As friends and family in New Jersey and New York braced on Sunday and Monday for the inevitable thrashing predicted from Hurricane / Superstorm Sandy one of my former colleagues who got into a better line of work asked on social media if I was feeling left out. Especially since it looked like Piedmont North Carolina would be on the sidelines for this one.
Not in the least, would be the polite way to answer the question. Hell no, would be more accurate.
My brother-in-law, who only a day before was at a costume party dressed in the regalia of a Catholic nun (my brother-in-law the sister!) called my spouse to tell her they had moved everything from the first floor of their Cranford, N.J. house either upstairs or into storage and sought higher ground at the home of friends in a neighboring town. We haven’t spoken to them since. My wife’s cousins in New York and New Jersey expressed via Facebook that forecasts for the storm had them scared to death.
I completely understood. In 15 years of living on the North Carolina coast we had to ride out at least 10 atorms of varying degreess of strength. All were a little different, as I’ve noted here many times before. Some caused flooding at high tide. One packed incredible winds that felled century old trees. One caused almost no beach damage to speak of but left a trail of woe via tidal estuaries and catastrophic flooding. One of the worst storms was a strong category 1, kind of like Sandy. But I also saw a category 3 up close and can’t say I liked it much.
And I’ll admit this: I was terrified every single time.
The media do a tremendous job of covering the advance of these natural monsters. Hurricanes are unlike earthquakes. The things are built for drama. Weather forecasters monitor them from afar. Along the way, tropical cyclones wobble, twist and turn. They grow weaker and stronger. Until the last minute, it’s never a certainty where a hurricane might decide to go. Once a storm lands, the supply of dramatic photos is endless.
And all the time, folks in the target zones watch reports endlessly and in ever escalating panic. They ask “will it be us this time” but also quietly hope it doesn’ t strike someone else. The Weather Channel sounds a clarion call of warnings, echoed by emergency managers and government officials. By the time a storm is about to arrive the collective blood pressure of a community is racing in the red. “You’re all hyped up,” as my wife is wont to say.
I’m part of the churning media culture that gets people in that state of mind and I can’t apologize for it, I am both drawn to the storms and repulsed by the gigantic amount of waste caused by the preparation and destruction. But hurricanes are nothing to toy with and it’s our job to provide the public with as much good information as it can get. I can say that when the power is out, people depend on the newspaper again.
But I won’t say it’s easy, fun or heroic. Hurricanes are huge wasters of a reporter’s time when all is said and done. The stories are there and have to be done, but other sometimes more important things are left in the debris of a passing storm.
Tonight I’ve alternated between last night’s episode of “The Walking Dead,” The Weather Channel, Twitter and Facebook. Outside the wind is gusting at around 30 mph — and the center of the storm is now over Philadelphia a few hundred miles away. This is a whopper storm, a once in a lifetime storm. For one, it’s late in the Atlantic hurricane season for a storm on the East Coast. The latest recorded hurricane to strike North Carolina was on Halloween. And while the year escapes me, it was before forecasters began naming the things.
The damage last night appeared massive. Parts of New York City, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Maryland and Delaware are flooded. The historic boardwalk at Atlantic City, N.J. is wrecked. We’ll know more about damages as day breaks and the folks who assess these things began their survey.
But I’m guessing damages will be in the billions.
At this point, though, I’m looking forward to getting word from family and friends in harm’s way that the storm has cleared and they’re safe.
That might take awhile.
UPDATE: My brother-in-law and his family are all safe. A little worn, without power and surrounded by downed trees. Thank goodness. I hope to hear from more friends and relatives as Tuesday unfolds.