Last week Hurricane Ida slammed the Louisiana gulf coast, New Orleans, several other southern states, and then the eastern seaboard, damaging infrastructure, flooding New York City, and killing dozens. While infrastructural improvements prevented the devastation that Hurricane Katrina wreaked on New Orleans in 2005, I wonder how many more such hurricanes the city can absorb before humans are forced to abandon it.
I don’t have more significant thoughts about it than that, other than those which any climate change forecast could tell you. But I have experienced – or almost experienced – a few hurricanes myself, and thought I’d write about my memories of them.
The first Hurricane I remember was when I was growing up in Newton, MA, because I had to take our Welsh Corgi dog Punkin out for a walk in it. Since she lived from 1976-1988, that likely means it wasn’t Hurricane Belle, but rather Hurricane Gloria in 1985. But I don’t have a strong memory of it other than walking the dog, who I took maybe 3 blocks away to a mailbox (which hasn’t existed in that spot for decades now) and back home again. It was windy, and rainy, and kind of unpleasant to be in, and I mainly waited for Punkin to do her business so we could go back. I don’t even remember if we lost power, and the Wikipedia entry makes it sound like it was just a really strong storm by the time it reached Massachusetts, but not really anything special.
My next hurricane was an even bigger nothing, and I’m not even sure which one it was. My memory is that I was a freshman in college in New Orleans, and that we battoned down the hatches – including many buildings on Tulane University campus boarding up windows – expecting a hurricane to hit overnight. When we woke up the next morning we learned that it had turned at the last minute and hit Texas (Galveston, maybe?) instead. However, this would have been in the fall of 1987 – September or later – and no hurricanes from that season match my memory. The closest one I can find from my 4 years in New Orleans is Jerry in 1989. So it’s likely my memory is faulty.
(I also recall New Orleans getting socked with enough rain in the summer of 1991 to cause St. Charles St. to become a river running from uptown to downtown, and a heck of a lot of flooded-out cars around the city, but that doesn’t match up with any hurricanes, either. Fortunately my apartment had a well-elevated-and-drained driveway so my car was fine. It seems 1991 was the rainiest season in New Orleans on record, and the storm I remember was probably the June 10 one.)
Hurricane number three was a different beast, that being Hurricane Bob in August 1991. Every summer my family would vacation on Cape Cod, with my (divorced) parents each coming down for a week, and my sister and I staying for two weeks. This was the summer between college and graduate school for me, and my plan was to drive up from the Cape on Wednesday and spend the night with my father before driving to Madison, Wisconsin on Thursday. Bob, however, made landfall on Monday, August 19. Overall we were pretty lucky, since our vacation cottage wasn’t damaged, although it did lose power. At one point I walked down to Skaket Beach, a bay side beach which more-or-less faces Boston, and saw the dark clouds of the storm passing in the distance, with a lighter patch which I assume was the eye trailing it. This was during a period where the rain and wind had died down where we were, so I don’t know if the storm was huge and the eye was also huge, or if it was just coincidence.
Anyway, the next morning we walked out to the main road and saw downed trees lying across it as far as the eye could see, so it looked pretty grim for my ability to leave the next day. I don’t remember what we ate that day, but without power it was probably just sandwiches and chips or something.
To my surprise, the next morning all the trees had been chopped up and cleared off the road, so I was able to get out and drive all the way up to Boston. I don’t remember encountering any difficulties at all, and my dad had power and we probably even went out to dinner. And the morning after that I drove off to Madison as planned.
I remember calling my mom sometime later – probably the next Sunday after they’d driven home – and she said the power didn’t get restored until Friday, so I guess it wasn’t much of a vacation for her and my sister. Wikipedia says the Cape got the worst of the wind, but not a lot of rain, so I guess we got off easier than we could have.
And I think that’s it. I haven’t been back to New Orleans since I finished college, and our two trips to Florida (March 2007 and November 2015) have been hurricane-free, and none of my trips to Boston since then have involved hurricanes or their remnants either. As much as I enjoy rain and some wind – and I got both via some pretty big storms in the midwest when I lived there, along with some impressive lightning – I’m fine with having missed the big storms.