every once in a while.
People in Central Florida complain about the traffic as if they are living near New York or Washington, DC. Although traffic can be heavy at times, it’s not even in the same stratosphereCredit: wikipedia commons public domain - SPUI as some of the larger metropolitan areas. If you come from a bigger area, you won’t be troubled by the traffic.
One word to the wise is to avoid Interstate 4 in the Disney area during the summer tourist season. The highway can slow to a crawl. Also avoid Interstate 4 going towards Daytona during a race day. The crazies come out and drive down the breakdown lanes on the highway. They think they’re part of the NASCAR show too.
The public schools are probably best categorized as middle of the pack. Some are better than others and the State of Florida Department of Education has a grading system. Be sure you are aware of a schools grade before moving into a given area. You will also note the extensive use of double wide trailers as classrooms. Some schools are even a network of double wide modules with an administration building in the middle. The budgets are lean and the demands are great, so the schools are not necessarily built to last like you are accustomed elsewhere.
Florida has a great public university system. The public schools are very popular because they provide a good education and Florida has a scholarship program called Bright Futures which provides funds based on high school academic achievement and not need. Further, the state also has a Prepaid College payment plan in which you can pay for your child’s college education from the time of birth on a discounted basis. These funding mechanisms encourage many students to remain in Florida and attend one of the public universities. They’re a good deal.
I was also surprised by the popularity of college sports in Central Florida. Many people identify themselves as Gators or Seminoles even if they didn’t attend either school. It’s difficult to remain neutral because many of the fans are very passionate regarding their favored team.
Because of the heat, humidity and abundant rainfall, things seem to wear out faster on the outside of your home. Roofs and siding need to be replaced more often than farther north. Termites also are often more of an issue as well. If you don’t enjoy do it yourself repairs, find a good handyman as soon as you can.
Yes, most lakes in Central Florida have real live gators in them. Always be aware of what’s Credit: wikipedia commons public domain - Genoistaround you if you’re swimming in a lake. The gators generally avoid us, but you don’t want to accidentally bump into one because you’re not aware of your surroundings.
Deer and Bears
Credit: BoomerBillWe also have some bear and deer. If you happen to drive through Ocala National Forest at night you will likely see many deer by the side of the road. The grass next to the road is more tender than other grass due to the heat and condensation from traffic, so the deer tend to congregate in the one place they shouldn’t. Some areas, particularly on the north side of Orlando, can have Florida Black Bears roaming around. It’s not as if there is a great danger, but you have to be aware of the possibility.
Welcome to Central Florida, you will enjoy life here if you give it a chance. Put down some roots and stay with us.