(183): The Excitement of Stormy Weather

20 years lie between these two experiences, and I sat in different places to watch them… Images from Weather Underground : Eloise and Opal

I’m lying here in the early afternoon in southern middle Tennessee, waiting for what wx pundits say will be a severe line of thunderstorms with a history of producing tornadoes. The last time I looked there had been 10 tornado reports in Mississippi associated with this storm. I’ve got a storm cellar (occasionally I call it East Germany), but sometimes I feel like riding out a storm under the tin roof of my log cabin. When I listen to the storms, the loud pounding rain, punctuated by hail at times with the whoosh of high winds brings up a visceral excitement in me that takes me back to my childhood days growing up in Florida.

We had lots of blustery storm days in Florida, mostly associated with the uncertainty of which way an approaching hurricane might go. (This is separate from the ritual 5 minute showers we got every afternoon that just made everything hotter than it already was.) But anyway, the Florida hurricane I remember best was Hurricane Eloise in 1975. One reason is that we got out of school for it. I was in 5th grade and living in Tallahassee, up in the panhandle of Florida, for that one, which ended up making landfall a little under 100 miles to the west of our location. We got the bluster but not the destruction, so it was all the excitement without the devastation of being in the direct path of a strong hurricane.

The thing I remember best is my father running at the last minute to get supplies at a convenience store of all places. I was thrilled to get to go to a place that wasn’t school during typical school hours. These necessaries included his customary bottle of Coke into which he poured peanuts. This was not a treat I ever wished to try, then or now. He is the only person I know of who partook of this particular bizarre combo.

In 1995, I was living in east Alabama probably 3 hours drive from the Gulf Coast. You’d think that I could ease off on the hurricane preparedness schtick, being so far inland…well, no. In early October of that year, Hurricane Opal roared quickly up through Alabama, the eye passing maybe 30 miles to our west. It was still a strong category 1 storm.

This time we got some real excitement. My husband and I crouched in the back bedroom of our rented house, power out, a battery-operated police radio reporting instances of trees falling across roads, on power lines, and in one case, a tree flattened a police car, luckily while the driver was outside trying to clear another tree that had blocked a road in town.

Sometime in the dark night, we began to hear the crackling of falling trees very near us. It was (we later discovered) the next door neighbor’s house, which fell victim to three fallen pines through their roof. And then we heard the fist of God. A tree had hit our house. The aftermath involved the sound of intruding water in the front bedroom, us rushing around in the dark to remove items from the bedroom, wondering if the roof would collapse or not. All in all, it was first exhilarating and then profoundly tiring.

The next morning we surveyed the damage; a weakened pine tree had broken across the roof, and the carport had partially collapsed onto the trunk of our car. Power would be out for 4 days in our area, but we had friends who lived in more rural areas who didn’t have power for close to 10 days. We had carport cookouts over a hibachi, as we tried to salvage the contents of our freezer and refrigerator. We also managed to make what was hot water was left in the water heater last for 2 days’ worth of showers! They were very short and lukewarm, but that was better than ice cold!

It is interesting that my memories of each of these hurricanes are of the exciting and fun parts, not the fright and difficulties involved, although there was some of that. I suppose that, if I were more adventurous and had more means to get about, I might have ended up being a storm chaser…or maybe not. Them folks is CRAZY! (But they do get some amazing footage).

End Note: The storms were underwhelming; even the semi-professional meteorologists on a local wx forum said so! But they did put me right to sleep, so that I didn’t post this until way late. ‘Night y’all!

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