“Hurricanes will never be an issue here.”—Leon Aldridge
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The paths I followed the first 30 years of my life in and out of Mount Pleasant up in the Northeast corner of Texas took me just about every direction but south. West to Dallas was the weekend excursion of choice then. Went to the Astrodome in Houston a few times for motorcycle races and one Astros game. Even went to San Antonio once just to say I had been there. But, nothing of interest called me due south through Deep East Texas until a job opportunity led me to Center.
Back then, my Californian Aunt Laverne was quick to express her fear of Texas tornadoes when visiting Mount Pleasant, plus her dislike for the humidity. I didn’t argue with Aunt Laverne on the East Texas humidity, but as for tornadoes, I said I would take my chances with them any day over a California earthquake. Our debates about Mother Nature never touched on hurricanes though. My only recollection growing up was news accounts of Carla in the early 60s as one of the most powerful to hit the Texas coastline.
After my move to Center, however, my mother asked about the city’s distance from the coast during her visit first visit to Shelby County. “I wouldn’t want to live where they have those hurricanes,” she said. That’s when I uttered my famous words, “This is far enough north that hurricanes will never be an issue here.”
And the first several years, I don’t recall hurricanes delivering anything to Center more than some much-needed late summer rain. But last week’s visit from Laura is at least my third experience in the last 15 years of preparing for more than just remnant rains in Shelby County, knowing all along I would be watching from my house without electricity while pondering whether staying at home was really the best decision.
Rita’s arrival in 2005 woke me up just before sunup with high winds bouncing debris off the roof before the power went off. Last Wednesday, I stayed up past midnight watching tracking news and making sure things were secured for coping with the forecasted 50-70 m.p.h. winds with possible gusts to 90.
When I awoke last Thursday, the power was already off. My initial without-coffee thoughts were the same as before the last hurricanes. On the list of “things I’ve always wanted to do but the chances of me ever doing are slim and none,” I thought about my long-time dream of riding with the “hurricane hunters” who fly into the storm’s eye gathering data.
These fearless flyers, who since 1943 have helped advance hurricane forecasting and tracking, are members of the U.S. Air Force Reserve’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Hurricane Hunters, and they are sometimes assisted by U.S. Navy and regular Air Force units.
Gazing out the breakfast room window at my house Thursday morning, the only flying in the midst of gusting winds and swirling rain I observed was limbs, garbage cans and lawn furniture blowing by. Even lacking caffeine, I smiled knowing they weren’t mine. I had spent two days getting everything loose outside either inside the house, in the garage, or securely tied down.
As always prevails with mother nature, it was all over in a couple of hours or so, and the sun was shining by mid-afternoon. A trip out inspecting the aftermath checking on who had power revealed little evidence of lights anywhere. Virtually every business was dark and the hum of generators could be heard at every turn. Numerous large trees, power poles, and lines were down on barricaded streets. Storm debris covered everything in sight.
Initially, though, it didn’t look as bad as when others blew through Center. While that was a good thing for those in this area, not everyone in Laura’s path was as fortunate. As with every one of these destructive storms, our prayers are with those impacted by last week’s historical hurricane.
So, who would have ever guessed that I would be riding out another hurricane 200 miles from the Gulf? Obviously not me, as I was so quick to inform Mom years ago. But after three times now, I’m ready to retire that dream; the one of a seat on a NOAA hurricane hunter aircraft flight. I’ll just stick with the seat in my breakfast room at home.
And for the record, earthquakes are still a “no” for me.
(Photo at top of the page: The view from my breakfast room window the morning Hurricane Laura came to visit Center, Texas. Across the street neighbors John and Jenny LIghtfoot’s house serves as a backdrop for the frantic little tree in my front yard desperately clinging to terra firma. While I told John he was wise to protect his windows, I would have missed Laura’s show from my breakfast room had I done the same thing.)
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