Riding out the Storm – Hurricane Earl
Once upon a time, there was a tropical wave being born from what some consider the “Motherland”. From the day it was conceived in the belly of Africa, it had already attracted plenty of attention, and when it was first introduced to the Atlantic Ocean, there was already concern that this newborn would be a nuisance to North America. After only a few days, it was named a Tropical Depression, and shortly after, Tropical Storm “Earl”. Earl’s organizational habits and rapid growth soon promoted it to a Hurricane. Earl’s ominous path, great looks, and bruit strength had Meteorologists in North America scrambling and drooling at the same time. For Outer Banks locals and visitors, there were definitely mixed emotions about the new kid on the block. Earl was not only jeopardizing the long-planned vacations of OBX loyals, but he was also on the right track for serious destruction to the beautiful sandbar that is The Outer Banks. “GO AWAY EARL, YOU’RE NOT WELCOME” – unless you turn north earlier than expected, and throw some swell our way. 😉
Earl was forecasted by NOAA (and others) to make landfall on the evening of Thursday, September 2nd, 2010. On the morning of Wednesday, September 1st, I was asked if I would like to ride out the storm to keep Outer Banks loyals updated on their beloved Island. Without hesitation, I said of course, but as the hours passed and the reality of it all started to settle in, I began second-guessing my maverick decisions. Sure, I’ve ridden out some nasty ones in the past. When I was just a little afro-headed surfer in training, Bob nearly de-roofed my parent’s house as we lay burried in a dark closet beneath mattresses. But, something about Earl left an unsettling feeling deep within, a feeling I only experience while standing on the beach with my surfboard tethered to my ankle, watching 10 to 15 foot spitters thunder across the sandbar. The raw power and energy that a Hurricane delivers is overwhelming to most people who hold tight to their sanity, but for me (and a handfull of others) it almost transcends its energy into the people who directly experience it, and those people’s direct accounts seem to transcend that energy into people who follow it through whichever communication medium is available. I found this theory to be accurate during my recent Hatteras Island coverage of Earl.
When I broke the news to my parents (especially Mom), she consulted me on my decision making, and told me to do what I felt was right (and safe). She stressed that if I didn’t feel safe, then to simply back out. She also told me that I am fully capable of doing anything, and she believed people would be extremely grateful for my efforts. That was the final deciding factor for me, I’m in. When I was just a kid, my Dad used to love Hurricanes because it gave him (and his brother) an excuse to put on their cover-alls and Gilligan bucket hats (aka “Hurricane hats”) and make extra money doing last-minute board-ups, so I felt I had Hurricane in my blood. Besides, a lot of people are riding it out, including my supervisors, and pretty much all of the brave souls that work for Outer Beaches Realty. Even though my family was staying north of the bridge in Kill Devil Hills, I felt safe knowing that my OBR family would be in Hatteras with me. Time to gather batteries, flashlights, and pack the cooler. Let’s see, fruit… check, water… check, cold snacks (aka domestic light beer, aka DLBs)… check! DLBs calm the nerves. 😉
Thursday, September 2nd, at about 2pm, I moved into my safe-haven located across the street from the Outer Beaches office in Avon. “Make My Day” is her name, and shes a beauty. She seems like a solid structure, and I feel confident that the President of OBR (Alex Risser) wouldn’t place my housemates and I in danger. Sharing the house and riding out the storm with me was Vasil Tashkov, Stoyan Stoyanov, Ivaylo Gonev, and Stanimir – these 4 young men are from Bulgaria, and are all of similar age to myself. They welcomed me in, offered me some food and beverages right away. The unsettling feeling of riding out a Hurricane on Hatteras Island seemed a little more comfortable knowing I had good company. With our TV tuned to the Weather Channel, we enjoyed some food and drinks as we mentally prepared ourselves for the night ahead.
Some call it the “calm before the storm”, but I prefer to steer clear of cliches and refer to it as “last call” to remember it how it was, before things potentially change for a while. At around 3:30pm, Thursday, September 2nd – the outer bands started to bring in Earl’s presence with menacing clouds and gusty winds. The ocean started to look like the inside of a washing machine, and Avon Pier started to look more like a bunch of strategically placed match sticks compared to the large waves crashing against it. Sea foam lined the beach like the side of a freshly plowed mountain road, and the skies were clear of birds as they took refuge for the rampage that was soon to come. By 5pm, Earl was sustaining 20 mph winds, but rain wasn’t of concern, as we only experienced a few very short drizzle spells. Although, 5pm was the first time I heard the Kinnakeet (Avon) emergency alarm. Which meant get ready, get inside, hunker down, because here it comes! The sound of this alarm was intended for all of the town to hear, and boy did we hear it. It gave me that weird feeling in my gut once again, and I knew my housemates and I were in for a long night.
By 7pm, the wind had sustained speeds up to 30 mph. Not bad, but definitely noticeable when it doesn’t let up. The gusts were up to 35 to 40 mph, and the rain started to sting my face. I immediately thought about Forest Gump in the jungles of Vietnam. Taking a look at the ocean was interesting. Before, I could see the horizon. This time, there was white water as far as I could see, and the stormy haze made it nearly impossible to distinguish between raging ocean and sky. The pier was taking a beating, but standing strong nonetheless. By 9pm, the wind speed had picked up to a sustained 40 to 50 mph, and gusting at around 60 mph at times. This is when things started to get very interesting. The light fixture that hung from the vaulted ceiling was swaying back and forth like a pendulum, and “Make My Day” was “Making My Heart Race” with its shaking. My housemates seemed concerned, but didn’t show too much fear. We decided to pass the time by clearing the living room, and playing a soccer version of “monkey in the middle” with a small, light-weight ball. Don’t worry Alex, we didn’t break anything!
These conditions were consistent for a few hours. At around 12am, Friday, September 3rd – my housemates all retired to their rooms, and since I was the last to pick a room, I was stuck with the bunk bed child’s room. So, I decided to stay up on the couch for a while to try and keep people posted online while watching Cantore put on the same type of performance you see on infomercials. You know, when they try to sell you something that apparently works much better than something else, by dramatically using the “flawed” equipment incorrectly in a desperate attempt to fool people into believing it just doesn’t work at all. Well those infomercials came to mind as I watched our friend Cantore slosh around in puddles acting like he’s being knocked around by the wind. I mean I get it, with TV the strategy is simple – keep the viewers afraid so the commercials are more effective. I do believe Cantore was being a bit dramatic, but in his defense, it was getting a little crazy out there. He definitely put a lot on the line by staying in Hatteras. We were in fact looking down the barrel of a category 3 Hurricane, and that is nothing to take lightly.
As the dense clouds of Earl spun courageously above Hatteras Island, it would only make sense that internet signals would struggle to penetrate through and reach the satellites. I make one last post for the evening, and decided to try and get some sleep. Yeah right. It’s now about 3am on the morning of Friday the 3rd, and I lay there in my tiny bunk-bed next to a North-facing window. The winds are now blowing a sustained 50 mph with 60+ mph gusts. The house is violently shaking, and I can hear the wooden structure crackling like bamboo in a campfire. The metal frame that holds my bunk-bed together is creaking as it sways back and forth. “Hang on for a long ride” I tell myself. I start to wonder if the other guys are sleeping, or laying awake thinking the same thing. This continues for another 2 hours, and then things start to get even worse. At around 5am, the winds are sustaining about 60 mph with higher gusts, and the rain is hitting the window so hard that my brain tricks me into thinking I’m getting wet. It was so loud. Imagine sleeping in a room right next to a train track, and the train passing by seems to be the longest train ever, and it’s blowing its airhorn the entire time. Imagine that, along with 4 fire hoses spraying the window next to you… this is what 5am felt like.
Friday, September 3rd, 2010, 7am – The emergency alarm sounds again. It’s not as loud as it was the first time, the rain and wind have almost drowned it out. This time the alarm was saying “here comes the flooding”. When Earl took its North East bounce off of Cape Hatteras, the wind switched from 50 mph NNE to 50 mph W. The strong and persistent westerly wind picked the Sound up like a giant water balloon, and chucked it towards the land. I’ve only seen water rush in this fast one other time in my life, and that was during Hurricane Floyd. In a matter of minutes, the water on NC 12 went from ankle deep, to nearly waist deep. While the wind and rain were letting up, we were now faced with another problem, water everywhere. I felt panic at first, because I didn’t want my Jeep to flood, I love my Jeep, and that would be detrimental. I decided to gear up with a rain jacket and waterproof camera, and go assess the situation. I found that my Jeep was fine, and the water was in fact about waist deep in certain spots, but the current seemed to be pulling back toward the Sound. I knew it would be gone just as fast as it came in, so everything was going to be fine.
As the water receded faster than my hair line, so did the wind and rain. Earl seemed to be waving goodbye, and residents were emerging to assess the damage. Once the roads were safe for driving, I went and had a look around. Luckily, there was very little structural damage. While some places were flooded, most places were left unscathed. Earl had taken all of that nasty atmospheric energy Northeast, and left us with HD clarity. The sun was shining bright, the wind was calm, the weather was perfect. But the aftermath was still of concern. I knew it would take some hard work to get everything back to normal, and I knew the strong-willed residents of Hatteras Island could handle the work ahead. We “dodged a bullet” this time. Our home, your sanctuary, and the Atlantic Ocean’s partner in crime would live to see Labor Day weekend. The hard-working employees of OBR prepared the houses for check-in the next day, and although it was hectic and time consuming, everything seemed to fall back into place. Outer Beaches Realty is the best company I’ve ever worked for, and I’ve had a lot of jobs. The people, their skills, their knowledge, their drive, their passion, and their overall consideration for others makes OBR one-of-a-kind.
Once Alex relieved me of my duties, I B-lined it to the ocean. The West winds had calmed the raging seas, but the large swells were still very much prevelent. I soon found myself standing on the beach with my surfboard tethered to my ankle, with that uneasy feeling in my stomach as I watched Earl’s energy thunder across the sandbar. I had a conversation in my head with Mother Nature. Thanking Her for keeping the Island safe, asking Her to watch out for me as I paddled out into the churned up brown water toward the giant pipes that resembled chocolate milk. Hoping that when I step foot back on to the beautiful beaches of Hatteras Island, I will have harnessed some of Earl’s energy into my own being. Thankful for my family, my friends, my home, and my co-workers… I indulge in my first post-Earl Atlantic Ocean Baptism, and it feels great.