The wind whipped through Dock Street on Wednesday evening and water lapped at the bottom of restaurant decks that overhang the Gulf of Mexico. Seawater shimmered on the low streets; on higher ground, ocean gunk marked where the storm surge left its mark before receding.
Most noticeable of all, though, was the lack of destruction.
That was not the case just a four-hour drive west. Hurricane Michael lashed the Florida Panhandle with historic fury, as the most powerful storm on record to strike the Panhandle made landfall at Mexico Beach.
It unleashed 155 mph winds and sent storm surge of up to 10 feet flooding into coastal dwellings from Panama City to Apalachicola.
But Cedar Key stood still, avoiding the catastrophe that forecasters feared high tide and the storm could bring.
It certainly appeared to have fared far better than it did in 2016 during Hurricane Hermine, which brought 9-foot surf to the arts and fishing village that sticks out into the Gulf of Mexico like a sharp elbow.
That storm destroyed businesses, snapped the wooden decks of the restaurants along Dock Street, flooded city hall and caked most of the pavement with a thick coating of sea floor that rotted in the hot September sun.
It totally derailed the city’s Labor Day weekend, a lucrative tourism period for the community.
Hermine is now the benchmark for the devastation a hurricane can wreak upon this coastal town.
Even before residents who had evacuated were allowed back in, word began to leak out that Michael didn’t match Hermine.
Scott Moots, 54, an aquaculture specialist who grows clam seed, which grows into edible clams and supports Cedar Key’s most well-known industry, had evacuated with his 4-year-old daughter, Eleanor, and mixed Labrador, Noodles, to friends in Gainesville.
Moots tried to get back onto Cedar Key on Wednesday afternoon after the tide receded, but found the bridge closed off by Levy County sheriff’s deputies. Nevertheless, he heard from a colleague who stayed on the island that only a foot of water breached Moots’ laboratory. Hermine had brought three feet.
The bridge finally opened about 6:30 p.m., giving the media one chance to spin through town before sunset, a dance of peaceful orange peeking from behind racing dark clouds. Television crews rushed to put down their tripods and become the first to capture that scene.
After a day indoors, Gregg and Kathleen Troy took their pup Cooper for a walk. The darkness made it tough for them to see the extent of the damage, but Kathleen Troy, 57, said the town looked bruised but not beaten. Dock Street appeared intact. But whatever was damaged can be rebuilt again.
“The community’s pretty resilient,” said Gregg Troy, 67.
The town was eerily quiet, save for the wind. The hurricane had long passed, but Cedar Key police still enforced a curfew.