Sunday, July 20, 2008

Hurricane Season

[photo courtesy of NOAA]

A few years ago we fled the Houston area, along with thousands of other people, when hurricane Rita threatened to make landfall in our back yard. The damage that hurricane Katrina caused Louisiana was fresh in everyone's mind and was cause for the mass exodus. After packing our most precious belongings in the car we hit the road. Our car rode low to the ground, protesting the weight we were forcing upon it. We left sometime around 6 pm in the evening and headed towards my Aunt Katy's house in Lufkin. It took us almost 26 hours to drive a four hour trip. I've never seen traffic like that before and hope to never experience it again.

We are keeping a close eye on the Gulf of Mexico right now. Tropical storm Dolly is making progress and is heading our way. Even though we're watching closely what the storm is doing, we aren't as worried about it like we would be if we were still in the Clear Lake area. This is the first year since we've lived in the Houston area that I'm not afraid of what the weather reports will show. I feel safe in regards to the weather now, especially hurricanes and tropical storms.

We could have some flooding here in Katy if Dolly does turn into a hurricane but it won't be as severe as what those in the lower areas of Houston will experience. And, maybe I'm a little naive but, I'm not as worried about flooding like I once was. I feel safer because we live further away from the gulf and we're on the second floor of our apartment complex. The only concern I have now, in regards to flooding, is our car and insurance has that covered.

I'm usually a big worrier. I can fret over some of the smallest things. Imagine then how much the weather could worry me. I tried to be prepared for the evacuation when we thought Rita was coming our way because I didn't know what resources would be available to us while on the road. I packed a small ice chest with milk for Violet and drinks for us, as well as some snacks and a jug of water. I even packed the pet's bowls so they could have something to drink from. Gregg accused me of being overly prepared. He said we wouldn't need all the things I wanted to bring with us but reluctantly let me have my way on the issue. Gregg changed his tune after we'd been on the road for six or so hours. I'll never forget him turning to me and saying, "Kimberly, you were right." At first I didn't know what he was talking about until he said, "From now on I'll never complain about your packing habits. Thank you for taking such good care of us." (I love it when a man can admit he was wrong.)

I guess it can be a good thing to be a little neurotic and overly organized sometimes. It definitely helped us on that trip. We didn't have to buy drinks or food, which is a good thing since most store shelves were bare. Our only stop was for gas and that was purely a God thing. We were right by a gas station shortly after it opened its doors in the early morning hours. The store wouldn't take payment for gas until we were done pumping because they didn't know how much gas was left in their tanks. We were very fortunate to be able to top our tank off and drive the rest of the way with peace of mind.

I can only imagine how big a storm would have to be for us to evacuate Katy. We are relatively safe where we're at now but a big storm could do damage this far inland. Katy doesn't have many historical buildings due to wind damage from the Great Storm of 1900. On September 8, 1900 the Galveston Hurricane hit the gulf coast with 120 mile per hour winds and 15-20 foot wave surges. (The above photo is of a building that survived the Galveston storm in 1900.) The winds hit as far up as Katy and destroyed most buildings in the area. Today, residents refer to Katy history as either "before the storm" or "after the storm". The 1900 storm is considered to be the deadliest natural disaster to hit the U.S., more so even than hurricane Katrina and it's effects on Louisiana and Mississippi.

It is difficult to determine what to do when facing tropical storms and hurricanes. We were among the thongs of people who evacuated the Houston area when Rita threatened to hit us. We drove to Lufkin, expecting to be completely safe from the harsh weather, not realizing we were driving right where the storm would blow through. Surprised doesn't adequately describe how we felt when we woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of trees groaning against the winds and finally relenting, snapping in pieces and landing in people's homes.

Hurricane Rita was the strangest storm. Our home was perfectly safe and delightfully cool when we returned. My Aunt's house on the other hand had no electricity, and therefore no air, for weeks due to the storm. It's hard to believe but Lufkin was hit harder than the area we lived in. Still, we made the right decision with the information we had. Rita was headed directly towards us and then changed direction at the last moment. If we had stayed home, and the storm had stayed it's course, we could have been in some serious trouble. We were fortunate, because Rita changed course we had a home to come back to. My best friend who lives in Beaumont was hit by Rita. It took months before for she and her family could return to their home due to repaires.

Being prepared for bad weather is key to surviving it. Houston's news station KRPC Channel 2 has made a list of Hurricane Safetly Tips and a Hurricane Survival Checklist. They recommend having these items in your home throughout the hurricane season. It's better to have these items on hand rather than trying to gather them in the midst of an emergency. If you wait until the last moment, when you need these items, you run the risk of not being able to get them. Let's hope we don't have to use these in the near future.

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