Irene was a stunning experience. Not the strongest hurricane in nature’s arsenal of significant weather events, but she certainly demanded the attention of at least 2/3 of the East Coast of America and of a portion of coastal Canada also. It is our great good fortune that this hurricane, on this track, was not any stronger than it was. Something about the human spirit needs excess. If a hurricane is Category 4 we secretly feel a certain grim satisfaction. If we prepare for disaster and it doesn’t come, we know we are wrong, but we feel vaguely let down. This is a tiny portion of our human nature and a sort of bizarre aspect we are not really proud of. Our more rational self says this storm was quite large enough, thank you.
I say this storm was large enough to justify the preparations taken by our state and local governments. I already hear people complaining that the lead in to this weather event was a perfect example of overkill and given that every channel on TV had 24 hour a day coverage it would seem to be true. Actually this is more a function of channels dedicated to all news all the time and we must admit we were fascinated. There wasn’t a lot of other news going on with our government on hiatus and, although it was a bit excessive, we couldn’t look away.
I’m sure that every part of us except that little portion that is titillated by catastrophe is happy that a hurricane like this which hugged the East Coast for so many hundreds of miles was not as strong as we feared it would be. If I was one of those who was evacuated from my home and then felt that I had been inconvenienced for nothing I might feel differently. I was, however, happy to see our dysfunctional government is not so bad at the state and local level and was able to work in concert when necessary. That was reassuring.
Now we will have to spend millions of dollars that we don’t have to clean up from this hurricane/tropical storm, but not as much as we would have had to spend if it had been more powerful. Now we have lost millions in tourist dollars that would have contributed to the economies of the affected states, but tourist services will be back on line much sooner than they would have been if the storm had lived up to its early hype. Let’s count our blessings, thank our leaders and our newscasters and move on to cleaning up and living our lives.
We are waiting to see where Hurricane Irene will go. This is a key difference between a tornado and a hurricane. A tornado seems to pop up out of nowhere. It gives those in its path little time to prepare. When it comes in the middle of the night emergency alarms may jolt you awake if your community has one. If it comes by day the quality of the light in the sky may tip off people who can actually see the sky and they may pass on the warning.
With a hurricane we have plenty of time to watch it wobble its way toward us or towards someone else. Irene seems a little slower than some. We can see her coming but we still have uncertainty on several points such as what her exact path will be (which we really wish we knew), exactly how strong she will be, exactly when she will arrive, and how much damage she will do.
I don’t know if there is much choice between being hit quickly by the knock-out punch of a tornado or the drawn out anticipation of a slow-moving hurricane. Once the damage is done they probably feel pretty much the same to those who are hit; so it’s either the drama of lengthy anticipation and dread of the hurricane, or the lightening fast zap and heart attack funnel of a tornado.
I am usually soothed by the fact that I live in a part of the country where tornadoes and hurricanes rarely affect us. I was eight when Hurricane Hazel hit and it was a powerful enough storm that I still remember it. I remember the power of the wind and the rain and I remember the calm of the eye. I remember having to cook out in the back yard on the old cook stove that was there at that time and I remember how difficult it was to find staples like candles, bread and milk. People didn’t buy water then.
I have never experienced a tornado although one Labor Day in the recent past we had a very dramatic hit from a storm with a sky that was sheeted with lightening for well over an hour and lots of straight-line wind damage. Trees were down everywhere but only on east-west streets. north-south streets had no damage.
Given these two experiences I would not chose either type of storm and, I assume, neither would anyone else. I don’t think this storm will be another Hurricane Hazel, but there is at least one potential path that takes it inland and could put me in the storm. Maybe I should buy a few batteries and some water. NOAA says this is not just a coastal storm, that its impact will be felt well inland. It could still go out to sea (although the prospects for that look very iffy). They are making this storm sound pretty scary. Good luck everyone.
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