01 September, 2008

Gustav on the doorstep

My son and I were on the roof this afternoon when we spotted the first serious clouds from Hurricane Gustav to the southwest. They darkened a yellow sky and sunk it down to grey. I finished caulking the vent for the hot water heater, helped my son down the ladder, then followed him. We had a number of things still to do before heading inside. The rain did not come immediately, but it arrived in a fury.

Then it disappeared, to be replaced by a light rain that passed shortly thereafter.

Today's developments on the hurricane have struck me as nothing short of miraculous. Yesterday evening meteorologists maintained that Gustav would develop into a Category 5 hurricane that would exhaust itself within 24 hours into a Category 4—much as Katrina, a Category 5 at one point, diminished to a Category 3 before striking land. As of now, however, Gustav remains a Category 3 hurricane and I haven't seen any recent forecasts that suggest it will strengthen. Dry air from the west appears to be cutting into its water supply, and air pressure in the eye is rising. All of these bode well; the risk of hurricane force winds in the Hattiesburg area has remained at low levels (5%-10% according to NOAA), and

Returning from Mass today, I noticed that US-98 (Hardy Street) was full of cars. To my dismay, the Sun-Herald had already sold out from the gas station where I buy it, so I had to settle for a copy of the Clarion-Ledger in addition to my usual Hattiesburg American. I later learned from the news that the very route I had found so peaceful yesterday became a bottleneck today, primarily because gas stations along the interstate had run out of fuel, prompting drivers to explore their options along US-11. Despite the contraflow, the interstates were choked with cars, and I understood that MDOT contemplated closing some exits, although I don't know how many. A woman interviewed on the news said that her trip to Hattiesburg took twelve hours. Ordinarily, she claimed, it requires only three. That reminds me of a late winter snowstorm I endured in southern Virginia twelve years ago: a four-hour drive from Franklin County to Newport News took twice as long—but I didn't encounter any snow until halfway through the trip, south of Richmond.

Another million people abandoned the coast today, and many of them are staying in local shelters. The local high school, for example, had about 150 refugees, and the coordinator said they could take another 350. I observed no shortages of milk or other items in the supermarket—indeed, there was a lot more than I usually see on an ordinary day—but there were also more shoppers than I recall from Sabbath mornings, so who knows how long that lasted.

The local news station breaks into NBC's programming at the top of every hour to update viewers. That group has been more helpful than the websites of either the Weather Channel or NOAA, and has provided interesting graphics that helped me make a decision whether to stay or head out. The most important one, which I can't find on any website, has been a wind forecast. They also showed a new graphic generated by a computer model that predicts the likelihood of of power outages. They discouraged us from trusting this latter graphic too much, but I found it fascinating nevertheless. If their model be trustworthy, we'll have no troubles with electricity where I live, but Louisiana will be a disaster.

If Providence continues to bless this area, I will write tomorrow that absolutely nothing of consequence occurred aside from a tornado or two—and if God should truly smile on us, we won't have any of those, either. I appreciated the prayer made at Mass: that God protect us and our neighbors from the ravages of hurricanes, especially of Gustav. With Gustav currently remaining at Category 3, it's looking as if God may just answer that prayer for us and for our neighbors.


Clemens said...

You have our prayers too. Every half hour Carmen demands to know what the hurricane is doing. Your post is about as current as anything.

Good luck! We've dodged a few ourselves (and my father and I once drove right through one - it was fun only in retrospect).

Clemens said...

It's a few hours later and we see on the Weather Channel that it has come ashore to your west and is beginning to weaken.

But in the meantime another storm is gathering strength and heading right towards us. Oh well.

jack perry said...

Thanks for the prayers. Let's hope Hanna, or its sequel, doesn't build up significant strength.