Wednesday marked the start of hurricane season, something most people take semi-seriously in North Carolina.
The truth is, it’s been quite a few years since North Carolina has felt the wrath of a strong, full-blown hurricane. And, because it’s been a long time since we’ve experienced the damage of those winds and rain, we have a tendency to let our guard down. That’s not unusual, really. Most of us have experienced some bad event and vowed never to put ourselves in a position where we have to deal with it again.
I’ve had several kidney stone attacks over the years and the doctor’s first question is always the same: “Do you drink a lot of Mountain Dew?” Well, I swear off Mountain Dew right away and my memory begins to fade after about six days. The Mountain Dew returns as a regular part of my diet until the next attack.
We’re the same way with hurricanes. After Hurricane Hugo reached far inland in 1989, many of us vowed to be better prepared for the next storm. Then, in 1996, along came Hurricane Fran, which punched a considerable amount of North Carolina right in the face, coming in the middle of the night as it did. Just three years later, Hurricane Floyd showed us the damage that flood waters can bring, damaging property far inland, away from the coastal areas we typically worry about with these storms.
Though it was before my time, I’ve heard a great many stories from my father about Hurricane Hazel, which hit North Carolina in 1954. For people of his generation in North Carolina, that remains the hurricane against which all other hurricanes are measured.
There have, of course, been deadlier, costlier hurricanes in the United States that didn’t impact North Carolina. Hurricane Andrew in 1992 devastated parts of Florida and, of course, more recently, Hurricane Katrina virtually destroyed New Orleans and much of Mississippi’s Gulf Coast.
Hurricane experts have been coming out with their predictions for this year’s storm season prior to the start of this year’s season. Many are calling for an active hurricane season, in part because the famous weather cycle El Nino has concluded its most recent run. I’m no weatherman, but El Nino has the effect of changing normal weather patterns all over the world, so prognosticators are betting that a return to normal weather patterns raises the likelihood of storms striking the U.S.
And, then there is the simple rule of sooner or later. If something happens on a somewhat regular basis and you go a while without it happening, then the likelihood that this will be the year seems to grow. I’m sure professional statisticians would poo-poo that logic, but it defies common sense to think that we’ve seen the last hurricane we’re ever gonna see.
Maybe I’m crazy for saying this, but hurricanes don’t frighten me quite as much as tornados. Scientists have gotten really good at understanding hurricanes, and because they are slow moving and form out over water, we always have had some amount of warning. Tornados, though, may come with little or no warning and though their swath of damage may be smaller, they can be incredibly deadly.
Hurricanes, on the other hand, fill the images of our television sets for a few days before they hit land and our newspapers are filled with stories in the days before a hurricane’s approach about the pending danger and how to keep yourself safe. That wasn’t necessarily the case in 1954 when Hazel battered eastern North Carolina. Scientists had flown airplanes into the center of the storm when it was a long way away from North Carolina and the storm didn’t seem that menacing. As it came closer to North Carolina, however, the airplanes couldn’t fly into the center of the storm and scientists, along with everyone else, were caught off guard by the storm’s fury.
The lesson from those storms, and our recent good fortunes, should be enough to tell us we should be prepared for anything this hurricane season.