NEWS BLOG (WSAU) They’re probably OK. As I write, my father, mother, sister, and 90-year-old grandmother are in the hurricane zone in Connecticut and New York. I haven’t heard from them. It’s most likely because power is out, phone lines are down, and cell towers aren’t working. They live in coastal areas. Their homes are all a few miles inland, and, while it’s possible, I don’t think they’d be impacted by flooding. Yesterday I spoke to my dad who reminded me that the media always over-hypes the weather.
There were two hurricanes that I remember as a kid.
Hurricane Belle in 1976 wasn’t a strong storm, but it brought tremendous amounts of rain. Almost all of our family lived in Brooklyn then, and the storm came ashore directly across Long Island Sound. Think of Long Island as a giant bathtub. Water flows out through two ‘drains’ – the far eastern tip at Block Island, and the narrower Throgs Neck at the west end. Belle pushed huge amounts of water into the Sound, through storm surge and rain, and the water had no place to go. The flooding was tremendous.
Hurricane Gloria in 1985 has many personal memories for me, more humorous than tragic through the lens of two-and-a-half decades. Gloria sunk my family’s 21-foot motor boat. Three weeks earlier I’d just passed the final exam for my Coast Guard license, and suddenly our boat was gone. The storm arrived on a Friday, school was closed. Power went out early. We sat inside, bored, as the rain and wind battered our neighborhood. Then came to eye of the storm – 20 minutes or so of sunshine. My friends and I played an informal game of pick-up basketball in my driveway until the sky darkened and we went back inside. My uncle’s wedding was the next day in New Jersey. We drove there, and hoped the electricity would be restored by the time we got home. It wasn’t, but it came back on that night while we slept.
More storms fizzle out than score direct hits. I was disappointed that I slept in the newsroom for Hurricane Gustov in 2002. Hurricane Irene in 2011 hit after I’d moved to Wisconsin. It was more of a New Jersey thing than a menace to Connecticut.
If you’ve never been in a hurricane, you should be aware of a few things. Timing and location is just as important was wind speed and storm strength. Weak storms that hit at high tide, or come ashore in low-lying areas can cause more damage than stronger storms that hit less-vulnerable areas. Irene wasn’t a strong storm. But she picked up lots of moisture and pushed a lot of water into low lying areas with harbors, inlets, estuaries and river mouths. Those are areas that can’t handle it.
Some of the pictures I’ve seen from New York are neighborhoods I knew as a kid. Bensonhurst Park, where I used to fly kites near the Verrazano Narrows, is underwater. Chunks of the Coney Island boardwalk, which was a Friday night hang-out during the summer, is washed out to sea. Breezy Point, the perfect place to watch a sunset in Queens, saw 80 homes destroyed by a fire that firefighters couldn’t get to last night. The subway, the lifeblood of the city, had almost-universal track to platform flooding. It will take longer than expected to restart. This storm seems more like Belle than Gloria. Flood waters roll back quickly. But they cause more damage, and recovery time is longer.
I’m sure my family is OK. I just haven’t heard from them yet.