Writer Wednesday: Natural Disasters

I have lived in hurricane country since I was ten years old, and have sat, slept, and occasionally cowered through more hurricanes and tropical storms than I can remember. The prompt for this month’s Writer Wednesday post sent me to Wikipedia, where I picked through several lists of storms (in Florida, Texas, and Louisiana) to find the ones I remember most.

WW JulyAs with many things in life, “firsts” have a special place. My first hurricane was Donna, which hit southern Florida on September 10, 1960, my birthday. (My birthday is often cited as the peak of the hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico, although I celebrated this one in the suburbs of Miami.) My mother, used to life in Wisconsin, was terrified. My brother, who was seven, slept through it. My dad and I thought it was an adventure. When the storm passed, and the electricity did not return (I don’t remember how long it was out), my dad made a valiant attempt to bake me a birthday cake on his charcoal grill. It didn’t look much like a cake, but served with melted ice cream, it tasted just fine.

In the summer of 1969, when I was attempting to move from Tallahassee, where I had just graduated from Florida State, to New Orleans, where I would attend grad school at Tulane in the fall, the central Gulf Coast was hit by Hurricane Camille, a nasty killer that closed the coast highway for weeks, forcing us to travel inland and hope we could find gas stations with electricity often enough to make it across Mississippi. The coast road was open again in the fall, and I remember seeing huge commercial ships on the beach.

In 1974, Jack and I sat out Hurricane Carmen in our house outside New Iberia, Louisiana. Although Carmen was a serious storm along some of its path, it didn’t hit us too hard, although it made our tin roof rattle something fierce. On the other hand, I remember looking out the window and watching a cat, oblivious of the weather, wander across our lawn. Somewhere around that time, I had my closest encounter with a tornado, as we ducked behind the refrigerators in a New Iberia appliance store while a twister roared down the street out front.

We moved to Seabrook, southeast of Houston between the Space Center and Galveston Bay, in 1976. In 1979, Tropical Storm Claudette dropped 42 inches of rain on a nearby weather station and overflowed an open garbage can in my yard. No flooding in the house, but we were on an island for a day or two. Claudette was followed by Hurricane Alicia in 1983—lots of damaged vegetation, which all grew back in a couple of years, and a power outage that lasted a week or so—and Hurricane Jerry in 1989, a smallish, late season storm that went right over our house, the only time I’ve experienced the Eye of the Storm.

Hurricane Andrew, in 1992, scored a catastrophic hit on the Florida Peninsula, and scared Jack so badly he insisted we evacuate inland. The storm went to Louisiana, but we did have a nice visit with Jack’s uncle in Austin. Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 was the storm that refused to go away, circling around and causing severe flooding and a number of deaths in Houston, but the worst of it missed us and we watched it on TV. That was the last storm I shared with Jack, who died the next year.

By the time Hurricane Rita reared her head in 2005, only a few weeks after Katrina devastated New Orleans, local authorities had become a lot more emphatic on the subject of evacuation, and I had no desire to stay home, so I packed up my cat and dog and we went to Houston to stay with my friend Jo Anne, the day before evacuation was made mandatory for my zip code. That was a good move, because the storm caused such panic that people who tried to flee west were stuck on the highways for hours, sometimes twenty or more, while the storm went east to the Beaumont area, and Houston seemed deserted—and perfectly safe.

In 2008 we had a visit from Ike, a massively destructive storm. This time people not in the flood prone areas were urged to stay home. My cat and I went to Jo Anne’s, where I stayed until my neighbor called to say she was home and the power was back on—twelve days later. My yard took another beating, but my house was okay.

Since then the hurricane seasons have been quiet here. Last month Tropical Storm Bill paid the area a visit, bringing more rain than we needed but not much damage. If Bill is our storm for this year, we’ll be happy.

Every storm has its own set of stories, but I still have fond memories of that first adventure in 1960, and my lop-sided, crispy-edged birthday cake served with melted ice cream by candlelight. Thanks, Dad!

For tales of more natural disasters, check out the Wednesday Writers in the sidebar to your right. Two of our merry crew have new releases this month: Carol Post’s Hidden Identity, a suspenseful tale of blackmail and murder is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Natalie Meg Evans’ The Milliner’s Secret is available for pre-order at Amazon and Amazon UK.

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A Winter Day

We had winter today in Houston.  It’s been colder–we had a hard freeze a couple of weeks ago that drove the temperatures further down the scale.  This morning it didn’t get much below 30 degrees where I live, southeast of the city near Galveston Bay.  But it rained.  Not very much, although I couldn’t check my rain gauge this morning because it was frozen into its base, but enough to make ice.

And there’s the problem.  We’re just not used to ice around here.  We can handle a freeze.  And we can handle rain.  But both at once–that’s a problem.  By the time I got up and turned on the news this morning, there were accidents all over the map, freeway overpasses shut down by ice, bridges closed.  Although I don’t usually work on Friday, I had planned to go in today for some quiet catch-up time (January being the busiest month in the bookkeeping year).  It didn’t take me long to decide that was a Bad Idea.  Virtually all the school systems in the area were closed.  The signs which usually tell us how long our drive will take said “Icy Conditions Exist – Travel Discouraged.”

When I went out to get my newspaper this morning, its plastic bag was covered in ice.  There were icicles hanging from the eaves of my house, and droplets of ice clinging to my hanging plants.  The rain gauge was frozen into its base.  I know these are minor happenings compared to the rough winter in much of the country.  I lived in the suburbs of Milwaukee as a child, and I do remember winter.  But I’ve been making my way around the Gulf of Mexico for the past several decades, from the suburbs of Miami, where anything below 60 degrees is regarded as unbearably cold, to Tallahassee, where I once saw the fountain at FSU frozen solid, to New Orleans, to New Iberia, where we once had a real snowfall, to Houston.  I’ve seen it snow here, too, maybe three times in thirty-five years, and we have ice on the roads maybe every three or four years.  I know my limitations–I don’t drive on ice.

The icicles on the south side of my house eventually melted, but the ones on the north side were still there this evening.  The traffic signs tonight (I looked at the map on line) still say “Icy Conditions May Exist – Drive With Caution.”  But it should be in the 50s tomorrow, and it may get close to 70 on Sunday.  And then we can expect another cold front next week.  Winter may be fairly short in this area, but it’s never boring.

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The First Sign of Autumn

It’s the first week in September and still hitting the upper 90s every day.  There may be a “not so hot” front coming this weekend, but we have a good bit of summer left on the Texas Gulf Coast.

But autumn is coming.  Really.  This morning the first hurricane lily opened in my front yard.

I’m not much of a botanist, or even a gardener.  I mow the lawn, prune a few low hanging branches, do a little weeding, but I don’t grow flowers, not on purpose anyway. For many years I knew these flowers by the name my gardener neighbor calls them, naked ladies, because they pop up and bloom on bare stalks, with the folliage coming up later.  Then a year or two ago I saw an article in the Houston Chronicle identifying them as hurricane lilies.  That makes sense.  They reach their peak around the middle of September, as does the hurricane season here on the Gulf Coast.

Last year was extremely dry, and the lilies, which grow in a wide strip across my front yard near the street, put up a rather meager display.  This year we had a decent amount of rain through the late spring and summer, so I’m hoping they’ll do better.  There have been years when they were so thick that people stopped to take pictures, and others when they barely appeared.  Hurricane Rita blew them down a few years ago, even though she made landfall well to the east of Houston.  Hurricane Ike came right up Galveston Bay and smashed the flowers flat.

The hurricane lilies are survivors.  Their bulbs were in the yard when we moved into this house in 1976.  I have no idea how bulbs propagate, whether the flower I photographed this morning sprang from a forty-year-old bulb or a seventeenth-generation descendant.  They’re not buried very deeply, and I’ve never done a thing to them–except run my lawn mower over them.  Yet year after year they reappear, splashing my yard with red every September.

There’s probably a lesson in there somewhere, but I’m not going to look for it.   For the next couple of weeks, I’m just going to go out in the morning and admire the flowers.

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