Tag Archives: weather

The Very Storms

As Hurricane Dorian continues its slow trek up the eastern coastline of the U.S. (the bastard just won’t die!), I think of the storm-related terminology people keep using to describe these systems.  Most every description includes the word “very”.  It’s the same verbiage recycled again and again – the way companies recycle workers during economic downturns and politicians recycle promises with each campaign.  But it’s also somewhat laughable in that, each time, meteorologists, law enforcement officials and reporters (you know, the dumbasses who stand in the middle of a rain-torn street or an inundated beach, as if we’re too stupid to understand how bad it is out that way) utter these same words with just about every hurricane.  More specifically, though, the tones of their voices and the inflections they apply to these characterizations insinuate that said terminology has never been used before.

The word “very” is an adverb meaning, ‘In a high degree, extremely, or exceedingly.’

I had a high school English teacher who grew weary of students constantly using the word “very” to emphasize certain conditions.  “They’re not very poor,” she groused, highlighting one example.  “They’re just poor!”

Okay, boss-lady, got it!  Sending “very” into a dark place from where it will not emerge until after I graduate.

With all of that rigmarole behind us now, I have compiled a short list of frequently used – and overused – terms that meteorologists, law enforcement and those dumbass reporters utilize to describe tropical storm systems.  Keep in mind the adverb “very” is almost always the precursor.

This storm is very…

Dangerous – this is the 2nd most used term to describe tropical storms; apparently, there are such things as safe hurricanes, but I don’t believe one has developed in a while.

Fluid – this generally refers to the actual travel speed of the storm and not the water, which in case you failed Science 101, is one of the most common fluids available.

Intense – this most often indicates the severity of the sustained winds (those closest to the eye) and wind gusts (those furthest from the eye that fluctuate wildly as their speed increases).  This can also describe the persona of those reporters trying to make a name for themselves on the beach, as well as residents and visitors who decide they’re going to tough it out because, after all, what could possibly go wrong amidst 150 mph (241 kph) winds and rain falling sideways?

Powerful – this one competes with “dangerous” as a common description for hurricanes and simply refers to the overall magnitude of the storm.  Considering that an average hurricane can generate 6.0 x 10^14 Watts or 5.2 x 10^19 Joules/day (equivalent to about 200 times Earth’s total electrical generating capacity), it’s tough to imagine a tropical storm system as being weak.  In fact, though, the word “weak” has been used to describe some hurricanes, which means – from a meteorological perspective – it’s all relative.  Think of it as comparing Donald Trump’s intellectual capacity to that of Barack Obama.  Obama would a Category 5 hurricane, while Trump would barely make it out of tropical disturbance status.

Unpredictable – this is undoubtedly the most commonly used term to describe hurricanes.  Understand that these tempests have been bombarding the coastlines of the world since the beginning of time; yet, we modern humans keep trying to predict exactly where one such storm will go.  However, contemporary meteorology has advanced to the point where such estimations are accurate.  But coastal residents and visitors still want weather prognosticators to determine precisely where a storm will make landfall, so they won’t have to ruin their vacations or run to Home Depot at the last minutes to buy generators, batteries, plywood and wine.  Stupid humans!

Wet – this word isn’t utilized too often amidst hurricane descriptions, but every once in a while, it gets tossed into the mix.  Because tropical storm systems develop over large bodies of warm water, I don’t believe “dry” would be an appropriate term.  But that’s just my opinion!  What do you folks think?

Windy – this is actually the most curious description for a hurricane.  Realizing that tropical storm systems are gauged and ranked according to their wind speed, it’s difficult to imagine that even a Category 1 hurricane could pass by without knocking a few trash cans over.  Again, I’m just speculating.

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Lightning Angel

This was a poem I wrote in July of 1986, when I was on a poetry kick.  My inspiration was – would you believe? – lightning in the night sky.  My father induced respect and admiration for lightning in me when I was little.  Like most small children, I was terrified of lightning and thunder.  But my father picked me up one night and carried me to a window.  He pulled open the drapes and yanked up the blinds – and told me not to be scared.  Lightning and thunder were just part of nature and nothing to be feared.  Respected, yes, but not feared.  They were born from the hands of the Great Creator.  From then on, I was never afraid of lightning or thunder again.

My father had acquired veneration for all of Earth’s natural forces from his own father who would open the drapes as a lightning storm rampaged overheard.  By contrast my grandmother was terrified and ran around the house clutching a rosary, lighting candles and ordering everyone to pray; that this is how the world will end: lightning, thunder, wind, rain – all at once and merciless.  Of course, that may be true.  But who are we to tell the Earth what to do with its tools?

My grandfather apparently displayed a sadistic streak, as his frazzled wife scampered from room to room.  “Yes,” he’d tell her.  “I just heard a report on the radio that a tornado is headed this way and sweeping up all women over age 40.”

 

Oh lightning angel.

Please smile at me.

Crackle in the caverns of that purple-black sky.

Glisten your rods of orange fire,

Whisper to me amidst vicious winds.

Please smile once more at me.

I hear your softened sensations,

And cower against your powerful heart.

Sweep my soul and steel my lungs.

Lightning angel.

Favorite of all our elements.

Looking at you from this shrinking Earth.

To your crystalline patterns.

Designs of your own creation.

Yes, lightning angel.

Gentle and sweet.

Yet you display your might.

Flashing over the silhouettes of quiet plants.

Cover my meager form on this deserted road.

Breathe your whiteness through the swollen clouds.

I reach out to you.

And wish you could take me,

Retreating back into this clouds.

But you’re alone,

In your own dimension,

In your own universe.

So I beg you please,

Just bless me with one last flare,

Before you melt,

Into that sky,

Oh lightning angel.

 

Image: Colt Forney Photography

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Just Leave Them Alone

A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) image of Hurricane Matthew moving towards Florida on October 6, 2016.

A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) image of Hurricane Matthew moving towards Florida on October 6, 2016.

People living along the U.S. Gulf Coast were accustomed to this.  A massive hurricane was headed their way, and they had been warned to evacuate further inland.  It’s the price one must pay for a home with a spectacular view.  They didn’t need too much encouragement to flee from the chaotic beachfront.  Barely a decade had passed since Hurricane Camille had plowed into the Alabama-Mississippi coastline with winds of roughly 190 mph (306 km/h).  Camille was only the second documented Category 5 storm to hit the United States.  It had set the standard by which all future tropical storm systems would be measured and – more importantly – by how coastal residents and government officials would respond.

It was September of 1979, and Hurricane Frederic loomed menacingly on the horizon.  What had begun as a tropical wave off the west coast of Africa at the end of August metamorphosed into a Category 4 behemoth, with 135 mph (215 km/h) winds, upon entering the Gulf of México.  The National Hurricane Center issued warnings for much of the U.S. Gulf Coast, and some 500,000 people – from East Texas to the Florida Keys – heeded that ominous call.  Utilizing a new and innovative weather system called Doppler Weather Radar, the NHC had deemed the Florida Panhandle as the most likely strike point.  Locals remembered Hurricane Eloise very well, so most took no chances.

Then, seemingly at the last moment (as hurricanes frequently do), Frederic shifted further westward and landed at Gulf Shores, Alabama.  As they trekked back to their boarded-up homes and businesses, wondering if criminals had taken advantage of their absence, some Florida Panhandle residents were irritated that they were forced to flee a hurricane that didn’t hit.  Wasn’t this new-fangled Doppler thing supposed to cure such uncertainty?  Regardless, many vowed to stay put the next time.

Much of this same drama played out last week, as Hurricane Matthew terrorized the Caribbean and then teased the southeastern U.S. by remaining mostly offshore.  At one point in its early life, Matthew reached the rare and dreaded Category 5 status; the first such tempest in the Caribbean since Felix in 2007.  Matthew finally made official landfall in South Carolina October 8 as a Category 1 storm and is now – as of this writing – a post-tropical cyclone.  With more than 1,000 fatalities directly attributed to it, Matthew’s financial damage will take a while to tally.  And, as always happens with these things, a proverbial “lessons learned” compendium will develop.

One lesson is how best to warn people living in vulnerable areas that they must leave.  As Matthew neared the U.S., literally millions of people, from Florida to North Carolina, were ordered to evacuate.  I don’t like the idea of forcing people to flee a coming storm or any natural disaster.  Hurricanes are one of the few calamities that can be tracked from far away.  It’s only fair to warn people of some pending disaster and help them avoid it, if we can.

Yet, if somebody wants to remain in place, I believe we should just leave them alone.  Governors and mayors should never issue a mandatory evacuation, but rather, a necessary one.  Necessary in that it would be in the best interest of residents to flee.  But people should be allowed to make decisions about their own welfare without harassment or input from others.  I recommend a ‘No Rescue’ policy.  If, for example, a hurricane is estimated to make landfall on a Friday, anyone still on the beachfront after midnight is on their own.  First responders would not be required to respond to a frightened citizen whose million-dollar condo is starting to flood.  Police officers, firefighters and military personnel shouldn’t risk their own lives to save just one dumbass (usually a man) who thought they were tough enough to handle 100 mph winds and 20-foot tidal surges.  Advances in automobile technology have given people a false sense of personal security; therefore, they may not drive too carefully.  Advances in meteorology have had the same deleterious effect.

Photographer Frankie Lucena captured this image of “red sprite bursts” above Hurricane Matthew, as the storm lingered between Colombia and Aruba on October 1.

Photographer Frankie Lucena captured this image of “red sprite bursts” above Hurricane Matthew, as the storm lingered between Colombia and Aruba on October 1.

In September of 1999, Hurricane Floyd headed straight for the Georgia-Florida area, prompting the governors of both states to issue that dreaded mandatory evacuation.  Some 4 million people heeded the warning and fled westward.  As usual, store shelves were emptied out, gas stations were drained, and highways became clogged with frightened coastal residents.  But then Floyd suddenly turned north and plowed into North Carolina’s Outer Banks, before marching up the East Coast.  It missed the Georgia-Florida line altogether, and many of those residents who had been ordered to leave got pissed.  With all of the advances in weather forecasting, they declared, you’d think meteorologists would know exactly where a hurricane will strike.  How pathetically arrogant.

But the public’s salacious desire to watch these disasters unfold is matched only by the media’s desire for high ratings.  As Matthew approached Florida, news outlets planted their reporters on beach fronts and empty streets to help viewers vicariously live the power of the wind and rain.  It’s almost comical watching someone holding onto a street sign or lamp post with one hand and a microphone in the other; adorned in the requisite rain coat and / or ball cap; describing how bad it is “out here” and stating the obvious: “conditions have deteriorated.”

Several years ago I watched the national news as a brutal series of wild fires ravaged Southern California.  People were angry they had to leave their million-dollar homes.  And, of course, media outlets dispatched their own people to show and maybe speak with locals packing up all they could and fleeing the area per the mandatory evacuation orders.  I recall seeing one angry man being led away from his house by some police officers; he had been reluctant to leave.  He looked into the camera and screamed about being forced to leave his home, while “the fucking media” were allowed to stay.  I empathized with him.  If he wanted to stay, he should have been allowed to do that.

After Hurricane Katrina tore into the Gulf Coast in August of 2005, thousands of people who didn’t evacuate subsequently refused to leave; despite the warning by then-New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin that the city “isn’t safe.”  A large swath of the region, from Southeastern Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle was in chaos, and no, it wasn’t safe.  But no area directly impacted by a natural disaster is safe in the aftermath.  Still, if people want to stay and protect their property, the government shouldn’t force them to leave anyway.

Harry R. Truman refused to leave his home on Mount St. Helen’s, despite its pending eruption in May of 1980.

Natural disasters have a unique way of putting humanity back in its place and making us realize we’re not its master.  On March 11, 1888, a massive blizzard rolled over the east coast of North America, killing more than 400 people and dropping as much as 55 inches of snow in some areas.  The storm practically paralyzed major metropolitan areas, such as Boston and New York City.  Most of the fatalities occurred among urbanites, while folks out in the country just considered it another really bad storm.  Human vanity reached a new level with the R.M.S. Titanic in 1912.  Branded as “unsinkable,” the massive vessel met its fate on its maiden voyage, courtesy of a wayward iceberg, taking more than 1,500 lives with it.

Saving people from themselves is not just virtually impossible; it’s impractical.  It’s also a waste of time and energy.  Give individuals the necessary information and a means to escape.  After that, just leave them alone.

Smoke from wildfires burning in Angeles National Forest filled the sky behind the Los Angeles skyline on June 20, 2016.  Image courtesy of Ringo H.W. Chiu / AP.

Smoke from wildfires burning in Angeles National Forest filled the sky behind the Los Angeles skyline on June 20, 2016. Image courtesy of Ringo H.W. Chiu / AP.

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Pictures of the Day

A weather system dumped up to 4 feet of hail in Northwest Texas, mainly the Amarillo area, the other day.  This was an odd event, even for Amarillo, which experiences heavy snowfall every winter.

 

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