Irene, the first big hurricane to make landfall in North Carolina since Isabel in 2002, has come and gone. Thankfully, like Bonnie in 1998, a once fearsome Category 4 storm that was larger than three states, Irene weakened as its outer northeast quadrant began to touch land and turned a potentially catastrophic hurricane into merely a troublesome one.
Yes, my name is Madison Taylor and I am a hurricane geek.
It’s a painful admission to be sure. The sad thing, though, is that it’s a problem much tougher on those in close proximity to me than it is to myself. After all, how many people actually want to hear details about the highest wind speed recorded at North Topsail Beach during Hurricane Bertha on July 12, 1996 or the meandering and borderline GPS-addled path of Hurricane Dennis in 1999?
Nobody, that’s who.
Until, of course, a hurricane comes along, like it did last week.
“Do you ever remember a hurricane that has the characteristics of this one?” asked Elliott Potter, my longtime friend, coworker and boss at the Jacksonville Daily News, where we pretty much lived under Hurricane Watch for 15 years together. He posed the question when the storm was 48 hours from landfall.
I reared back and began, “Well, in 1999, Floyd …”
Six hours later I realized he was no longer on the telephone.
Sadly, there is no self-help program for this particular condition. Experts write books about fear of commitment, aversions to joy, eating to lose, eating to win, eating to tie, daring to fail or failing to dare. But there’s zip about being bonkers over the minutiae of something known as the “northern eyewall.”
I wasn’t born this way, honest. Once I was a normal person who checked the weather by opening the door each day.
Then in 1992 I moved to the North Carolina coast and began a long-term addiction to The Weather Channel’s Tropical Update.
Last weekend, I spent large chunks of time watching Jim Cantore and other Weather Channel heroes in rain slickers as they perched from Nags Head to Cape May, Mass. to report on a storm that will be forever remembered as the one that trudged up I-95 from North Carolina to New York City and beyond. The media hype for it was nearly as large as the storm itself.
But was it overblown as many second-guessers are now saying?
Yes and no.
The potential destruction of a landfalling hurricane can’t be overstated and in my experience lunkheads who refuse to leave barrier islands can’t be warned of the danger enough. At one time Irene was a Category 3 storm with winds in the 120 mph range. Luckily it weakened and sped up after slogging ashore.
That was lucky for all. Because even a weakened Category 1 storm left more than 40 dead along its path and billions in damages. Message to people: Get out of the way when a storm like this one is about to land and stay out of the way until it’s gone.
But overall the national coverage — magnified 100-fold by the impact on New York City — at times bordered on the hysterical — and that’s when they weren’t getting it completely wrong. The online Daily Beast, for example, reported that there was a fatality in Rocky Mountain, North Carolina. The New York Times reported about activities on a place called Emerald Island.
Get it right or go home.
And isn’t it about time that every half-baked local TV station call a moratorium on the obligatory shot of a reporter standing in 80 mph wind hanging on to a telephone pole?
Here in Alamance County, there was very little to report. Even our rainfall was microscopic. The Alamance-Orange county line seemed to be the cutoff point for Irene-related incidents. There were trees down in the Mebane area, which photographer Scott Muthersbaugh saw and shot. Brian Ewing of Burlington sent me an e-mail and reported that his mother recorded a wind gust of 50.2 mph at her home on Maple Avenue — pretty impressive mark so far from the center of the storm.
But, of course, we all know that could turn out far differently the next time a hurricane moves into the state. Why, I remember Hurricane Fran in 1996 …