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Here Comes Earl- Sort Of

As of mid-afternoon, Tuesday, 8/31/10, Hurricane Earl is a fairly ferocious Category 4 storm centered just northwest of Puerto Rico, with maximum sustained winds of 135 mph and moving WNW at 14 mph.

Storms like these are of particular interest when they come near the Northeast corridor, of course, since it’s the most densely populated area of the United States. Late afternoon, evening and overnight on Thursday, the western part of the hurricane may hit the North Carolina coast- folks on the Outer Banks are expecting to be evacuated in the next 48 hours.

The Maryland, Delaware and Jersey shores are next on the likely hit-list followed by a brush of Manhattan, a good swipe of Long Island and then by Friday night and into Saturday, a good chunk of what’s left of Earl may well go right over eastern Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Maine.

East Coast storms are not that unusual. Hatteras gets hit about once every three years. Atlantic City, New Jersey about once every 13 years and Cape Cod gets smacked about once a decade. New York City itself is long overdue while Long Island has been battered quite a bit over the last quarter of a century.

I have personal remembrances of three hurricanes, two that hit and one that came close.
Hurricane Donna in 1960 was quite destructive and even though I was just 4 years old, I remember me and my family having to get the heck out of Lavallette beach in Jersey. I can still recall the daring glimpse we took of the ocean as the waves and the churning sea presaged Donna’s arrival. And I remember a massive oak tree that fell across the driveway of a family friend’s house in Orange, NJ.

The remnants of Agnes passed over the Washington area in 1971 and that was really something. I remember water about one foot below Chain bridge, the C&O canal being completely submerged and the downed trees littering the Potomac shoreline for what seemed like years.

Hurricane Felix ruined a perfectly wonderful Outer Banks vacation back in 1995. It was a big Cat-4 with 140 mph winds lurking a few hundred miles offshore and acting very undecided in terms of its direction. The surf was dramatic and they made us leave but not before I filed for CBS News Radio from the deck of the beach house, made a few hundred bucks and earned a comp day. There was a 7-hour traffic jam crawling out of the Outer Banks all the way to friggin’ Norfolk.

At one point the tie-ups were so bad, cars just stopped and people got out and compared their tales of misery. One guy I was talking to actually recognized my voice from the report he had just heard on the CBS hourly news on his car radio. What I had just filed a couple of hours before from the beach house deck. That was weird.

Felix changed his mind and kept on trucking north after we evacuated and never made landfall anywhere. But it did have the distinction of becoming extratropical, last seen tracking toward Norway before finally dissipating.

I have friends who used to love keeping track of hurricanes on their little maps with grids on them (reading this, Bill?), entering latitudes and longitudes as they kept personal track of these storms, waiting breathlessly for the latest update from the National Weather Service. One of our producers at NPR is a hurricane nut and one of those old grid maps is still hanging on the wall in the newsroom. I’m guessing they’ve become obsolete now and if so, that’s too bad. Hurricanes are an amazing manifestation of the power of nature and plotting their course seemed like a perfectly reasonable way of trying to understand the vagaries of life.

Then God invented the Weather Channel.

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