Category Archives: Nature

On Hurricane Matthew (Spoiler: It’s Good News)

Last week was a very long one. I don’t remember when the forecasters started saying that Hurricane Matthew was headed this way, but any time a major storm (Cat. 3 or higher) is out there, everyone keeps a close eye.

As each day passed, the track brought the storm further and further east. Towards land. Towards us.

We watched the local news intently. The normal hype was nowhere to be found. They didn’t need it. Watching a category 4 storm sweep through the Caribbean islands and then turn so sharply to come straight at us was plenty to report.

 

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Tuesday evening’s original forecast

 

On Wednesday, it was just a waiting game. By Thursday morning, the storm took a turn for the worse. Instead of being 15-20 miles off the coast, it was projected to make landfall. The red line went straight up the coast. It was going to be way too close to us for what we had prepared for. We thought about boarding up, but it was too late. All of the stores were already out of lumber, and the storm was so big that we would feel it by the end of the day. We were out of time.

So instead, we prayed, prepared ourselves mentally and emotionally for broken windows and a heavily damaged roof, and prepared the closet in the middle of the house to be our shelter if things went south. And we prayed that we wouldn’t end up on the east side of the storm, especially the northeast. It’s the worst side to be on. Not only are the winds higher, but tornados hide in clouds and the destruction they leave can be more detrimental than the hurricane.

One of the fascinating things about a hurricane is that you always know what direction the wind will come from. It always moves counterclockwise around the eye. This time, that meant we would spend hours with the winds to the north before they slowly shifted west (as the eye passed) then south (as it continued up the coast). We examined the house for weaknesses, especially to the north and south.

Another fascinating thing is the feeder bands that come off of a hurricane. I would dare to say it’s unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. The sky can be completely clear. Then a low, fast bunch of clouds comes in, usually in rather thin, line-like patterns. With them come gusts of wind and large, intense rain. Then, as suddenly as they show up, they blow away. If I hadn’t been so worried about repairing the fence and wondering how bad it would be, I would have thought to take a picture.

With such a large storm, the wind and rain settled in by Thursday night. The gusts were still light and the rain intermittent, but it was especially dark and nearly impossible to sleep. We tried to go to bed early, well before the worst came, but we soon ended up in front of the tv. That’s when we found the unexpected news. The storm had shifted back offshore. It would brush the coast, but that was it. Even better, it went from a catastrophic category 4 to a category 3. The damage along the coast would still be bad and there would still be power outages, but nothing compared to what we all had braced for. I still can barely believe that I currently have electricity, still have an intact roof, and that the fence is still up, and my heart breaks for those who’ve experienced so much worse, especially in Haiti.

Now, as a writer and one who collects things, I like collecting experiences. Some of them are my own, but many are others’ that I’ve “collected” from people’s stories, books, documentaries, etc. So for those of you who like collecting things too (or if you want some writing reference on hurricanes), here’s some firsthand info.

According to the meteorologists, we experienced somewhere between tropical storm and category 1 conditions. Homes in this area are built for it. Our house is newer, so the windows are made to take the pressure from at least 140mph. It won’t save a window if debris hits it, but it will manage against the pressure.

Most of the time, tropical storms are pretty negligible inland, damage-wise. Some weak trees and limbs will go down, and the sustained winds are unsafe to drive in but it’s not really that bad. It’s more like staying home during a bad, windy storm.

A category 1 is a little more intense. More trees can go down, which means more power outages. If things are weak, they will be damaged, like roofs. But it’s still not really that bad.

Especially with a storm so large, the rain comes in waves. Or, literally, feeder bands. It might be breezy and drizzly throughout, but the high winds and driving rain come in bursts as feeder bands make their way through. The houses, even the concrete ones, sometimes creak, and heavy gusts come suddenly. They’re quite startling, especially if you’re near a window.

The winds lasted for hours after the storm left just because it was so huge. Basically, if you can see white clouds from the hurricane extending over an area, they’re feeling something.

 

 

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Our only damage was twigs in the ground. Incredible!

 

Want to see more about the types of damage that comes with each type of storm? Check out the National Hurricane Center here.

Oh, and one other weird thing that happened. I had my FitBit on, and evidently the pressure of the storm around me counted as flights of stairs! 57, to be exact!

So there we are. All of the ramblings about what it’s like to live through a hurricane and come out unscathed. Now to focus our efforts on those who have been affected and need help.

 


The Perfect Plant Name (for a Tolkien-Loving Nerd)

As I have mentioned before, I’m a second generation Tolkien fan. When I’m with my mother — the instigator of my interest — we truly are a dangerous pair. We have Hobbit door necklaces and Smaug t-shirts that accompanied the last movie’s release. We’ve written Elvish (yes, real words in Elvish) on our nails. Our most recent acquisition is a bit of an unusual one: a plant.

We happened to be in a home improvement store a few weeks ago. Just a stop on a quick mother-daughter shopping trip. As we strolled through the houseplants, we happened across one that caught our eye.

My newest houseplant

My newest houseplant

Its shape is unlike anything else we’ve seen before, which was fascinating in itself. But then we read its name.

This adorable succulent’s name is Gollum.

Needless to say, we snagged one. How could we possibly resist a plant with that name?

Since there were obviously two plants in the one pot, she took one and I took the other. And the irony of two in the same pot was not lost on us. (After all, the original Gollum had two personalities…)

We keep them in our kitchens, where we can keep a close eye on them and where they are far from any rings. After all, who knows what kind of havoc Gollum could begin?

Do you keep any houseplants? Have you found anything with a hilarious name lately?


A Meteorlogical Haiku

I’m not much of a poet (in spite of my appreciation and enjoyment of poetry), but sometimes inspiration strikes. In this case, it struck during a thunderstorm thanks to a glitch on the local news affiliate’s website.

Inspiration for a haiku S.B. Roberts 2014

Inspiration for a haiku
S.B. Roberts 2014

A Meteorological Haiku

The clouds are broken.
Do poets now write weather
forecasts when it rains?

Do you write poetry?

If you wrote a haiku about your current weather conditions, what would it sound like?
(1st line: 5 syllables, 2nd line: 7 syllables, 3rd line: 5 syllables)


Breaking the Silence

First, apologies for my silence over the past week. I had the foresight and motivation (thanks to you guys ;) ) to schedule posts ahead of time, but it’s impossible to respond or read others’ posts in advance.

So, why the silence? One word. Vacation. It feels good to unplug sometimes. And it feels even better to visit places that inspire the imagination.

One of those places is the San Gervasio Maya site on the island of Cozumel.

Built nearly 2,000 years ago, these ruins are steeped in tradition and mystery. Unlike most Maya religious sites, its purpose was focused on life and fertility — so human sacrifices weren’t a normal part of the routine.

An iguana sunning on the ruins.

An iguana sunning on the ruins (and enjoying the paparazzi).

Towards the center of the complex we visited, there’s a “tree of life.” According to legend, if you’re in need of courage, one hug on the “tree of life” will help.

The "tree of life"

The “tree of life”

At the end of the “White Road,” there’s a gateway. Supposedly, these are at all of the different Maya sites. Our guide, a history student at the local university and a man with Maya heritage, said that there are plenty of things that guides like to point out about the gate way, but he focuses his attention not on the gateway itself but on the stone beneath it.

The "White Road." Under a full moon, it would glow.

The “White Road.” Under a full moon, it would glow. Further down the road is the gateway.

He told us that this stone is actually a map of Cozumel. It’s the right proportions, the reefs around the island are indicated by small stones, and the highest spot on the main corresponds to the highest part of the island (which also happens to be the location of San Gervasio). Is it true? I don’t know, but the Maya were incredibly intelligent, so I wouldn’t put it past them.

An ancient map of Cozumel?

An ancient map of Cozumel?

While it’s not as impressive as Chichen Itza, it’s a great taste of Maya history on Cozumel tended by friendly people who love their culture.

Have you visited anywhere exciting lately? Have you ever been to a Maya site?


Surprises (In the Form of Wild Green Beans)

Every winter, weak-rooted weeds nestle themselves in the thick grass in the yard. A few weeks ago, we did our usual sweep through the yard.

The neighbors must think my husband and I are either hippies or obsessed with our yard as we pick the weeds by hand. While chemicals are an option, the weeds often return. If leaf, stem, and root are carefully extracted, the weed doesn’t come back. And the finicky grass doesn’t risk injury.

As he worked by the porch, he called me. The thing that was growing looked oddly like the green bean plants that were already beginning to wind themselves up their trellises. Needless to say, we were surprised. A seed from the bag must have been blown off the open porch and into the grass.

How did this end up here? It's a good ten feet from the garden and even further from the other green bean plants.

How did this end up here? It’s a good ten feet from the garden and even further from the other green bean plants.

Since its discovery, we’ve been watching it with great interest. It doesn’t appreciate the painted wooden pillar that’s already there, so I brought it an old tomato cage to grow up on.

The most important thing to do with a green bean plant is introduce it to where you want it to grow. Carefully, I wound the searching tendril around part of the metal cage. The next day, the tendril had tightened, reaching for the sky.

New buds clinging to the tomato cage

New buds clinging to the tomato cage

Today, as I watered the garden and the roguish green bean plant along the porch, I found another surprise. It’s not far behind its siblings in the garden.

Baby green bean!

Baby green bean!

Have you had any surprises this week?


Hurricane

When I was in my teens, my brother liked to watch CSI: Miami. (I can’t decide if it’s because of his lifelong interest in espionage and crime or because Horatio had reddish hair like him.) While I couldn’t tell you much about it now, there is one episode that’s always stuck in my mind. One that centered around a crime perpetrated during a hurricane.

It was on that day that I realized just how much facts can be exaggerated or ignored for the sake storytelling. Growing up in a place where there are hurricanes, I have some firsthand experience. Below are 5 seemingly common misconceptions.

5. They don’t appear out of nowhere.

Local forecasters watch every storm system in the Atlantic and the Gulf with intense interest since it might become the next big storm. In fact, most of the time, East Coast hurricanes start their lives as storms off the coast of Africa, so meteorologist spend literally weeks tracking a storm with hopes that they’ll be the first to announce that it’s a named storm headed for land.

This doesn’t mean that there isn’t the occasional storm that develops in warm waters not far from land and hits a few days later, but those instances are very rare.

And, yes, the forecasters do become far too excited with the prospect of the state being hit by a storm.

4. Odds of finding yourself under a well-defined eye of a storm are slim.

The moment a hurricane hits land, it begins to deteriorate. (Exception: If there’s just been another storm in the area that’s saturated the warm ground with fresh fuel for the hurricane.) The eye of the storm is one of the first things to begin losing definition. While pictures of hurricanes often have that clear “eye” in the center, odds of ever witnessing the fabled complete stillness with a blue sky above while on land are quite low. Just speaking from experience.

3. Lightning is uncommon.

Hurricanes aren’t giant thunderstorms, so lighting isn’t a common occurrence. One afternoon storm has more lightning than all of the hurricanes I’ve seen so far combined.

2. All hurricanes should be taken seriously, but areas that are built for the storms don’t normally have severe damage from a category 2 or lower.

As I mentioned, I’ve grown up with hurricanes. We’re blessed that the worst we’ve experienced was a category 4 and that our area is built for the storms, able to bounce back with relative ease, and has a good sense of humor. (For instance, after the cat. 4, there were ongoing jokes that our state flag should be changed to a blue tarp because almost everyone had them on their roofs where shingles had come off.)

While hurricanes are a serious matter and some are catastrophic (as we’ve seen with Andrew, Katrina, Sandy, etc.), it often seems that newscasters try to make the less severe storms out to be far worse than they actually are.

From an area that’s built for hurricanes and has a good sense of humor about them even after a week without power, here’s a short description of each category.

Tropical Storm

– Maximum sustained winds: 39-73 mph

– Damage: minor

– How residents here view it: A little worse than the severe thunderstorms that come through every summer afternoon. Definitely time to bring in the light patio furniture. But the good news is that school and work are canceled for the day!

Category 1

– Maximum sustained winds: 74-95 mph

– Damage: count on some downed branches and minor damage to old shingles

– How residents here view it: Potential tornadoes in the northeastern corner of the storm are a larger concern than the storm itself. Make sure anything loose is indoors. Odds of losing power are pretty low, and if it does happen, it won’t be for long.

Category 2

– Maximum sustained winds: 96-110 mph

– Damage: some downed trees and shingle damage

– How residents here view it: Time to board up the windows, just in case of debris being caught in the wind. Power might go out, but it usually doesn’t go out for long.

Category 3

– Maximum sustained winds: 111-129 mph

– Damage: count on some downed trees and serious damage overall

– How residents here view it: Board those windows and batten down the hatches. It’s going to be a bumpy ride! (And plan on spending the next few days picking up shingles…)

Category 4

– Maximum sustained winds: 130-156 mph

– Damage: severe

– How residents here view it: Prepare the house and consider leaving the area. Power will definitely be out for a couple of days at least.

Category 5

– Maximum sustained winds: 157+ mph

– Damage: catastrophic

– How residents here view it: Time to pack up and go. Bring anything that matters.

(For more hurricane information, check out NOAA’s hurricane center. And remember, if there’s one in your area, please take it seriously.)

1. If it’s already raining, it’s too late to leave.

Going back to that tv episode, characters were in a traffic jam, trying to leave the city during a torrential downpour — a clear sign that the storm was already on top of them. At that point, it’s too dangerous to leave and the roads would already be shut down to everything but emergency vehicles. If you want to leave, plan to do it at least 12 hours before the first feeder bands of the hurricane even reach the area. Otherwise, it’s too late.

Do you have any experience with hurricanes?


Curiosity

Certain careers attract certain types of people. Writing seems to attract the curious. The ones that notice things that other people don’t. Who ask questions and do research. Who wonder what if…?

I’m an incessant people watcher. However, I come by it honestly. Throughout my childhood, my mom often played a game with my younger brother and me. Whenever we would notice someone interesting, we would begin observing them. How did they walk? What were they wearing? What were they carrying? Were they alone? How did they seem to feel? And as we silently made our own observations, the person would become a character in an ad lib story.

The businessman who had forgotten his wife’s birthday and was on a quest through the mall for the perfect gift. The old woman with her guitar secretly taking lessons to join the church’s worship band. The sunburnt tourists who were actually aliens poised to take over the planet.

I still play the game because there’s inspiration everywhere. Everyone has a fascinating story to tell (even if they don’t realize it), and we tell more than we realize without ever saying a word.

Inspiration is everywhere. It just takes a curious mind to notice it.

Are you a curious person?