What Lee Coulter knew firsthand about hurricanes came from the fuzzy memories of a 5-year-old splashing in the puddles left behind in 1960 by Hurricane Donna.
"I remember the water came up to my knees. But I don't really remember the wind at all -- at least not like this," he said Saturday, nodding toward the giant, splintered oak tree sprawling across his College Park street where the shingles from his roof were scattered.
What 31/2-year-old Jacob Boyd knew about hurricanes came from his mother as Hurricane Charley approached their home, just around the corner from Coulter's.
Hurricanes, she told him, are big, noisy storms with a lot of wind and rain.
What his mom didn't tell him, because how could she have known, was how a branch would smash through the roof into his little brother's bedroom, and how quickly Jacob's backyard swing set would be crushed by a falling tree.
When Hurricane Charley ripped through Central Florida, Lee Coulter and Jacob Boyd had this in common with everyone else who huddled in the dark and waited for the worst to pass: No matter whether their information came from professional forecasters, personal experience or their own mothers, no one knew exactly what to expect.
It's partly just the vagaries of hurricanes, which may go left or right, or strengthen or weaken, without regard to what the computer models predict.
But it's also because of the four decades of good luck that ended abruptly with Charley's arrival.
It had been 44 years since Hurricane Donna, following a path similar to Charley's up the Florida peninsula, churned through Orlando. Inland Central Florida hadn't been hit with hurricane-force winds since.
In 1960, when Donna struck, the population of pre-Disney metropolitan Orlando was less than 400,000. Now, it's more than 1.7 million.
Most Central Floridians, before Charley, had never experienced a hurricane.
Among them was Bob Dukes, who was using a chain saw Saturday to cut up the oak branches that had fallen in his front yard on Reading Drive in College Park.
Dukes, who works in commercial real estate, lived in Oklahoma until he moved to Orlando in 1987. He wasn't sure what to expect from a hurricane, but didn't think it could be as bad as the killer twisters that frequently rip through Oklahoma.
"I'm used to tornadoes, not hurricanes," said Dukes, 48. "At least with hurricanes you get a pretty good warning they're coming. With tornadoes, you never know."
But after weathering Charley in his home Friday night, Dukes had a grudging respect for hurricanes. He wasn't sure how hard the wind was blowing at its worst, he said, because it didn't seem to make much sense to go outside to find out.
But when the storm passed and he could take a look, he saw the ruins of a massive oak tree across the street. The tree was more than 50 feet tall, and its trunk 5 or 6 feet thick. When it fell, it yanked a ball of roots and dirt 15 feet across out of the ground and ripped up a long stretch of concrete curbstones.
With the wind and the rain, Dukes said, he never even heard it go down.
A few houses up the street, Lee Coulter could have told Dukes about his experience with a hurricane. But it might not have been much help.
Coulter, 49, a grants administrator for Orange County, was born and raised in Orlando and is one of the increasingly few Central Floridians who were here the last time a hurricane struck.
But Coulter's recollections of Hurricane Donna -- "I remember the water, the way we were out playing in the rain" -- are nothing like the still-fresh memories of Charley that he spoke about Saturday while raking the branches and torn shingles from his lawn.
As Charley approached, Coulter thought the first gusts of wind and bursts of rain were unimpressive.
"It was about 5 or 6 o'clock, we were over at our neighbor's, and I remember I was saying, 'I've played golf in worse than this,' " Coulter said. "It didn't seem that bad."
But as the storm came closer, branches and then trees began to come down, and shingles began flying from his roof.
The wind began to shriek, and shorting electrical lines and transformers popped and sparked.
Coulter was watching the storm on television when the neighborhood went dark.
"It had just hit Haines City," he said. "They were saying the eye had fallen apart. And that was when we lost power."
The next morning, raking leaves and picking up storm debris in the sunny humidity seemed pleasant by comparison. Coulter's roof was damaged, but not leaking. And no one in his neighborhood was hurt, though most streets were blocked by fallen trees.
Now with two hurricanes under his belt, Coulter is looking for no more.
"I feel like it's all the hurricane I need to experience," he said.
Around the corner from Coulter's home, Jacob Boyd watched his mom rake the oak branches that covered their lawn.
Before Charley's arrival, Kathy Boyd told her son what to expect so he wouldn't be afraid.
"I told him there would be lots of wind, that it would be very noisy, and there would be a lot of rain," she said.
Still, it was frightening as Boyd and her husband, Jacob, and his 5-month-old brother waited for the storm to pass.
"There were just constantly big tree limbs that we could hear dropping down onto the roof," she said. "We could hear the transformers popping, and the wind was making this awful noise."
The worst came around 10 p.m. with a loud crack that was a tree limb piercing the roof over their baby's room. They found rain coming in the hole made by a branch that broke through several feet from his crib.
"He had popped his head up, and he was looking around," she said. But no one was hurt. And, after a while, the storm slipped away.
How Jacob Boyd would remember his first hurricane was hard to say.
His backyard swing set was smashed by a neighbor's tree. When he ventured wide-eyed toward the street, where big oaks lay smashed and broken, his mother would tell him to go back by the house where it was safe.
There were no puddles to play in.
Roger Roy can be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-5436.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times