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Thursday, September 8, 2011



Rarely does a major hurricane venture up this way. The big storms fancy the Caribbean, where the weather is nice and the water is warm. Who can blame them? But every once in a while we get slammed, and scientists get together with meteorologists and ask themselves: “Why the hell would anyone live so goddamn close to the Passaic River?” Then the meteorologists ask themselves: “Why are we wasting so much time studying meteors when there are friggin’ hurricanes out there?”

MUCH more fascinating than the weather event itself is the television coverage leading up to it. Of course there is the obligatory interminable Bloomberg press conference, where the mayor asks himself questions and then correctly answers them. Would it be much more interesting if he used “true/ false” questions? True. Does he often ask/ answer the same question more than once? Yes and yes. Does he have a very nasal twang as if a moth flew up his nose? Doh questiod aboud id. Would the moth make a more interesting press conference subject? Uh-huh. Does New York City have the finest policemen/ firemen/ sanitation workers/ street sweepers/ hot dog cart guys in the world? Of course.

Ever since that one snowstorm where Bloomberg refused to come out and plow everyone’s driveway the human suffering and loss of life just from the press conference is immeasurable. In Ocean City, Maryland, they stopped selling alcohol, hoping people would leave, and I am not making that up. By contrast Governor Christie came out and DEMANDED that no one leave their homes. He implied that he would be waiting outside if you did, and that he would kick your ass. It is more than a week later, and I never actually heard him say that you were allowed out of the house yet.

Back at the weather center, the local TV news girls are looking grim. The storm is 72 hours away and the stage manager is making the hand signal for “Fill! Fill! Fill!!” Luckily there is a correspondent occupying every square cubit of the Earth, waiting to interview someone who is in a hurry. They chased one guy all the way to the hardware store, where he finally lost them by hiding under a storm door.

At the Doppler Rader terminal, everyone is putting together the weather models, and that glue is making them a little goofy. They are carefully tracking the movements of the storm, as it collects off shore. It hurtles towards the Outer Banks, throws a couple jukes to try and lose the trackers, does a spin move and careens toward North Carolina, where it spins its wheels over a McDonalds to gather strength, sucking up all the Big Macs and Apple Pies before heading to a local stripper club.

The coverage dragged on into the small hours as we all waited for the damn thing to get here. The weather girls had to make their splash now, because by the time we actually needed to hear what they had to say, there would be no power to about a fifth of the country. The sideways reporters stood by the beach and derided the irresponsible surfers. Brian Williams showed up, and he seemed drunk. Sue Simmons looked stoned. The experts were making up phrases like "cone of uncertainty." They had greatest hits from past hurricanes, which all look pretty much alike.

At our house we heeded the warnings: we filled our tub with Hawaiian Punch in case the stores were sold out of it. We stocked up on batteries, lest we need to remove them from small appliances that will remain nameless. We put together an emergency kit that included a radio (the Yankees are only a game out of first place), Scrabble (plus the dictionary, since no one ever believes me that “qat” is a real word), a candle (not for light so much, more to annoy my wife by singing the chorus of “Candle In the Wind” to it, with much emotion) and a bic lighter (if Bloomberg comes on one more time I can light myself on fire).

We lost power, and could not find it again for two-and-a-half days. During that time we did a crossword puzzle or two, went for a walk with our dog, played some crazy windblown post-hurricane tennis, held a cook-out at home…. Monday, with no way to get to work, we went for a motorcycle ride into the calm August sun to visit the churning, debris-laden Hudson River. It hearkened back to a time as a college grad when my Mom and I would hop in the car with no particular destination, point ourselves in a direction and enjoy the ride and each others’ company. Monday night was so quiet that all you could hear on our street was the low hum of gas-powered generators and the sounds of people hearkening. They hearkened with their children, they hearkened with their friends, they hearkened with their wives. We hearkened with our neighbors, who never seem to tire of saving our ass in one way or another. The next day the power returned, the TV returned, the IPads returned and our camping trip to nowhere was over. It served as a reminder of how nice nostalgia used to be.

Incidentally, an average of six storms escalate to hurricane status each year. Two of these will hit the U.S. coastline, and four will result in gnarly waves. A weather event added to a tropical environment with warm water and light winds for an extended period of time can result in a hurricane. It is a form of cyclone and in the Northern Hemisphere results in a storm system that turns in a counter-clockwise direction. This means that if the winds blow fast enough, they can turn back time to a much more innocent period when generators were still available at Home Depot.