Monday, September 13, 2010

Stormy Memories

The winds picked up outside, but I only heard the growing howl when the air conditioner cycled off. The change roused me from my shallow sleep and I listened, tense, wondering how bad it would get. Then the AC cycled back on, drowning out the noise. I fell into a fitful sleep once more.

Until the house went silent.

The whine of the air conditioner abruptly stopped, the nightlight in the hallway went out, and the house felt like a silent tomb without the hum of electricity. Outside, the winds gusted stronger, and I could hear rain slashing against the windows. How the others remained asleep was a mystery to me.

Hearing someone in another part of the house, I got out of bed.  No need for a robe on a sultry night like this. Or was it morning? I glanced out the window, but it was impossible to tell.

My father-in-law stood in the kitchen. The emergency radio was on, and a monotonous voice recited the counties getting hit hardest, then a rundown of where the tornadoes were expected to hit next. No sign of them in our area, which was a relief.

We'd spent days preparing: stockpiling food, bottled water, batteries. We had tried four stores before finding batteries for the flashlights. The stores had been overflowing with people; like holiday shoppers, they had dashed for the items most in demand.

All the while, the sun had been shining in a clear blue sky that belied the monstrous storm churning in the Gulf. Now we had to hope that the supplies we had obtained were enough to get us through.

Having gotten little sleep, I desperately wanted coffee, but without electricity, there was none to be had. So I took some candles offered by my father-in-law and wandered into the living room.

In the dim light, the trees danced with a striking grace. As one, they leaned far to the left until some of the longest branches brushed against the ground. Then the wind abruptly shifted, and they twisted wildly in another direction. Limbs tore from the trunk to go flying into the pond. The windmill-styled weather vane spun so fast, I wondered if the axle would wear through.

After a while, the rest of the family woke and came wandering into the dimly lit room. The sun was up, now, but we could see nothing more than a dark gray sky.

The winds continued to strengthen, and the windows bowed under the pressure. Light coming through them bent at odd angles and the reflections of the candles swayed under the power of the storm. I wondered how long it would be before the windows broke. And where we would go when that happened.

The rain came in waves, sometimes as a wind-blown mist, other times in a torrent that masked everything outside. The winds continued to howl.

"Mama, come see!"

I left the safety of the couch to approach the window. At the edge of the yard two deer lay on the ground, waiting for the hurricane to blow itself out. They surprised me. I don't know what I thought the wild creatures would do during a storm like this, but just waiting it out--exposed--sure wasn't it.

Behind the deer, the trees  twisted in unnatural ways, bowing to the strength of the winds. And then, without warning, they straightened.

The rain all but stopped, the trees swayed gently in the breeze, and the glass panes stood still in their frames.

The eye was upon us.

Satellite photo of Ike approaching the Texas coast by NASA

Two years ago today, my family and I were visiting my in-laws in Texas when Hurricane Ike hit. It was the only hurricane I have ever experienced, and the eye passed right over us. We spent about 45 minutes in the eye before the force of the back eyewall hit.

Trees were uprooted, cars and homes were damaged, and we were left without power for nearly a week. But we were lucky. We were just far enough inland to avoid the extreme damage experienced closer to the Gulf. The windows held after the wind direction changed. The damage was relatively minor. And for that, I will always be extremely grateful.

What is the most awe-inspiring event nature has thrown your way?


  1. oh wow.. I can't even imagine what hurricane would be like. I've experienced strong storms but nothing like that.

  2. Lynda: I never imagined I would be in a hurricane. I grew up far inland, and although we had some pretty violent weather on a regular basis (thunderstorms, tornadoes, hail), none of it had the sheer power of a hurricane. It was, as you can see, unforgettable.

  3. I've seen a spectacular double rainbow before. And a pristine ice storm on a sunny morning with icicles formed on tree branches. And some glaciers in Alaska. And a waterfall in Hawaii. And dense fog amid the mountain tops where the tops of the mountains look like islands. Not all of these are 'events,' but they are still awe-inspiring, nonetheless.

  4. Christie: all awe-inspiring. I would love to visit Alaska and Hawaii... New Zealand, too, for that matter, to experience nature in its more extreme (and beautiful) forms.