It’s hard to believe that most Atlantic hurricanes are born in Africa, the Sahara desert to be exact. When hot dry winds of the desert mix with cool wet winds of the south around the Gulf of New Guinea forming a jet stream dispatching waves of air westward out into the Atlantic. When these waves of air find enough moisture they form clusters of thunderstorms which gather around a center of air circulation. This is the humble beginnings of a hurricane.
The word Hurricane comes from the Spanish deity of chaos, Juracen, and that’s what it is, a demon that is nothing but chaos. But it’s smart as it tries to convince you to stay home, to ride the storm out. It’s a trickster and I’ve seen regret the day the bridges wash out and roads close and you find yourself in a prison, cut off by the wind and surf.
Riding the storm out is a ritual of grave importance because it’s dangerous. Many have no concept of fighting the wind, I mean its only air in motion, right, you can’t even see it. But ask the surfers along the coast enjoying the unseasonably high waves… they know when it’s time to head out for higher ground. Trying to go against the wind is like swimming in the air, you end up falling. I’ve seen so many storms I can’t remember them all. But I remember scenes of the destruction in their path, of indifference to anything in their way.
Hurricane Matthew cut a path of destruction across Haiti, Cuba, and the Bahamas. And instead of riding the west coast of Florida, it decided on the east coast of the state for its continued destruction. One of its many ports of call happens to be where I live, St. Augustine.
I’m staying with a friend just outside the mandatory evacuation zone. Once I arrived, supplies bought and windows boarded, then we all settle in. It’s Thursday evening and the storm isn’t scheduled to hit until Friday around 2 PM. On Friday morning around 8:30 AM, the power goes out.
The sound in the distance is faint but it slowly increases in volume as it whistles along its path caused by strong winds making way through trees and other objects like a schoolyard bully. And as it gets closer, you think you’ve heard this sound before, yes you have, it’s the sound of a locomotive speeding along with indifference to your home.
As the storm comes closer, the winds pick up, sporadic, leaving me guessing at what varying speeds the wind is traveling? One source confirmed that out in the Atlantic the gales are between 60 to 120 mph.
Trees bend like matchsticks as the rain seems to fall horizontally. Debris flies, roof tiles break off and anything not tied down is gone. You could feel the outer walls of the house shake as you put your hands against the stucco.
The eye of Matthew never made it ashore so the weather we received was from the outer bands of the storm. But I’ve been in the eye of a hurricane when I was a kid. To hear the wind howl in the night and all of a sudden stop, giving you an eerie feeling and then it starts up again and leaves as fast as it came. Try walking outside in this wind and you think your very soul is shaking.
At one point I went outside and looked at the clouds churning like thick black smoke in different layers moving at alternate speeds. No doubt this motion’s responsible for the storms erratic but most certain movement north in need of warm water to refuel.
We didn’t get any flooding but many did including downtown St. Augustine… over two to three feet in some areas as the storm surge caused the St. Johns River to overflow.
The day after, time to clean up, and hope you have power soon. But that night with street lights off and a cool breeze, no doubt a gift from Matthew, I look up into the clear night and see stars I usually don’t see for the light pollution. It’s amazing and leaves you in awe at the mysterious voice of nature and what she must do to get our attention. You stand transfixed. Maybe there is a reason for Hurricane season.