Things could have been much worse. That seems to be the common refrain coming from the Florida panhandle. My mom, on the other hand, had an entirely different take. "Never again," she said on the phone a few hours after the eye moved through her town. I reminded her that this was the same thing she told me in September after Hurricane Ivan uprooted almost every tree in her yard and destroyed or damaged more than half of the homes in Atmore.
"I mean it this time," she cried, literally. "The house was creaking and groaning more than it ever did in Ivan. I'm telling you. This is it for me."
My Sunday was too long, too stressful. It began before five in the morning when the CNN stream on my xm Radio woke me up. Before long, I had both of my computers up and running. On one, I watched the Internet feed from Mobile's WKRG TV. On the other, I opened every meteorological site known to man. Putting on my certified weather spotter hat, I tried to predict the probable landfall and intensity. I smoked too many cigarettes and made the curious dogs nervous as I paced back and forth as if I weren't 2,000 miles away from the Gulf Coast of Florida but in the direct path of a Category 4 hurricane.
After a few hours, I couldn't take it anymore. I stared outside as the marine layer burned away and another typical San Diego day revealed itself. I regretted not buying a plane ticket to be there with my parents. To be honest, the weather fanatic in me wanted to experience this as much the compassionate son wanted to soothe my mom's frazzled nerves. From out here, I had to live vicariously through the Anderson Coopers of the world. I wanted to hold up my own anemometer and feel the furious physical force of a tropical cyclone. I craved that strange mix of fear and exhilaration, the sounds, the smells, the experience. Instead, I drove to Starbucks to get Elaine a no-foam vanilla latte.
However, even away from the house I couldn't get away from it. While getting gas, the little monitor at the pump was showing CNN's hurricane coverage. Talk about your signs. I hurried home and continued my jealous vigil. I watched as the storm wobbled more to the north, then back north-northwest, then north. It weakened some. Then it made landfall just to the east of Pensacola on a little strip of land full of sand dunes and condos.
It would be a few more hours before the eye wall, a menacing curve of red and burgundy on the NOAA radar, made its way to Atmore. At that point, I did become concerned. I hadn't heard from my parents in several hours and couldn't get them to answer the phone. A tornado warning was issued for their county and the big blob of convection seemed to hover there for too long. Finally, mid-afternoon, my dad answered his business line. "It's been a rough one." He described the loss of the rest of the trees in their yard, then I could hear Mom scream, "Another tornado warning. Back in the hall."
Eventually, Mom would call me back. That's when she declared that she was done with riding out hurricanes.
My day was finally over. All that was left was to watch and read the reports of damage coming out of the region. Thankfully, an already decimated Pensacola avoided the brunt of this one. I'm still not sure about Atmore; I'm sure I'll hear more about it in the coming days.
Thus ends my weekend of playing weatherman. I now return you to your normal Syntax of Things programming.