No, no, no, not THAT kind of hurricane! The OTHER kind!
I’ve been fascinated with hurricanes ever since Hurricane Carla came to visit. We lived in Dallas, and even THERE the hurricane winds were howling and the water was high enough to come in our sliding glass door.
Nathan and I rode out Hurricane Ike (run from water, hide from wind!). Overall, it wasn’t bad. The damage to the city was shocking, and it was a relatively “tame” hurricane.
These amazing storms are fascinating in their intensity. What causes them to form? Why do they move so unpredictably?
A great book on the human effects of a hurricane is Isaac's Storm by Erik Larson. If you’ve not read it, pick it up and do so (his other book, The Devil in the White City, is equally riveting). The Great Storm of 1900 forever changed Galveston and the southwest. Until then, Galveston was the foremost city in Texas, vastly eclipsing the sleepy Mexican village of San Antonio; the tiny capitol, Austin; the frontier trading post of Dallas; the cattle-driving Ft. Worth, and the malarial swamp called Houston. Galveston was educated, erudite, classy, elite. “The Wall Street of the South” existed on The Strand.
The Great Storm drove the Gulf of Mexico over the sandbar on which Galveston sits, to a depth of 15 feet at the shallowest point. The only survivors clung to the tops of trees or the top floors of the few remaining buildings. The official death toll (laughable even then, put forth by city leaders anxious to maintain their city’s supremacy by downplaying the danger) was 8,000, which makes it the most fatal natural disaster in history. The figure was probably much higher; there is no way to know but the usual guess is 20,000 people of a total population of 42,000. There weren’t enough living to bury the dead, so the bodies were placed on rafts and towed out to sea. Two days later, they washed ashore. They were then placed in funeral pyres which burned for weeks. A true human tragedy, and one rich with the stuff of drama: hubris, arrogance, greed, a natural disaster, a great loss, and the aftermath. Again, riveting stuff.
Galveston never recovered.
Unlike San Francisco a year later, which rebuilt from the ashes of the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1901, Galveston was unable to regain its supremacy. The town finally decided to build a 17 foot seawall. They scraped the debris from the storm to the beach backfilled it, and lifted the remaining structures to a height of 17 feet. The dead are buried beneath the modern city. The damage, however, was done; Houston became the center of commerce and Galveston withered; no one was willing to risk their lives (even with a 17 foot seawall) to repopulate the island. Today, it’s a pleasant, quirky island community of 85,000, while greater Houston is over 6.5 million. People from Galveston have a fierce pride; the term “B.O.I.” (Born On Island) is a badge of honour.
The most vivid images of Houston during “hurricanes” occurred not during an actual hurricane, but during a Tropical Storm. Allison came ashore as a “water storm”, dumping inches of rain on the city. She then moved inland a bit, but was pushed back by an oncoming cold front and stalled directly over the city of Houston. The photos of the city are amazing.
It was during one hurricane, Rita, that I discovered the evils of Potts Camp, Mississippi. We were coming back from Alabama, traveling at around Warp 8.5, traveling through the bands of hurricane Rita. Hurricanes put off bands of showers; huge deluge of rain, followed by a period of sunshine, followed by another drenching. We had just come through a band and out into the sunlight; the pavement was still wet but the sun was shining. Suddenly, we were doing 360’s down the middle of US 78; we wound up landing nose down in the ditch. In Potts Camp, Mississippi.
What brought all this up today? The sky. South Texas skies are very expressive, as I wrote about here. Today’s spoke volumes.
Today’s sky was a hurricane sky. Huge thunderheads; clouds at all levels; a general sense of foreboding; extremely hot and humid but no sun. Hurricane clouds.
Tropical Storm (soon to be Hurricane) Alex is churning up the Gulf, complicating the job of the people trying to contain the oil spill. We’re much too far north for it….aren’t we?
So yes, today I gassed both of the cars, rechecked my hurricane kit, made sure to buy fresh batteries. Alex may not come get us---but note that it starts with an “A”. The season’s just beginning.
For hurricane information and tracking, go to the National Hurricane Center website.