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Hurricane Earl a Category 3 Drizzle- Norfolk, VA

September 3, 2010

Well, you will all be happy to know that I am alive and well after our tremendous hurricane these past two days. Actually, the only thing damaged is my sense of trust in forecasts. You see, we didn’t just not get a Category 3 hurricane… we didn’t even get a small thunderstorm. For the amount of talk that has been spewing about covering windows in plywood, all that would have gotten you in Norfolk over the last two days was a dark house. Perhaps saved a bit on your cooling bill (but unfortunately spent it all on lumber you didn’t need)?

You see, people in Norfolk take their hurricanes seriously.  Well… somewhat seriously.  There is at least one co-worker who could not get enough of the make like a hurricane and blow me jokes (you know who you are, and yes- they are funny).  But otherwise around town when they call for something as serious as a hurricane things start moving.  They test the floodgates on the tunnels.  The Navy tends to send their fleet out to sea (less damage happens in open water during a storm than in harbor).  Just like when they are calling for a blizzard in PA, people flock to the grocery store.  It gets hard to find things like bread, gallons of water, canned food, etc.

There are some weird things to get used to down here that we don’t have to worry as much about.  For example, I don’t have to turn off a well pump during a storm.  No one I have spoken to yet can remember a time when water went out here.  Yes, there is a risk of flood water contaminating the water supply, or the treatment plant not being able to treat it, but apparently it is very rare that the water actually stops flowing out of the tap.  This is good news for the toilet.  I just don’t want to see what happens if the flooding ever backed up the sewers.  Also, we have a gas stove and oven.  Which means that if the power should go out, there is a very good chance we can still cook.  Indoor cooking during a storm- not on a tiny propane camping grill.  That would be weird for me.  Lastly- we are pretty sure the apartment we have rented may be on the hospital grid.  Last time everyone else was out of power for 2-4 days, we had ours back in 12 seconds.  I counted.  Now all this just leaves the plywood on the windows.  I don’t know if you are supposed to do that with a rented apartment, especially since we wouldn’t be able to reach them all the way up on our floor anyway.  I had a roll of duct tape just in case we needed to make X’s on the windows like they taught us in school.  But I can’t really remember which natural disaster that was a precaution against.  I also found my crank radio- it isn’t a weather radio, and it only has a scan button for the FM dial, but it runs by cranking it up, and it doubles as a flashlight and alarm (not an alarm clock, just a loud sound maker).  Oh- and it has a compass, so there’s no way I would walk into the ocean in the middle of the storm.  Luckily, we didn’t need any of it.

A big thing in our section of Norfolk is where to put your car in a hurricane.  With most of the city below sea level (and apparently sinking according to various news sources), we flood really easily.  Add to all that the age of most of the infrastructure, and you soon find that a regular rain caused by your average cold front meets warm front, cold front and warm front do not get along very well, cold front and warm front fight, into the world is introduced a thunderstorm can put a good portion of the downtown and surrounding areas under a few feet of water.  Just a few weeks ago I had a quite nerve-wracking drive home due to a heavy rain storm.  It is very normal to drive through 6″-9″ of water on the roads here if it is raining, because otherwise you will not get anywhere.  If you should feel, however, the water starting to rise underneath your car, as I did, apparently immediately speeding up and getting the hell out of there, though stupid, occasionally actually works.  When there is a hurricane, nor’easter, or for that matter any other large weather system that can be predicted in advance, some of the local parking garages open and offer free parking to those who live in flood prone areas.  So Thursday after work, a few of us left our cars in one of these downtown parking lots, on an upper floor, and walked home. Tangent:  Now, living in Norfolk is not like living in your average big city.  There is a decent population here, but everything is spread out enough that you really need a car (even if you do not live my semi-nomadic lifestyle).  And public transportation is pretty much non-existent.  They are in the process of installing a light-rail train (which will take up a full traffic lane on the downtown roads, blocking a few of them completely, and dropping a few from two lane roads to one lane roads).  It has been full of scandal and issues along its way (it was also the main cause of the sewage geyser of 2009).  Either way, it is not working yet, and we have no idea how much it will cost once it does open to try to pay for the cost, which last I heard was twice the budget estimate and counting.  I could not tell you where the nearest bus stop to my apartment is, nor if there is a bus that goes anywhere near my workplace (they moved a good portion of the downtown stops farther away when they started working on the train).  Even if I could find a bus stop, I don’t honestly know if I would take the bus here.  Not that I have heard anything bad about them, but I haven’t heard raving reviews either.  Actually, the last thing I heard about the HRT buses had something to do with a few people getting fired for embezzling thousands of dollars in bus fare… yup… quarters.  Maybe they had a lot of laundry to do.  Sometime I’ll try to look up more about that- or maybe you can do that for me.  Let’s see- there are taxis in Norfolk, but you have to call them (as in, know the phone number of the cab company), not just hail them on the street.  Sometimes you can find them in front of the mall, but I’ve never seen anyone get into a cab in front of the mall, I’m pretty sure they all just hang out there waiting to get calls.  End tangent.  The point of the tangent being that, although I live what is considered “very close to work”, it was still a 45 minute walk home, down some streets which did not have proper sidewalks.  You wind up crossing the road more often than you should need to that way.  Or just walking on lawns and through parking lots.  And all so that my car would not be sitting in a few feet of floodwater that never actually showed up.

So, my car is stowed in the garage, I’ve walked home with a couple friends, we’re back at the apartment watching the weather.  We got to see a really cool effect where the clouds were blowing in one direction and the wind down by us was blowing the exact opposite way.  That was neat.  But otherwise most people I know spent Thursday sitting on their porches and fire escapes waiting for Earl to come visit.  But, he didn’t.  I’ve heard a few stories from friends so far.  Some made a huge family trip to the ABC store (which was about as swamped as the grocery apparently).  Some tried new types of alcohol with friends.  At our place, we went to the 7-11 and got beer and chips.  Either way, Norfolk was prepared (in its own odd way) for our Category 3 tropical storm.  Or whatever they were trying to say it was.  Point being- it barely rained.  I walked to a friend’s apartment to hop a ride to work this morning (a 10 minute walk) and I was barely wet when I got in their car.  Unfortunately, all that meant was that we had to be in to work this morning.  They didn’t even get the chance to close a bridge or a tunnel.  The most exciting part of the traffic report this morning was something like “Level 1 restrictions at the MMBT” or something like that.  It meant they had dropped the speed limit from 55mph to 45mph due to wind.  I didn’t even hear anything about the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.  All in all, Hurricane Earl was a big disappointment.  I really wanted a snow day, or whatever you would call that down here…

A few of the plus sides to this non-hurricane (besides the obvious, we didn’t get hit by a category 3- people died in Norfolk during Isabel, and she only hit as a category 1…):
1.  Today was payday.  So we went to work, but we got our checks, and the bank was open to cash them.
2.  Fridays we get free lunch at work, and this week’s theme was “lunch box”, so there was some pretty amazing sandwich fixings, and string cheese!
3.  A 45 minute walk home, as unnecessary as it may have been, is great exercise (and I wasn’t even winded, so I must be in pretty good shape)!
4. Now we can do things like run errands this weekend, as we do not have to worry about being home before high tide.
5. There is a fresh case of beer in my fridge.

And for those who were wondering- the weather as I type this is beautiful, and they think it should stay in the low to mid 80’s for the rest of the week, which is a great switch from high 90’s we had been dealing with since I got back!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Ken permalink
    September 4, 2010 1:52 am

    I had figured this from about 4 days ago when I saw the cone predicting an eye path that had it’s center about 350 miles off the coast. Those are about 250 miles across at that point, and they just get narrower as the storm approaches, so our worst case scenario for a week now has been little more than we got. I am, however, pleased to see action. I have lived in the area my whole life, and spent many a storm in the garage of my parents house with the power out and the door open listening to the wind and watching exotic things float down the street with amusement. I don’t take this attitude anymore, as I have seen on a grand scale how easily one can be wrong. I was pleased to see so much reaction and preparation here, as typically, people are much like I used to be and laugh in the face of impending storms. I fear the complacency that outcomes like this engender in people, and I hope that you are still willing to take all of the appropriate action you took this time the next time this happens.

  2. Monica Sobon permalink
    September 4, 2010 8:17 am

    Loved your article!

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