Thursday, August 25, 2011

Goodnight, Irene

Summer's kind of winding down, I guess, though here in coastal North Carolina, there's little sign of it. I thought, in fact, that the weather last Friday night--when our son Patrick's High School football team played their first game of the season--was more suited to a steamy twi-night baseball doubleheader or a professional mosquito rodeo than a head-knocking matchup between the Richland Wildcats and the West Carteret Patriots. We're in the south, though, so we know it's going to be hot for a good while longer. And really, this Carolina season has not been much different from the sweltering summertime days of Illinois we're accustomed to, with the special bonus of steady breezes to keep things delightful on the beach most days.
One difference, though.
One big difference.
Back home, when the temperatures climb and the humidity goes sky-high, it's not all that unusual when weather guys like Terry Swails or the ever-cheerful Andy McCray burst onto the screen right in the middle of primetime to tell viewers that it might be a good idea to duck and cover, because conditions are about right for a tornado.
Most of the time, they're just being cautious, and the storm never materializes to its fullest extent. But I'm from Galva, so I know that sometimes it does.
And so it goes.
Here on Topsail Island, my no-TV existence might have kept me temporarily, but blissfully unaware of what could be in store for us in the next couple of days, had I not been forced into a visit to civilization in the form of a doctor's waiting room on Monday afternoon.
Up on the wall was a large, flat-screen TV tuned to The Weather Channel. On the screen was my favorite weather wrangler, Jim Cantore, who was busily gesticulating at a large map filled with yellow, orange and red whorls and arrows.
It was Hurricane Irene.
As he spoke into the camera, the picture behind him zoomed in to reveal the southeastern United States, then North Carolina, then the very stretch of barrier island coastline where we live. I strained to hear what he was saying as the beach shot incredibly grew to include a closeup of yours truly looking worriedly towards the sea.
"Self-proclaimed Illinois storm expert John Sloan will probably get a taste of some real weather this weekend," intoned Cantore. "We'll see if that homeboy has what it takes."
Well, not exactly. But you get the idea.
If I was back home in Illinois, an iffy bad-weather prediction would probably prompt me to grab a flashlight, gather a couple of candles and fill a jug with ice water in preparation for the possibility that we might have to hunker down in the basement for an hour or two.
But, if a tornado is a bad-weather event, a hurricane is an full-out festival of funky forecasts, as meteorologists spend days attempting to predict the unpredictable turns and twists the storm will take...a task not unlike trying to figure out in advance which teacups a bull set loose in a china shop will break.
The last time this island was struck hard, it was a whopper, with both Bertha and Fran making landfall in the summer and fall of 1996. The resulting maelstrom virtually swept our end of the island clean of roads, power poles, trees, sand dunes and houses, too. Needless to say, the locals are a bit edgy with the prospect of seeing it happen again.
We are, too.
Our local friends and neighbors, along with just about everyone I've run into in the supermarket, the hardware store and the fish market, have already started sharing useful bits of advice, which always end with this one:
So we will, if need be. If it really does hit close, we'll have no choice, as a forced evacuation would be likely. And even if they don't make us go, I probably will, if things get rough, after hearing a friend of mine, the late Rick Appell, share his hair-raising account of riding a hurricane out in the closet of his Florida home.
But before we do, we'll need to prepare our four-floor duplex for what might happen whether we're here or not. That means, at the very least, clearing the decks and other outside areas of any furniture or other items. It means covering windows or at least opening them a bit to try and prevent them from being blown out in 100+ mph winds. And it means disposing of refrigerated perishables in the likely event of a power failure and taking all the things we truly value with us if we have to leave. There are no basements here, but most places, like ours, have a garage on the ground floor to elevate the rest of the home above flood stage. Local wisdom says I should leave the roll-up door in the front open approximately a foot, while leaving the back door of the structure wide open to allow any rushing waters to flow through freely, without damaging the structural integrity of the building. If nothing else, this seems like a dramatic way to clean out a garage, but I will do what they tell me to do, as any inexperienced rookie resident should.
So we'll wait. And wonder. And even pray a little, though I think God already knows we'd rather skip the whole thing if it's all the same to Him.
If it does strike here, we'll leave, then wait and worry about what will be waiting for us when we return.
In the meantime, stay tuned.
Goodnight, Irene.

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