If I wasn’t convinced before, I am now. The ultimate severity of any storm is inversely proportional to the amount of media hype that precedes it.
Hurricane Irene, which had been downgraded to a category 2 even before it hit North Carolina’s Outer Banks, was but a tropical storm by the time it got to New England. That isn’t to minimize the dangers posed by tropical storms and even the least severe hurricanes. But what we on the upper right of the map actually got wasn’t close to what the talking heads warned is about ad nauseum last week.
True, 25 people (so far) died as a result of the storm. But at least a few of those deaths were of folks who decided it would be fun to go swimming or surfing or boating in the roiled ocean or inland flood waters. Those deaths were entirely predictable and avoidable, so I don’t consider them storm-related. I consider them stupidity-related. And in any event, all but two of the reported deaths happened outside New England.
True, trees and limbs felled by strong winds took down power lines and caused widespread outages up and down the coast, including here in Massachusetts. My entire town, as far as I could tell by driving all around late yesterday afternoon, was without electricity for most of Sunday, but actual damage was isolated and not serious. I have seen much worse in this area on many other occasions.
True, we got several inches of rain that caused localized flash floods and river/stream flooding, but the total precipitation in Worcester County was a far cry from the 8-12 inches meteorologists were talking about last week. Ironically, inland areas of New England—including Vermont and western Massachusetts, places that weren’t supposed to get much from what was forecast as a coastal storm—were among the hardest hit by rainfall and resulting flooding.
In the places we were told would face devastation, it wasn’t nearly as bad as the warnings said it would be. But there was damage nonetheless. That it was less than predicted should be a warning to people about the power of weather to wreak havoc. If a low-level hurricane turned tropical storm can do the harm it did, imagine how much worse things would have been if it had been a category 2 or 3 when it got to us.
The trouble is that many people don’t pay attention to any warnings short of full-blown hysteria. This is largely the fault of the broadcast media, which in their quest for ratings rely more and more on scare tactics (including dramatic music and kick-ass graphics with lots of big red letters) to increase viewership. “If it bleeds, it leads,” as the TV news adage goes. The problem is that savvy viewers are getting wise to the act. One hopes that they take sensible precautions even as they roll their eyes at the hyperventilating. When they don’t, you end up with New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, where thousands sat on their asses instead of evacuating and then complained about conditions afterward.
But on to me, because this is my blog and it’s all about me. Friday’s caulking job by the contractor notwithstanding, my roof did indeed leak on Saturday afternoon. From what I could see in the attic, it was coming in at three places, all in the same problem area. I now have interior signs of water damage that weren’t there before the roof was replaced. The leaking had slowed down to barely a trickle by yesterday, despite more rain. A week of nice weather coming up gives everything time to dry out and the contractor a chance to do a more effective repair.I lost electricity at about 11:00 yesterday morning and didn’t get it back until 4:30 this morning. I used the daylight, gray and dreary as it was, to play solitaire Scrabble (scoring 533), read the current issues of the Webster Times and Catholic Free Press, and start a book, a 20-year-old collection of columns by George Will. Supper last night was peanut butter and blueberry jam on 12-gran bread, a peach, and room-temperature grape juice. I could have grilled in my garage (with the door open, of course) if I had been hungrier or more motivated. Instead, I kept my fridge and freezer closed and hoped for the best. I’m pretty sure everything is OK. Late yesterday afternoon, I drove around town to eyeball the situation. That’s when I determined that no one else in town had power, either. All the traffic lights were out. No stores or restaurants were open. But I found only one road to be impassable, just south of the town line in Thompson, Connecticut. A medium-sized tree had come down across the side street next to my house, but it didn’t hit my fence or any building. By the time I saw it, someone had cut it into a couple of pieces with a chain saw and dragged it to the side of the road. I lost a couple of large branches, maybe 6-8 feet in length, and about a gazillion little branches and twigs. I didn’t see any flooding, even by the lake, but I did get a little water in my basement because the sump pump is electric-powered.
By 8:45 last night, I was tired of reading by candlelight and went to bed. I slept fitfully, being frequently stirred from shallow rest by itching (there wasn’t just bittersweet growing up in that azalea plant I pruned on Wednesday; there was bittersweet and poison ivy), the sound of residual wind gusts, and thoughts of having to shower in the morning with no hot water. When I awoke a little before 5:00, the power was back.
I’m tempted to make myself a t-shirt that says, “I survived the Hurricane Irene hype,” but it will be outdated when the next overhyped storm rolls through. Instead, I’ll just be thankful that my family, my friends, and I are safe. And I’ll start picking up all those little twigs on my back lawn.