Sunday, June 19, 2011

Stormy Weather...

Hurricane season is upon us and this begs the question, “When is a hurricane not a hurricane? But wait. I am far ahead of the story. Allow me to start anew…

The term “hurricane” goes back to Maya mythology. This includes the pre-Columbian Maya civilization’s extreme polytheistic religious beliefs meaning they had many gods. One was named Huracan, the god of storm and fire. The Spanish language picked up the word “huracan” to define and describe strong wind storms. Thus from the Spanish language, we have our word “hurricane.”

When I lived in Nederland, Texas, at age 4, I ran into my first hurricane. Rather, it ran into me. That storm was listed as Atlantic Hurricane #2, in 1940. They did not name them in those days but merely assigned a number and let them blow by.

Fast forward past several hurricanes to Katrina that devastated New Orleans in August, 2005. She caused more than 1,800 fatalities with damages totaling over 81 billion dollars. Katrina has the distinction of being one of the top natural disasters in American history. By this time, I had moved my family to Houston. The Astrodome was filled to capacity with those who left New Orleans, having lost everything. I remember Oprah Winfrey coming to Houston and contributing much-needed aid to thousands of stricken families.

A month or so following Katrina, hurricane Rita came churning ashore near the Sabine River. She made landfall boasting of wind gusts up to 225 miles per hour. This caused chaos in Texas and Louisiana. Most of you in Beaumont will recall the Rita saga.

I snapped a photo from my front yard in Houston while facing Beaumont. I saw the dark clouds over Beaumont although I was 85 miles to the west under blue skies. I named this picture “The Edge of Rita.”

And then there was Ike in September, 2008. Ike came ashore in the Galveston area causing damages from Louisiana to Corpus Christi exceeding 30 billion dollars. There were more than 112 fatalities. At this writing (2011) there are 23 listed as missing from that storm. Everyone evacuated from the Houston area. Well, not everyone. Thousands could not evacuate because of the traffic jams. My wife and I were two of these. We decided to head west through Rosenberg, intending to turn north just east of San Antonio.

The only problem was that everyone else had the same idea. We found ourselves on Highway 59 heading to Rosenberg at about one mile per hour. We never reached Rosenberg. It took us four hours to travel 10 miles. We turned around and rode out the storm at home.

In 2009, my wife and I decided to move to the Little Rock area (Benton, Arkansas) to be near our grandchildren and to remove ourselves from hurricanes.

Enter side stage: Tornado Alley! Yes, we moved into the center of a region known as Tornado Alley. We have lived in Benton for less than two years and have experienced numerous tornadoes. Several have passed within a mile or less of our home. When the sirens sound, my wife and I get into the bathtub and our cat gets in the towel closet. In fact the cat gets into the closet before the sirens sound. He senses the approaching storm. So when the cat heads for that closet, we prepare the bathtub with cushions and a mattress awaiting the sirens.

There is one difference not often noted between a hurricane and a tornado. There is several days notice when a hurricane emerges. But with a tornado, we are fortunate to have ten minutes warning, if that much.

So as far as I am concerned, when is a hurricane not a hurricane?

When it is a tornado.

Winston Hamby


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