I have lived in New England for nearly four decades now. In that time, I’ve experienced weather “events” across the dud-to-devastating spectrum — the Blizzard of ’78, the Hell-snow of ’07, Gloria, Bob, the “No Name Storm” and a score of its non-capitalized but equally nameless cousins.
It has been my experience that the “dark horse” storms — which blow in under the guise of some spring showers or a “light dusting” of snow — tend to be the nastiest of the lot, while the meticulously tracked and quantified incidents turn out to be less ferocious than advertised.
“Advertised” is the key word here. The storms themselves may have packed a severe wallop, but the devastation paled in comparison to the media-driven hype which preceded their arrival. You’d think extensive flooding, widespread property damage, and tragic loss of life ought to be newsworthy enough, but the hunger for ratings leads media outlets to gild catastrophe’s lily with visions of toxic fecal tsunamis raising from the Gowanus Canal or sensational, Katrina-esque scenarios applied — with pornographic detail — to the theoretical inundation of the Five Boroughs.
Then the real thing passes through and the pre-game panicmongering evaporates in a cloud of haughty hindsight. You weren’t taken in by the hype, nosiree…and pay no attention to the fifteen cases of bottled water and trail mix stacked in your guest room. It didn’t effect you directly, so it must have been a big scam exaggerated by the conspiratorial whipping boy of your ideological choice, nevermind the lives and livelihoods bobbing away in the floodwaters down the road. Call it libertarianism or call it Calvinism, it’s a particularly American train of thought which “there but for the grace of God” is a solipsistic validation of a superiority predicated entirely on blind luck…until one’s reality check bounces and the cry becomes “OMIGOD HELP ME RIGHT NOW.”
At the same time New Yorkers were mocking Irene’s lack of significant on their self-important little patch of turf, the heaviest parts of the storm had spun around like an unbalanced washing machine load and slammed into southern New England with torrential rains and sustained winds of sixty miles per hour. Vermont and the western half of the Bay State got the worst of it, with widespread dam failures and river flooding washing out homes, bridges, and stretches of highway. Out in Woburn — ten miles west of the coast and fifteen north of Boston — the rains were lconsiderably lighter, but sustained heavy winds persisted through the late evening.
A falling branch set some power lines on fire on my street and we lost power for ten hours shortly afterward. The gusts were strong enough to knock over the “secured” gas grill on our patio, forcing me to go out and wrestle its two-hundred pound bulk into a safer position while the cherry tree’s branches twisted and groaned above me. An impromptu damage survey conducted during this morning’s commute revealed at least one major tree or limb had come down on every block in the seven-odd miles between the Woburn Highlands and Roosevelt Circle in Medford.
It certainly could have been worse. I’ve seen worse in my lifetime (or even the past two decades, which have seen no fewer than four “one hundred year storms). That doesn’t make the impact any less staggering, nor does it mean jack shit to the folks who lost homes and loved ones because of Irene. I’m glad we got off easy, and don’t feel the need to begrudge the fact that our chimney didn’t crash down on top of the Mailbu or that the cherry tree didn’t migrate eastward into our dining room. I may not have needed the FEMA/MEMA safety net, but some people did and I’m glad it was there all the same.
It takes a fool to buy into the media hype surrounding a big storm, but it takes a special kind idiot to think they can second guess Mother Nature.