I’m watching the Weather Channel with my mother-in-law. Right now, there are two back-to-back tropical storms heading straight for our Gulf Coast.
Count them. Two.
Here is an actual quote from a weatherman:
“When two storms are similar in strength, they tend to orbit a common center, almost appearing to ‘dance’ together. Sometimes these hurricanes can end up forming a super hurricane…”
You do not want your hurricanes dancing together.
“This has not been a good year,” says my elderly mother-in-law.
No, it certainly has not.
The first thing Gulf Coast people do when a hurricane is brewing is telephone each other. We call everyone we can think of. The conversations all go the same:
“What’re y’all gonna do?”
“Don’t know. What about y’all?”
There is a strange anxiety surrounding hurricanes where I’m from. There is also a weird thrill that accompanies them. I can’t explain it. You’ve never felt more alive than when a hurricane is brewing in your backyard. And you’ve never felt more unsure about what to do.
A long time ago my wife and I evacuated for a storm, but my elderly mother-in-law insisted on staying to ride it out. When the storm hit, it landed only a few miles east of our city.
Meanwhile my wife and I were safe, 262 miles away, watching live footage of our hometown getting pommeled. We called my elderly mother-in-law to check on her.
She answered the phone in a very calm and collected voice, saying, “Get me the [deleted] out of here.”
The thing about an oncoming hurricane is, you never know whether you should evacuate. You watch news channels nonstop, but it doesn’t help you make a decision. Because nobody on TV ever tells you flat-out: “Get out of town.”
Even so, you can’t look away from the tube. You’re always hoping they’ll give you some actual, solid information. During every weather update you crank up the volume and tell your family to “SHUT UP, THEY’RE SAYING SOMETHING IMPORTANT!”
But they rarely do. The meteorologists use big words and make lots of sweeping gestures, but they don’t say anything new. Their forecast models look like someone dropped a can of bait worms onto a map of the continental U.S.
The hurricane graphics always show a spray chart with predicted storm paths landing anywhere from coastal Mexico to Des Moines.
Make no mistake, hurricanes are scary business. We have experienced dozens, but I’ve only ridden out one serious storm. I will never do it again.
It was terrifying. I remember standing on the porch with my cousin James when it made landfall. It was black outside. We listened to the noises of unseen hundred-year-old live oaks getting sucked from the ground.
After that hurricane my wife and I swore we would always evacuate for storms. But evacuating itself is exhausting work.
First off: before you go anywhere you have to comb through your entire house and figure out which items to take with you and which ones you leave behind. This is more stressful than it sounds.
Because your wife wants to take everything, including her grandmother’s antique sewing machine and all three accordions she inherited from her uncle Chester.
By the time you finish packing your vehicle the rear bumper is touching the pavement and your mother-in-law is stuck in a hollowed-out cockpit of junk in the backseat.
You drive the interstate in a vehicle loaded with boxes, sheet music, family photos, a chest of drawers, your wife’s shoes, one shrink-wrapped wedding dress, an oil painting, a Coleman cooler, and your entire lifetime collection of LP records.
The only problem is, once you’ve decided to evacuate, everyone in Florida is already doing the same thing. This means you sit in stand-still interstate traffic for upwards of three presidential administrations.
The last time I sat in traffic during an evacuation, the hurricane made landfall while we were in a traffic jam. The car shook back and forth. Trees were falling. Lightning. Thunder. Tornadoes were spotted. My wife started crying. My dogs were whimpering and freaking out.
Then the lightning display stopped. The world went dark. People started getting out of their cars. There was an eerie calm that fell over the world.
The quiet voice of my mother-in-law came from the backseat. She said, “The dogs peed back here.”
Then we all turned around and went home.
But we are Gulf people. We have endured the worst of Camille, Elena, Andrew, Opal, Ivan, Isaac, Katrina, and Michael, and all storms between. It hasn’t dampened our spirit. In fact, it hasn’t even made us bitter.
Wiser, maybe. But not fearful.
I have friends who have lost everything in hurricanes, but they refuse to let hard times ruin them.
One of my friends lost his house during Michael. He said: “It was horrible, yes, but it made me evaluate what was important in life, it brought me closer to my family. You can replace houses.”
Another friend says: “Yeah, we lost a lot in ‘18. You don’t forget a storm like that. You respect the weather, but this is home. I wouldn’t live anywhere else.”
Another Michael victim says: “Hurricane Laura is worrying me, man. Especially with COVID and everything. My dad had a heart attack after Michael, from all the stress.
“But hey, as long as I have my kids and my wife, and my dad, I have everything I need. I just really hope this thing doesn’t hit us. I feel like I just finished rebuilding our life from the last one.”
May we all stay safe.