I have always been a follower of the weather, storms and hurricanes in particular. I like to think that I come by this interest in the weather genetically. My father was a meteorologist and although forecasting was not where the bulk of his career was spent, it was where it began and ended. Dad loved watching the sky, noting the cloud formations and how they were moving. He loved storm watching. At every opportunity he would cajole his three daughters (we were not always the most willing) out onto the enclosed front porch to watch the lightning and count off the seconds until we heard the thunder. I confess that these were not always happy and carefree occasions. Sometimes the wind and the rain along with the natural pyrotechnics were just a bit scary. Particularly that one time when lightning struck the hydro pole not fifty feet from us. Suddenly there were four white-faced people, one adult and three children, all trying to get back through the door into the house. It's comical now, but at the time anything but funny. So I do have a healthy respect for the forces of nature, but a storm chaser's heart.
Now back to hurricanes and Irene in particular. My late mother, Irene, had family who had a cottage on the southern tip of Long Island -- Breezy Point, New York. From the time I was five years old until 1976, with only two exceptions, we spent at least two weeks every August 'at the beach'. Stories about hurricanes past were the stuff of legend, or at least I thought so as I sat in awe listening to the tales of howling winds and rising waters. It was all so very exciting and fascinating to my young ears.
above photo: Dad in the right corner, cottage centre; the Mardi Gras parade
(always at the end of August at Breezy Point)
Most hurricanes and tropical storms head up the eastern seaboard in early September (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_New_York_hurricanes#1950.E2.80.9374) by which time we had packed up and back home across the border. But in 1971, on August 28, Tropical Storm Doria caught up with us (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tropical_Storm_Doria_(1971). She struck at night and I remember the howling wind and the driving rain. Sleep was impossible so we gathered round the dining table watching the chandelier sway and playing Pokeno. Then the tea and cinnamon toast came out. It the was the best! I don't think Dad sat down for more than five minutes. He was in his element: tapping the barometer, taking observations from the back deck and listening to the National Weather Service radio. When there was a momentary lull in the wind and rain, we listened to the "plink plonk symphony" orchestrated by 5 saucepans and multiple drops from the leaking roof.
The centre of Doria passed just after midnight as I recall and around 1:30am Dad announced that the pressure was rising, the winds were abating and it was time to go to bed. In the morning which dawned clear and bright, we were drawn down the boardwalk to the ocean by the roar of the surf. The sea was still boiling and the pounding had created deep cuts in the sand. As we made our way back up Fulton Walk, the neighbours called out to Dad and said, "When we saw the lights go out at your cottage, we knew all was well and the worst was over."
Hurricane Irene brings with her that great memory and one more -- the marriage of the weatherman and Irene, my Dad and my Mom. Mom died last August (see my 'Dear Mom' post) and Dad's been gone since 1984. I had a sense when tropical storm Irene became Hurricane Irene that she'd be headed straight up the eastern seaboard to Breezy Point. I'd like to think that Mom and Dad are at the helm of this one and will steer her clear of causing major destruction while maintaining the thrill of it all.
Forty years ago to the day I will be here, waiting out the storm. If I get out the Pokeno set, how be you get the tea and cinnamon toast? Together we can wait and watch and pray that all will be well.
Be careful out there and if you are one who is told to leave, do so!
(all photos © April Hoeller)