We still have several weeks of hurricane season before those of us who live along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico will be able to relax. The annual parade of named storms always lurks in the back of our minds giving us reason to be vigilant from June through October. We have generators stashed in the back corners of our garages just in case and some even have all home generators that operate with natural gas as soon as there is even a blip in the power. We keep lanterns, flashlights and batteries on hand because we know that waiting until the last minute to procure these things might catch us off guard. We have weather apps on our phones and sometimes even store pre-cut sheets of plywood in the rafters to be ready to cover our windows if a storm appears to be barreling our way.
When a hurricane enters the Gulf its path lies along a cone of uncertainty as it spends days either falling apart or strengthening over warm waters. Meteorologists use an educated method of determining the general line it may follow with caveats that the situation might change at any time. For anyone whose home lies even remotely in the projected pathway it becomes a time for getting ready and determining whether to batten the hatches and hunker down or to secure property and leave for a safe place in which to watch the storm from afar. It is never easy to decide what to do. Waiting too long often makes it too late to safely evacuate. Leaving too soon may end up being unnecessary. There is always a pull and a tug in deciding whether or not the newscasters are spreading unwarranted fear or if their warnings should be heeded.
Many years ago the citizens of Houston fled from the possibility of hurricane Rita after watching what had happened in New Orleans only weeks before when hurricane Katrina devastated that city. What ensued was a traffic jam of epic proportions that resulted in needless deaths when Rita took a turn to the east and did not even come close to Houston. What few who were part of the mass exodus did not seem to notice is that the towns that were affected by Rita suffered great destruction. We learned from that event that it works best to target specific areas for evacuation based on potential damage rather than moving an entire city of millions of people.
Three years ago when hurricane Harvey was threatening the Houston area most people mocked the local news teams who were describing potentially dire consequences. We went to bed on a Saturday night as the rains began confident that we would get little more than street flooding. Five days later much of the city was under water because of the non stop rain. Homes were flooded from the north to the south, the east to the west because Harvey stalled over land drenching the area without end and creating countless tornadoes that turned the days and nights into a terrifying experience.
Predictions of exactly where a hurricane will go and what it will do when it finally lands is an inexact science. We can get close but we always have to be prepared for the unexpected. Our best bet is always to take the impending storm seriously, to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. It is one of those times in life when assuming the worst scenario may ultimately save lives. Taking risks with hurricanes is never a good idea and when people do they sometimes die.
This week we prepared for hurricane Laura in Houston and surrounding areas. Schools that had only begun the new school year on Monday were shut down by Wednesday. There was a flurry of activity as people rushed out to purchase food and supplies. There were warnings that we might go weeks without power and that places like nearby Galveston might have a dangerous life threatening storm surge. Some places issued mandatory evacuation orders and those in low lying areas were nudged to leave voluntarily. As it happened, nothing happened in our part of the world but it created havoc in Louisiana. It is a scenario that raises mixed emotions in my mind because I understand the vagaries of hurricanes and the tendency of humans to underestimate the seriousness of what might have been if there is no resulting disaster. It becomes less likely that people will pay attention the next time which will most certainly come if not this year then some year in the future.
A hurricane is somewhat like Covid-19 it can be dangerous and deadly but we never quite know exactly how it is going to act. The uncertainty of each situation makes it difficult to get everyone on board with precautions. Those hit by the raging winds of a hurricane or Covid-19 warn of us the horrors while those who never have to experience such things tend to view it all as an inconvenience at best or a hoax at worst. Most of us just want all of such events to go away so we can get on with life. We have only passing patience with natural disasters or pandemics.
Hurricanes are as much a way of life for those along coastal areas as tornadoes are in the midwest. We watch the weather and heed the warnings and pray that they will not materialize. We know how horrible it is when they do. After nature has randomly damaged our human endeavors we clean up and rebuild hoping that we won’t have to repeat the process again but knowing that we probably will. The only control that we ever really have in life is knowing how to keep ourselves safe and understanding that things are never as valuable as people. Let’s continue to bear that in mind as we face many many challenges and a virus that has yet to loosen its grip on us. Continue to be cautious and to do the things designed to keep us safe even if you never have to experience any of the dangers.