There’s a storm brewing, but I’m not sure which one.


It’s a Saturday evening in August. I’m on a road trip and currently in Wisconsin. Back at the homestead (aka our raised ranch in Connecticut) there is a storm brewing. Really it’s brewing out in the Atlantic and, if I have any say, it can just stop brewing at any time. 

This is not just any storm. It’s Hurricane Henri. It is the first hurricane that will make landfall in New England in 30 years. I have already received an email from the electric company telling me that 1) they have canceled all vacation time, are setting up a command center (inland at a mall), and have brought in help from neighboring states, and 2) they fully expect the power to go out for “as long as 5 days” for “51%” of their customers. My immediate response is 1) you have failed to reassure me and 2) that’s an awfully specific number.

Hurricane Henri Discussion Number  25
NWS National Hurricane Center Miami FL AL082021
1100 PM EDT Sat Aug 21 2021

The convective pattern associated with Henri is less ragged than it
was 6 h ago, as the convection has increased near the center and a
NOAA Hurricane Hunter aircraft reported a 25 n mi wide eye has
formed However, the hurricane has not yet strengthened
significantly...
Henri is almost out of time to strengthen, as the center will be
moving north of the north wall of the Gulf Stream during the next
several hours. The intensity forecast will call for modest
strengthening during the first 12 h based on the premise that
strengthening will occur before Henri reaches the cooler waters.
After that, while the cyclone should start to weaken before
landfall, it should still be near or at hurricane strength when it
reaches southern New England.
Forecaster Beven

Since Henri is expected to make landfall on Sunday, there is no chance that I will be able to get home before it arrives. In all fairness, I have known about this storm since yesterday, so I suppose I could have started driving right away and gotten home by tonight. That, obviously, is not happening. I did phone home and instruct the part of family that remained behind in the ways of hurricane preparedness. All the plants from the deck have been brought indoors. The loose objects from the yard have been put elsewhere, and the food from the freezer has been put into the big chest freezer which shall not be opened.

**********

It’s a Saturday night in August, in 2005. I am glued to the computer waiting for an update from the National Hurricane Center. I want to see the 11pm update because forecaster Avila will be writing that one. I trust him. I have developed quite a relationship with him over the past 3 years, although he doesn’t know it. He is very good at his job. 

HURRICANE KATRINA DISCUSSION NUMBER  19
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
11 PM EDT SAT AUG 27 2005

REPORTS FROM AN AIR FORCE PLANE INDICATE THAT THE INTENSITY REMAINS
ABOUT 100 KNOTS...BUT THE WIND FIELD IS EXPANDING.

It is not what I wanted to hear.

AND A WEAK TROUGH APPROACHING THE
GULF OF MEXICO FROM THE NORTHWEST...SHOULD RESULT IN A PATTERN THAT
FORCES KATRINA TO TURN NORTHWESTWARD AND NORTHWARD TOWARD THE
CENTRAL GULF COAST. THIS IS ALSO THE SOLUTION PROVIDED BY THE
GLOBAL MODEL CONSENSUS WHICH THE OFFICIAL FORECAST FOLLOWS VERY
CLOSELY.

FORECASTER AVILA

My evacuation plan is already in play. We are boxing up everything that is important in order to leave in the morning. I fight the urge to hold things and let them carry me into the past. Ethan’s Candyland game — into a box. Ryan’s onesie from the NICU — into a box. I pick up a box of photos from my childhood. Opening that would take me into the emotional danger zone. I put near the door. 

I don’t listen to Jeanne telling me that we should leave right now. “You are endangering our children.” I am not. I have a plan. It is a very well thought out plan. The hurricane won’t arrive until Monday. My best friend’s parents say we can go stay at their place in Florida. Zoë’s parents have gotten us hotel rooms in Montgomery.

I fight the urge to hold things and let them carry me into the past.

Everyone is heading west, into Texas. I don’t want to get caught up in that. “We’ll go northeast. We can drive far enough away that we’ll only catch the edge of the storm.”

HURRICANE KATRINA SPECIAL FORECAST/ADVISORY NUMBER  20
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL AL122005
0600Z SUN AUG 28 2005

A HURRICANE WARNING IS IN EFFECT FOR THE NORTH CENTRAL GULF COAST
FROM MORGAN CITY LOUISIANA EASTWARD TO THE ALABAMA/FLORIDA
BORDER...INCLUDING THE CITY OF NEW ORLEANS AND LAKE PONTCHARTRAIN.
A HURRICANE WARNING MEANS THAT HURRICANE CONDITIONS ARE EXPECTED
WITHIN THE WARNING AREA WITHIN THE NEXT 24 HOURS. PREPARATIONS TO
PROTECT LIFE AND PROPERTY SHOULD BE RUSHED TO COMPLETION.

It’s not Forecaster Avila, but the message is clear. 

The house is eerily silent. Everyone has gone outside. I am standing in the kitchen with a watermelon. I put it on the counter we just had installed. The entire kitchen and sun room have just been remodeled. We were going to get a new couch this weekend during the Labor Day sales. I don’t want a moldy watermelon on the new counter. I put it on the floor. 

“It’s New Orleans Road Trip Day!” I announce cheerfully to my children. I have told them that everyone in the city is going on a road trip. There will be plenty of time to explain why later. 

Maybe that’s just the way folks are in a storm zone. We go or stay, but we don’t complain.

The traffic is ridiculous. Contra-flow means that all the lanes of the I-10 are outbound only. Ethan needs to pee. He can’t understand why I tell him that he has to go in his diaper, after all, he is a big kid who has just learned to use the bathroom. He wants us to stop on the side of the road. I can’t. Even the breakdown lane is filled with outbound traffic. We are going 12 miles per hour. The Hurricane is traveling at 15 miles per hour.

We drive for 19 hours. The hotel is filled with Katrina refugees. The cats are not allowed inside. We crack the car windows and go to bed.

BULLETIN
HURRICANE KATRINA INTERMEDIATE ADVISORY NUMBER 26B
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
8 AM CDT MON AUG 29 2005

...LARGE AND EXTREMELY DANGEROUS CATEGORY FOUR HURRICANE KATRINA
POUNDING SOUTHEASTERN LOUISIANA AND SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI...
REPEATING THE 8 AM CDT POSITION...29.7 N... 89.6 W. MOVEMENT
TOWARD...NORTH NEAR 15 MPH. MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WINDS...135 MPH.
MINIMUM CENTRAL PRESSURE... 923 MB.

THE NEXT ADVISORY WILL BE ISSUED BY THE NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER AT
10 AM CDT.

FORECASTER PASCH
BULLETIN
HURRICANE KATRINA INTERMEDIATE ADVISORY NUMBER 27A
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
NOON CDT MON AUG 29 2005
...RAINFALL TOTALS OF 5 TO 10 INCHES...WITH ISOLATED MAXIMUM AMOUNTS OF
15 INCHES...ARE POSSIBLE ALONG THE PATH OF KATRINA ACROSS THE GULF
COAST AND THE TENNESSEE VALLEY. RAINFALL TOTALS OF 4 TO 8 INCHES
ARE POSSIBLE ACROSS THE OHIO VALLEY INTO THE EASTERN GREAT LAKES
REGION TUESDAY AND WEDNESDAY.

A FEW TORNADOES ARE POSSIBLE OVER PORTIONS OF SOUTHERN AND EASTERN
MISSISSIPPI...SOUTHERN AND CENTRAL ALABAMA...AND THE WESTERN
FLORIDA PANHANDLE TODAY.

REPEATING THE NOON CDT POSITION...30.8 N... 89.6 W. MOVEMENT
TOWARD...NORTH NEAR 17 MPH. MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WINDS...105 MPH.
MINIMUM CENTRAL PRESSURE... 940 MB.

It is Saturday evening in September, 19 days after Hurricane Katrina. I am in Oldsmar, Florida watching Anderson Cooper on TV. I walk into the living room and announce: “Well, it only took 18 days, 12 hours, and 16 minutes, but I know what I should have done with the watermelon. I should have tossed it into the yard.”

**********

It’s a Saturday evening in August of 2021. I am watching Hurricane Ida barrel toward New Orleans. 

BULLETIN
Hurricane Ida Advisory Number 10
NWS National Hurricane Center Miami FL AL092021
400 PM CDT Sat Aug 28 2021

...IDA RAPIDLY STRENGTHENING OVER THE GULF OF MEXICO...
...LIFE-THREATENING STORM SURGE, POTENTIALLY CATASTROPHIC WIND
DAMAGE, AND FLOODING RAINFALL EXPECTED TO IMPACT THE NORTHERN GULF
COAST BEGINNING SUNDAY...

Some of my friends have evacuated; others are going to ride out the storm. The levees have been upgraded, but many parts of the city still floods during heavy rains. I am safe in my home base in Connecticut. “Would you stay or leave?” It’s a little late to ask that now. 

**********

“How’s everything at home?” I’m told it’s fine. Henri was really nothing — a bit of wind and some rain, but the power didn’t even go out. I stay in Wisconsin. There’s no reason to rush back. I’ll sort the freezers when I get home.

**********

“Power’s out and there are trees down.” Those are the main comments from my friends in New Orleans. Further south and west the damage is considerable.

Hurricane Ida Tropical Cyclone Update
NWS National Hurricane Center Miami FL AL092021
800 PM CDT Sun Aug 29 2021

...IDA'S EYE PASSING JUST WEST OF NEW ORLEANS...
...CATASTROPHIC STORM SURGE, HURRICANE-FORCE WINDS, AND FLASH
FLOODING CONTINUE IN PORTIONS OF SOUTHEASTERN LOUISIANA...

A Weatherflow observations on Pontchartrain Causeway recently
reported a sustained wind of 66 mph (106 km/h) and a gust of 89
mph (142 km/h).

The eye passed over Houma. Our relatives there survived. We got a brief text: “Everyone is fine. Power’s out. Lots of trees down.” 

**********

When I meet people from New Orleans or Louisiana, Katrina always comes up. “How’d you do?” I invariably tell them, “We took some water, but we were OK. You?” Maybe that’s just the way folks are in a storm zone. We go or stay, but we don’t complain. We know that life is temporary and, at any moment, a storm could be brewing, and we’ll have to decide all over again.

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https://www.buymeacoffee.com/wordsmithweb

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