Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Storm of our Lifetime

I'd like to say it's all over but the shouting about Sandy the Storm, but that would be inaccurate since the substantial remnants of Sandy's siege on the east coast of the U.S. are still wreaking havoc on other parts of the U.S. This storm has been called "The Perfect Storm," "The Storm of a Lifetime," a "Super Storm" and a "Storm of Historical Proportions." In all, the highest estimate I've heard so far is that Sandy has impacted some 23 states and at least a couple provinces of Canada and claimed at least 40 lives in the U.S., so far.

I'm glad I made if back to my WV "base camp" from my Chicago revenue generating road trip before Sandy unleashed her fury. Columbus, Ohio is now engulfed in the storm and has about two feet of snow from the blizzard portion of the snow. Chicago and other Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan communities on the shores of Lake Michigan are facing 25 - 30 foot waves, perhaps, the largest waves ever on Lake Michigan.

Of course, the reality is that Sandy was only one third of the equation that created this "Perfect Storm." Sandy formed in the Caribbean. After hitting Jamaica, the western part of Haiti and the eastern part of Cuba came up the Atlantic coast through the Bahamas, taking 69 lives in the process, ultimately to make landfall on the southern New Jersey coastline also known to those of us who grew up there as the Jersey shore. However, as a simple Category 1 hurricane, she would have created enough damage and destruction. But, how ever nature creates these kinds of events, Sandy joined forces with a large Nor'easter and an Arctic cold front coming in from the west to create a storm, with Sandy as its center that had winds and rain spanning about a thousand miles from Sandy's eye.

Wow! If we can believe the meteorologists and the historical records, a weather event of this nature has never happened before in recorded history, certainly not in the U.S. but possibly in the world. While the winds were nowhere near as devastating as those of a Category 4 or 5 hurricane, in this unfortunate circumstance a destructive force so large and menacing has just never happened before. Concurrently there were portions of the U.S. from North Carolina to Maine being pounded by record breaking tidal surges, winds strong enough to rip off the roofs and other parts of man made structures and dump two and three feet of snow in blizzard conditions in the higher elevations. Add to this that the main body of Sandy, the hurricane, itself, came in just prior to high tides and the tides were higher then normal due to the influence of the full moon.

Now, believe me, I do not fully understand all of the elements involved in this unholy concoction of meteorological occurrences. I just know that it was the weirdest storm I can ever recall and I've experienced the direct impact of numerous hurricanes, nor'easters and blizzards during my lifetime, just never all at the same time.

It was just three years ago when we experienced a winter weather event that has affectionately (???) become known as Snowmageddon that involved a blizzard with over two feet of snow in the mid-Atlantic region in December, something that hadn't happened since around 1925. That was followed by a double whammy of two back to back blizzards with one day between the two storms that left around five feet of snow on the ground where I was at in the Shenandoah Valley at that time.  I began to believe I had somehow moved back to Syracuse, New York where I saw that kind of snow in 1967/68/69 while attending graduate school at Syracuse University.

Now, on the good side of my experience with this Super Storm, my base camp, located in the small, rural town of Keyser, West Virginia seemed to be in a small, safe spot. Yes, we saw some heavy rain. Yes. We saw some winds probably in the 30 mph range with some gusts that probably topped 50 mph. Yes. We saw some frozen precipitation. But, the rain was never torrential and it never came in sideways. The winds were within coping range and, so far, to the best of my knowledge there was little serious property damage in this area. The frozen precipitation was in the form of sleet and never turned into a couple feet of snow. The temperature was in the low forties, so it was never cold enough to sustain snow and the sleet was mainly slush.

We did lose power at about 9:20 PM Eastern Time, but we were prepared for it, so we didn't experience any significant discomfort or inconvenience during the powerless period that ended about 12 to 13 hours later at around 10:30 AM this morning (Tuesday). Being a very mobile/portable tech oriented person, I was able to keep my computer and cell phone batteries charged using my 12 volt chargers and 110 volt inverter powered by the battery in My McVansion.

The one weird thing was the "extremely" loud thunder claps accompanying bright lightning flashes during the peak of the wind and sleeting. It was so loud that my friend, Carolyn, couldn't believe it was really thunder. We almost thought maybe the Earth was opening and swallowing up entire homes and blocks. My thoughts are that at that time we were at the juncture of where the Arctic cold front, the record low levels of barometric pressure of Sandy and the nor'easter were all converging at that particular time. I guess one could say this would be like a clash of the titans.

Bottom line for me is that this was a very weird experience. However, other then having a sticks and bricks roof over my head, this was a pretty good opportunity for me to try out a lot of my technology and techniques for living (whether in the van or in a solid structure) with minimal conveniences and infrastructure. And, as I said, it all worked out, for me at least, with minimal inconvenience and discomfort.

On the other hand, I've been able to watch the various news channels since the power returned. My heart, thoughts and prayers go out to those who have lost loved ones, homes, businesses, cars and all their belongings through floods, wind damage and fire. There are just too many stories to even begin to describe the pain so many people are experiencing as I compose this post.

While hurricane Katrina certainly wreaked havoc on New Orleans, other parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and some outlying states, Sandy has impacted an estimated 60 million people living in some 23 states. And, the amazing thing is that the people in this region knew the storm was coming (as did the Gulf Coast) and, for the most part, prepared for it more aggressively then their fellow countrymen did for Katrina. And, of course, it was just about 14 months ago when much of the New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, DC and Pennsylvania region were significantly impacted by Hurricane Irene.  And, just a couple months later they were, again, clobbered by a very early and destructive winter storm event. How can anyone measure disasters like this?

If you've been following the news coverage at all, you know I've only scratched the surface of the destruction, devastation and economic impact this is going to cause, both to the individuals involved and the country. And all this, virtually, on the eve of one of the most important general elections of our lifetimes. I urge you all to vote if you're qualified and registered. I've already voted by absentee ballot and I know where I stand in this election. I'm not here to tell you who to vote for, but I am here to tell you to get out and vote - PERIOD.

I've been lucky throughout my life. I've never suffered any significant or devastating losses from events like those of the last 48 hours or so. But, these events do cause me to take pause and realize that even those of us who choose a "living free" lifestyle by our own definition are still part of the larger society of humanity. We need each other in various ways. "No man is an island . . ." John Donne. How do we come to the aid of our fellow humans?

So, another facet of my living free philosophy is to evaluate how I can best prepare myself to not only cope with natural disasters such as this one (that devastated my New Jersey home town region) in the future, but, also, how I can reach out and provide emergency assistance as a volunteer. Perhaps, this may be where I can reactivate my hobby and volunteer emergency communication experience as an amateur radio operator. Help anyway you can even if only through prayer, positive thoughts or making a phone call or dropping an email to check on any family member, friend or professional contact/colleague just to let them know you are thinking about them and their challenges. A little positive support will go a long way. A lot of people are counting on our support. 

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