As people in Florida were evacuating ahead of Hurricane Ian, Michael Womer was driving toward the storm. However, Womer isn't a storm chaser who was hoping to catch dramatic footage of the historic hurricane. Instead, he was preparing to hunker down to ride out the storm with some uncommon companions.
Womer, otherwise known as the "Gator Crusader," has worked with alligators throughout his 30-year career. In late September, he traveled to the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in Palm Harbor, Florida, located just a few miles from the Gulf of Mexico and about 20 miles northwest of Tampa, to ensure that the alligators stayed safe throughout the hurricane.
"It was pouring rain on me, it was kind of windy," Womer told AccuWeather National Reporter Tony Laubach. "I was a little concerned for my safety, but at the same time, when I almost get into taking-care-of-alligator mode, all I'm thinking about is 'let's take care of these awesome animals, let's make sure they are OK.' "
Womer didn't just keep the alligators safe during Ian, he also sang to them.
This isn't the first time that the Gator Crusader has serenaded the reptiles, and it certainly won't be the last.
"I've learned already just through July Fourth and New Year's night with all the fireworks in the air, I can tell by their body language they're definitely worried, they're definitely agitated, and I've noticed if I stay there when all of the fireworks are popping in the sky, if I sing to them, you can see them calm down," Womer explained.
He soothes them with an eclectic mix of music while taking care of the alligators, ranging from songs composed by The Beatles, Frank Sinatra and Led Zeppelin.
The Tampa area escaped the worst of Ian's wrath as the storm made landfall near Fort Myers, Florida, on Sept. 28, but there was still cleanup that had to be done at the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary.
It took about two days for Womer to clean the alligator enclosures in the wake of the storm, all while he sang to the reptilian inhabitants of the sanctuary.
Womer told Laubach that he was prepared to evacuate the alligators if needed to keep them safe during Ian, a journey that likely would have been filled with music despite the radio being turned off.
Additional reporting by AccuWeather National Reporter Tony Laubach.
Want next-level safety, ad-free? Unlock advanced, hyperlocal severe weather alerts when you subscribe to Premium+ on the AccuWeather app. AccuWeather Alerts™ are prompted by our expert meteorologists who monitor and analyze dangerous weather risks 24/7 to keep you and your family safer.