Friday, August 26, 2011

Hurricane Phobia

Hurricane Phobia

A Commentary by J. D. Longstreet

Phobias are usually considered mental illnesses that require physcological treatment.  However, in the nearly 50 years that I have been a resident of America’s “Hurricane Alley” I have learned that Hurricane Phobia is one of the only – if not THE ONLY -- phobia that is considered perfectly normal by physicians, shrinks, and lay people.  For good reason.

Only a fool is not afraid of a hurricane.  And like his money, a fool not afraid of a hurricane will soon be parted from his life as well.

Hurricanes change everything. If one is unlucky enough to be caught in the right front quadrant of a hurricane it can be a hundred times scarier than an earthquake.  An earthquake last for a few seconds to a couple of minutes, usually.  A hurricane lasts for many, many hours.

As of this writing Hurricane Irene is approximately 500 miles south of me.  Yet, the weather and the ocean waters are already being affected. Even if the eye of Irene storm remains at sea, I am well within the “wind field” and the reach of the “rain bands.” 

I man a small weather monitoring station here and report to the various news media in the region. Already this month, alone, I have recorded 7.63 inches of rainfall.   Sounds good, I’m sure, to those folks in drought wracked areas of the state and the country.  But – consider this:  The soil is already wet, very wet.  And even though it is not saturated with water, enough has fallen and been absorbed into the ground that the tree root systems are loosened.

Now, bring in to the equation powerful winds, sometimes straight line winds, at frightening speeds, and those trees begin popping out of the ground in a fashion akin to a cork on a fishing line popping to the surface.  Add to that tree bark that becomes soddened with the weight of all that water, especially on far reaching limbs and branches, and the stage is set for massive power outages as those same trees and tree branches fall across power lines taking down the power lines and often the utility poles upon which they are affixed.  I have even witnessed electricity drop or feeder lines from the main lines to house snatched right off the sides of the homes sparking fires, if, of course, those lines still had electricity at the moment they were so forcibly ripped off the homes.

No electricity in these modern times spells abject misery … especially in 90+degree weather with the humidity resting near 100%. (I have recorded only four days this month during which the relative humidity at my home was below 90%.)

Until you have seen the power of wind rip and tear a structure apart, you just cannot comprehend wind’s power.  Remember, hurricanes are gigantic tornadoes.

And then – there is the sound.  The sound, alone, is terrifying.  It is felt in your bones.  I cannot describe it here simply because it defies description.  Once you have experienced the eardrum throbbing and screeching mingled with the sounds of your home being torn apart, with you in it, you cannot begin to grasp that horrifying assault on your sense of hearing. 

Riding out a hurricane during the hours of darkness can only be described as a nightmare of undeterminable horror.  You can hear your world outside being destroyed, but you cannot see WHAT is being destroyed. All you can do is hunker down -- and pray.  Daylight will be late due to the cloud cover and your anxiety level only climbs.

Then there is the flooding.  A foot of rain is not unusual, at all.  I have recorded as much as eleven inches of rainfall in a singe afternoon as rain band after rain band sweeps across the affected area.  Low-lying areas flood quickly.  Homes that may have survived winds of the storm are then ruined by the floodwaters.  But the floodwaters do not subside for days as all the water dropped up stream from your location must past through as it makes it way downstream to the ocean.

The floodwaters pollute the wells of rural folk and they cannot drink their own water for days or even weeks to come.

Finally, the storm moves on and folks begin to tentatively, gingerly come out from wherever they had taken shelter and the tallying of the losses begins.  But first -- there is the disbelief -- and then the mourning for lost family members, lost homes, lost businesses, and for some the loss of their sense of security for the remainder of their lives.

I am sitting here with hurricane Irene less than 500 miles away now, bearing down on my loved ones and me.  I have done everything I know to do, all based on my experience of nearly 50 years struggling to defend against these storms.  But the nagging feeling persists that I have not done enough, that I have forgotten something, that someone’s life may depend upon me getting the preparations right.   I have never been able to free myself from that burden.

I have experienced many hurricanes in my seven decades of life.  They are big, scary, powerful monsters.  They are killers, not thrillers, as some inexperienced thrill seekers many of whom have lost their lives just to get a chance to shake their fists in the face of God. For many, it is their last act of defiance on this earth.  Stupidity has a price and it is extremely high.

We folks here in North Carolina are going to get the full measure of Irene’s fury in the next few hours. For the most part, we have the good sense to be scared – and we are not the least bit embarrassed by it.

We will be turning to the only source available for protection, solace, and, yes, healing.  It will not be FEMA.  It WILL be God.

J. D. Longstreet    

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