Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Goodnight, Irene: Diary of a Hurricane That Wasn't

Two weeks ago, the forecasters predicted that a Category 3 Hurricane was going to strike New England.  We anticipated and were prepared for the worst;  fortunately, the storm veered due north and we experienced a far less severe storm than had been expected. Despite the fact that the storm was a mere shadow of itself by the time it passed by us, it was still a major summer storm and we kept a journal of the weekend's activities and events. ~ S. and C.W.

Saturday, August 27, 2011 ~ 3:00 PM ~ The Calm Before the Storm

Steve described  it perfectly. He said the air felt like Mother Nature was holding her breath.

At roughly 3:00 o'clock in the afternoon, there was a noticeable change in atmospheric pressure.  The drop in barometric pressure this close to the shore was palpable. The air went completely still; birds stopped chirping and the bees and butterflies that had swarmed the butterfly bushes for most of the day disappeared. Even the seagulls took cover.

Earlier in the day, fluffy clouds paraded slowly across the sky. By mid afternoon, the sky was a solid cover of pale gray and the sounds of nature - the squawking gulls, birds chirping, buzzing and clacking of insects and even the rustle of leaves - were absent. It was eerie.

My hip and pelvis had already been aching and acutely tender for a full 48 hours but over the course of a half hour, the pain became dramatically more intense, so much so, I could hardly bear to lie on my back It was torture to even try to turn onto my side by myself.  Nothing - medication, hot and cold packs, gentle massage - eased it in the least. I knew it would be an uncomfortable weekend until the storm system passed.

The strongest hurricane to track along the New England coast in a generation was expected to move into New England the following afternoon. The benefit of advanced warning can't be overstated. We had plenty of time to plan and prepare.

Preparations began on Thursday and with most of the same chores we do when we are getting ready for winter, just 10 weeks earlier than usual.

Down came the deck canopy and curtains, the gazebo curtains, and our fountains.

Because the curtains and lantern are attached with cable ties, they were quickly and easily removed with a snip of the tie.

Over the course of the next two days, the furniture, bird feeders and lawn ornaments were secured under the deck, cushions brought in, and potted trees and plants moved indoors.

The curtains were taken down quickly with a snip of the cable ties.

The yard looks bare with the furniture and most of the lawn ornaments stowed.
The deck minus the trees, pots, canopy and curtains.
Steve's office turned greenhouse for the storm.  His office opens onto the deck and he was able to quickly and easily roll the trees inside.
The deck minus trees, potted plants, canopy and most of the furniture.

We also made a trip to the grocery store. We knew that many people would flock to the markets and hardware stores on Friday and Saturday, so we got that chore out of the way on Thursday. Honestly, it was a typical shopping expedition for us and we bought the same things we ordinarily get in our biweekly shopping trip; we just went a couple of days earlier.

While a hurricane with a name and a reputation is big news in New England, violent storms with gale force and hurricane force winds are nothing new to us.  In many respects, being always at the ready for a severe winter storm, we were already prepared for Irene. We have battery powered lanterns and extra batteries on hand, and a  battery powered radio. We also have a power pack - a huge rechargeable battery pack - that can power  cell phone chargers and some of my medical equipment. We did make it a point to refill the extra propane tanks for the grill.

Saturday, August 27, 2011 ~ 6:00 PM ~ A Taste of the Bad Weather to Follow 

Several of our friends live on very exposed areas of the coast. Since most of them do not have family in the area, we called and invited them all to ride out the storm with us. We also offered them a place to stay if storm damage made their homes temporarily uninhabitable. With our almost "empty nest", we have room to spare that we were prepared to share if their own homes were seriously damaged.

The hurricane was preceded by another smaller storm system that arrived Saturday night as dusk fell.  The cloud cover became more intense, the skis grew very dark, and dusk came very early. Pelting rain and strong winds were a taste of what was to come. The dogs were unsettled by the weather and so were we. The storm continued all evening, and were it not for the fact that Irene was coming fast on its heels, we wouldn't have been troubled, but with every major station broadcasting forecasts of some of the most severe weather to strike the area in decades, we worried about what the morning would bring. 

Sunday, August 28, 2011 7:45 AM ~ Irene Approaches Massachusetts

After a very unsettled night and uneasy sleep, we got up in the morning to a more optimistic forecast.  The severity of the storm had been downgraded overnight to a Category 2 hurricane and was expected to be further downgraded to a Category 1 storm by the time it arrived in Massachusetts..

Once she hit the Carolinas, Irene headed straight for New York City and from there, she headed due north, moving over land instead of hugging the coastline. As a result, wind speeds began to slacken and the storm began to weaken.

The change in course also meant that instead of being dead center in Irene's anticipated path, we were now on the eastern edge of the area that was expected to see the most severe weather.

At dawn, the sky looked like lead and the air was once again eerily still.

At 8 AM, while the main part of the storm was pummeling New York City, we began to experience the same phenomenon they had seen as the leading edge of the storm arrived in New England. Bands of rain and wind moved in. We saw short bursts of driving, torrential rain, followed by winds in the 30-40 MPH range, followed by periods of unnatural calm.

 Mid-morning, as the storm moved northward, the skies darkened considerably and the bands of rain and wind came more rapidly and the separations between them were less distinct. We received several inches of rain causing the yard to flood, but the winds, which had been originally expected to top 90 mph, stayed in the 35-40 mph range with a few gusts only slightly higher. Winds approaching 50 mph are not unusual for us, and while some thought the storm was still a major threat, we knew we were getting off easy.

The rain, when it came, was torrential and quickly flooded the yard.
The rain striking the surface of the water in the pool gives some indication behind the force of the downpours.

A lull in the storm as several bands of wind and rain passed over us. The patio remained flooded for much of the day.
Over the course of the evening and the next morning, the water gradually drained away. The level of the water in the pool and koi pond increased by 3 inches over the course of the storm.
As the storm moved up the coast, it continued on a path heading  and passing west of us by just enough of a margin to that other than the bands of torrential rain and some winds gusting in the 30 -45 mph range, we skated away with minimal damage.

The biggest casualty was a tree on the neighbor's property. The weeping willow, although a gorgeous tree, has been seriously damaged in previous storms.

Large galls on the main trunks suggest that the tree suffers from disease as well.

Last summer, they trimmed back one large branch that leaned perilously in the direction of our home, but other branches arch this way as well, causing us much anxiety, especially given the forecast.

We were fortunate that many of the branches that broke in the wind snapped but didn't fall completely off nor get propelled into our house by the wind. We are also fortunate that the damage occurred at a time of the year when the tree can be easily accessed and trimmed. This kind of damage, in this location on their property, would be much harder to address if it happened during a winter storm.

It was hard to capture the effects of the wind in a photograph.
Several large branches broke but remained attached to the tree, preventing damage to our home.
Damage to branches and galls on one of the larger trunks.

The presence of large galls suggests that the tree is suffering from a disease, which weakens the wood and makes the branches more susceptible to breaking.

Adjacent to our property is a 55 acre conservation area that is mostly marshy field with 8-10 acres of woods. After the storm, we saw that several trees had toppled along the edge of the woods and large branches and piles of leaves littered the field.

Once one of the tallest trees along the edge of the wooded area, this tree snapped and fell during the height of the winds.
I was amazed at the amount of grumbling I heard about the level of preparedness the state undertook in preparation for the storm. While I think the hype on TV was seriously overblown, I also believe that being appropriately prepared for severe weather is critical when a storm of this magnitude is anticipated.

It was an unexpected blessing that the storm traveled inland just south of us and we were spared more severe winds and flooding. Had it continued on its original path, we would not have gotten off as easily as we did. In times of bad weather, it's not easy being a politician or an emergency manager. This storm showed that you're damned if you do, damned if you don't. Had the state not been as well prepared, and had the storm struck with all of its anticipated fury, these same "naysayers" would have been the first to throw the forecasters and emergency planners under the bus. Better to be prepared for the storm that passed us by than to not be prepared for the one that strikes head on.

Hopefully, as we meander through hurricane season, this will be our closest call. Soon enough, it will be time for the Nor'easters to roll in!


  1. I agree completely. I think preparing for the worst is the only smart thing to do and just feel very happy when it doesn't happen. I'm happy for you that you only had happen what did. Maybe fall came a little early because of taking things down but it was for the best. Hope you're feeling better.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

  2. The weathermen never get it right. I am so pleased that it didnt come to anything. We were forecasted heavy storms but it didn't hit us. We did have very rough seas though which helped me take some great photos. Ronnie/(also Hurtled to 60)

  3. Thanks, Cher! I am doing better, although things have been hectic here for us.

    I have to say, the weathermen actually did get it right -- as the storm changed course, their projections were on target. We knew on Wednesday that it was all going to come down what happened after it hit landfall in the Carolinas. I ignored as much of the hype as I could and concentrated on NOAA's projections which they updated every few hours.

    Now that I am feeling better and things have settled down around here, I can get back to visiting and posting. Ronnie, I hope you posted some of those pix of the rough seas. I would love to see them!

  4. You described your storm preparedness process and the storm so perfectly. We, too, experienced this hurricane, and made the exact same steps to prepare. It was a lot of work, but I am glad we did it. We had some minor damage, but we may have had more had we not made these preparations. Like you, I hope we don't have any more storms of this least for a while.

  5. I grew up on the Texas coast, so I am well aware of sitting through a hurricane, but your account was riveting. I understood all you were feeling, and so many memories came flooding back. You did well to prepare and I'm glad you didn't get any damage. Hurricanes can be unreliable. You are right - it is so much better to be expecting and preparing for the worst than to be caught off guard.

  6. Getting ready for a hurricane isn't fun at all, but it has to be done. You did the right thing, and you were lucky. I live in the Houston area so I always have supplies on hand just in case a hurricane comes. Our last one was Ike, it when it went through, it looked like a war zone. I'm glad all of you were safe, and no major damage.

  7. I was on an island 7 miles off the coast of Maine when Irene was approaching. Like you, we are always prepared for storms especially since there are no stores to run out to. We know the drill: absolutely everything that's not firmly attached is brought inside, fill the bathtub with water to flush the toilet, fill all other containers with drinking water, five gallon buckets for water blowing through the roof, check the kerosene lamp, flashlights, candles, etc.... The storm on Saturday night brought much more rain for us. Irene was wind, up to 70 mph, but luckily not hitting our side of the island full force. Having lived through a terrifying microburst (unpredicted localized tornado) on the island, I say the best hurricane is a "disappointing" one for which you are over prepared. People who criticize the officials and others for overreacting have obviously never gone through a major act of nature. You can't be too prepared.

  8. What an extensive journal of your latest storm experience. Your preparedness was the way to go. Looking forward to seeing your deck with containers on it.

  9. Thanks everyone for writing. Caroline, I had no idea you spend time in Maine... I must have missed your mentioning it before. We should plan a visit sometime! We are right off I-95!

    The Monday morning quarterbacks drive me nuts. We have lived through some devastating Nor'Easters. For those of you in the south, these are often referred to as "winter hurricanes". Last winter, the eastern part of the state was hit by a fast moving major storm that snarled traffic and had kids stuck on school buses. Everyone complained. The following week, a similar storm was predicted and the cities responded by announcing school and business closures ahead of time. The storm wasn't nearly as bad as expected and still, everyone was complaining.

    For me, being proactive means being always ready (or as much as possible) for the unexpected, so I don't have to fight the teaming masses for batteries at the 11th hour. It also means respecting the emergency planners and forecasters who do the best they can to give us the best info. I find that checking in with the weather channel or NOAA every couple of hours gives me up to the minute info about changes in the storm's path or strength without subjecting me to the hype and histeria that comes with a big storm on a slow news day.

    I don't know about anyone else, but when the emergency planners are advising everyone to stay indoors, I think it's completely ridiculous to have "talking heads" standing out in severe weather telling us about the storm and telling people to stay indoors! Can't they broadcast from the "safe" side of a large window? You know, practice what they preach?

  10. Patrick, welcome to our blog. The pots and trees are back on the deck but the curtains and canopy are put away for the winter. I'm sure we'll have more pictures posted over the next few weeks. ;)

  11. hello Cathy and Steve so pleased you are fine though sorry to read you Cathy were in pain, I hope you are feeling better now,
    I think I am more aware of storms since living on this hebridean island 30-40 mph winds is normal winter weather even 50-60 is fairly common, like you I keep food and alternative fuel for when the electric goes and I can't get to the shops, being on an island we have the added problem that sometimes the sea weather is too bad for the ferry to run and then even if you can get to the shops they start running low as there is nothing coming in until the ferry can run, really weird the first time I went to the suppermaket in town and saw no fresh produce and even tins and packets running low,
    I have family in California and my aunts earthquake pack was laughed at until it happened! 1994 I think, better prepared than caught short,
    take care, Frances

  12. Frances, thanks so much for dropping by. Yes, I'm sure you e experienced some very intense weather. We are in a peculiar location that gives us the same windy weather you experience.... 40-50 mph winds are not uncommon, even during "good" weather!

    The day before the Hurricane, we were going to do some cooking (our other hobby LOL) and went over to the grocery store to pick up some eggs and a special kind of flour. I was flabbergasted to see how many shelves had been noticeably cleared of staples. There was no "store brand" bread left (just the expensive breads) and the fresh produce was down by 50% at least. We had already done our shopping and only needed a handful of specialty things, all of which there were plenty of, but it's amazing what an effect the forecast had on grocery sales that day!


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