With the onset of summer, which so far has been beautiful, comes the annual threat and fear of the “big one.” Yes, it’s hurricane season and for folks living along the Gulf Coast there are yearly fears and anxious feelings as the area rests in the crosshairs.
Even though coastal dwellers are resilient and thick-skinned, there is always the fear that this could be the year. The coast has been pummeled by many storms over the years; some are just a big blow with rain, but others leave a trail of destruction and devastation. Hurricane Harvey, with all its water and damage, is still fresh on the minds of many. There are still people in southeast Texas waiting on repairs from hurricanes that came several years ago. The threat is real and one that comes with the territory.
It seems that ever since the Great Storm in 1900 (pre-Seawall), Galveston Island has become synonymous with the word hurricane. No matter where in the Atlantic, after leaving the Saharan areas of Africa, systems and storms are tracked and always described in relationship and distance from Galveston Island, Texas. Locals are pretty used to it, however for residents with friends in far places, once a storm enters the Gulf, the calls start: “Are you OK?” “Are you leaving?” “Do you need a place?”
For years I lived in the San Francisco Bay area (Santa Rosa, actually) and when I informed my “people” that I was returning home to Galveston Island (2005) the first words were always, “Oh, my God! Are you sure you want to go there…the hurricanes and all,” etc. I always got a chuckle out of their concern. Earthquake? Hurricane? I’ll take my chances with something that can be predicted, forewarned, and gives me adequate time for preparation and even evacuation, if needed.
Make no mistake about it, storms are scary and not fun. Oh, when the little blowers and turd-floaters come, it can be exciting with parties and gatherings; the smaller storms bring some high water and wind, but nothing to cause a freak-out scenario.
On the other hand, when one of the tropical weather systems enters the Gulf of Mexico and continues to gain strength and heads toward our Texas coastline, we all sit up and take notice. The “models” shown in weather newscasts start looking like a bowl of spaghetti and everyone talks about Galveston Island. Galvestonians stay glued to our televisions and watch our friend and favorite son Frank Billingsley give us updates and predictions of a path, impact and potential danger. Frank and husband Kevin have a home on the Island and understand the anxious feelings felt when a tropical depression becomes a tropical storm and then a hurricane, especially one heading for the upper Texas coast.
Now we begin the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season, which stretches from June 1 through November 30. Several meteorological services and scientific agencies have already released their “predictions” for the upcoming storm season.
I used to rely on the prognostication of an old “weed woman” who lived out in the Brazos River Bottoms near Navasota where I taught school. With her bones and wooly worms, she was usually more accurate than all the weather channels and models. Unfortunately, Auntie Sulek has gone on to her reward or the big storm-predicting center on the other side of the veil.
For the 2019 season, the three major weather predictors are all pretty much in agreement. These include Colorado State (CSU), North Carolina State (NCS), and Tropical Storm Risk (TSR). There is also the National Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). For the most part we can expect an average storm season with 12 to 15 named storms, 5 to 7 hurricanes and 2 to 3 major storms. Thanks to El Nino, it’s a pretty “predictable” storm season. Regardless, when they do come, the nervous excitement and fear create quite a stir. The models with all their colored lines become a mass of tangled colors and lines moving in all directions.
Each year the storm names change and for those that follow the lore, it is always a kick to read the list and to think about a connection to the names of enemies, lovers and everything in between. None of the 2019 season names have ever been used, though some have appeared on past lists. The names are: Andrea, Barry, Chantal, Dorian, Erin, Fernand, Gabrielle, Humberto, Imelda, Jerry, Karen, Lorenzo, Melissa, Nestor, Olga, Pablo, Rebekah, Sebastien, Tanya, Van, and Wendy. Looking over the list, I have a zillion connections with some of these names, as will most readers.
The key to getting through the season is to stay informed and, most of all, be prepared (yes, I was a Boy Scout). Stock up on canned goods, lighting, bug spray, jugs of water, and cases of bottled water, toiletries and other essentials that will be needed when the power is off. As the song says, “Storms never last…” but several days without certain amenities can be hell.
With Auntie Sulek gone, I may have to get out my crystal ball and see what she has to say about the 2019 storm season. Be safe and, most of all, be ready! Forest Riggs, a resident of Galveston is no stranger to the adventures of life. A former educator and business owner, he enjoys Island life and all that comes with it. He says he is a “raconteur with a quixotic, gypsy spirit.” Forest has written for several newspapers and magazines as well as other writing pursuits, including a novel and collection of short stories.