Hurricanes come in two versions

BY BOB WACHS, News + Record Staff
Posted 9/20/19

The big calendar on my desk says next Monday, the 23rd, is the first day of autumn. That’s supposed to mean falling leaves, football, pumpkins and cooler weather.

The cooler weather part sounds …

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Hurricanes come in two versions

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The big calendar on my desk says next Monday, the 23rd, is the first day of autumn. That’s supposed to mean falling leaves, football, pumpkins and cooler weather.

The cooler weather part sounds really nice. Unless you’ve been living in a cave north of somewhere or hiding in an air conditioner, you know it’s been a bit on the warm side for some time.

Dry, too.

So, I’m hoping we won’t go directly from hot to cold, from summer to winter as we did last year. But until we get to continuing cool weather, it’s still hot. And, among other factors, that’s part of the recipe for hurricanes.

Right up front let me go ahead and admit I don’t do hurricanes well. Fran in 1996 made an adult believer out of me. Through the years, this part of the universe largely had dodged most of the bullets many hurricanes had fired. We’d have some high winds, lots of rain, and scattered power outages but not dramatic destruction.

Fran put an end to that.

As she came up the east coast and made a left into the Cape Fear River at Wilmington, the weather folks all kept saying central North Carolina should “watch out.” Still, I didn’t put all that much stock into their forecasts. My brother in New Hampshire even called that afternoon to inquire about our welfare and I assured him, “No sweat.” Even if there were some minor issues, I said, we had peanut butter, candles, bottled water and a generator.

Late that night, score one for the weather forecasters.

The first notice was when a noise at the bedroom window woke me up. As I raised the shade and peered out into the night, I couldn’t see a thing. Slowly it dawned on me that the reason I couldn’t was because the top of a decent-sized tree was against the window. Additionally, it was dark in the house because said tree had snapped the power line coming into the house.

Getting up, I stumbled to the front door and opened it to hear a chorus of howling winds and torrential rain. That was the end of sleeping for the night. I sat in the living room the rest of the night listening on the battery-operated radio to weather reports which included someone often saying the center of the storm should get here around 2 a.m. Each time I heard that, I thought it we weren’t already in the storm, I dreaded having it drop by. Especially troubling was hearing a tree snap and not being able to tell where it was, wondering if it would soon be in my house.

Dawn’s light brought the opportunity to survey the damage, which included a tree on our house, several trees on a vehicle, trees scattered in the yard and pastures and shocked cows who couldn’t run away because even with fences destroyed, the trees were keeping them at home. Still, we were alive and not as damaged as others. It did take nine days for power to be restored by an out-of-state crew who was among many coming to help local folks. I’ll never forget the young man who told Shirley, “UYou can thank us ol’ boys from Georgia.” We did, too...with a truckload of crackers, snacks, nabs and Pepsi. Even with the power on and the shower working, it took us months to clean up...the damage, not our bodies.

There have been others, of course, but for local folks of a certain age, nothing will ever replace Oct. 15, 1954, when Hazel came to call. I was in existence that day when the lady, classified as a Category 4 storm, barreled ashore at Wilmington and Oak Island and, the weather folks say, also came up the Cape Fear. Her legacy is that she’s considered the costliest, deadliest storm of the Atlantic season, taking 469 lives on Haiti, 95 in the U.S. and even 81 as an extra-tropical event that struck Canada. If there’s ever an accurate count of the loss of life in Hurricane Dorian’s recent raking of the Bahamas, that total could be surpassed, although not in the U.S.

Hazel came calling before the days of advanced weather planning and forecasting. Folks knew something was on the way but not as early as we know today. Case in point is that it was during the height of the storm that many local school systems dismissed classes, sending students home in buses at the worst possible time. Many buses couldn’t follow normal routes and took forever to make their runs. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, the truth is folks would have been better off to stay in the school buildings. Hazel was so strong that her name is officially retired.

Today, I’m phobic about the Weather Channel. Say the words “tropical storm” and I’m there. But still, I think, I’m learning something. Learning to pay attention, to be prepared and such. And I think that lesson applies to life in general. There will be storms, sometimes even major ones like hurricanes. And here, too, is the need to be prepared.

Folks find that preparation in many places. Mother Nature’s hurricanes inspire us to some practical preparations. Emotional, mental and spiritual hurricanes should also inspire us to find foundations and support. Then, as the Good Book says, when the rains beat upon the house built on a solid foundation, it will stand. You can read more about that weather report in the New Testament, in Matthew 7:24-27.

But there is one final word about hurricanes I’d like to note. I’ve never figured out why the folks who brought the Hartford Whalers hockey team to Raleigh picked “Hurricanes” as a name. They must not have the experience I do.


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