Ocean Currents

Hurricane Isaac Threatens Gulf Region

This visible image of Tropical Storm Isaac taken from NOAA’s GOES-13 satellite shows the huge extent of the storm. The image was captured on Aug. 28 at 8:40 a.m. EDT. Credit: NOAA

I wrote a blog post about the start of hurricane season back in June, and I am writing this one today in Hurricane Isaac’s sights. Hurricanes are anything but predictable, and this one in particular has been hard to track. Would it rain and blow into the Republican Convention in Tampa? Head West towards Texas? Now, less than 24 hours away from landfall, it looks like Isaac has made up his mind to aim for somewhere in Louisiana or Mississippi, which means rain and wind anywhere across the Gulf Coast, and hopefully not much more than that. We hope.

If you are watching the approach of the storm on TV, you’d think that hurricanes are some sort of spectator sport or reality TV show. DEVASTATION! MANDATORY EVACUATION! DESTRUCTION! It turns what is a serious event into a sort of comic theater. Note to newscasters: Gulfport is in MS and Mobile Bay in in AL. Just sayin’. (Sorry, I’ve been seeing silly screen shots on Facebook all morning that are geographically confused).

In the midst of the TV hullabaloo, I thought I’d take a few minutes to tell you what I think about Hurricane Isaac while safely tucked away from the weather, listening to the weather radio and wondering what the day will bring. Mind you, these thoughts are mine alone, and not meant to represent those of Gulf residents, generally.

1. Hurricanes make me uncharitable. I want the storm to go anywhere but where I happen to be. Well, what I really want is to be watching the radar when all of a sudden–poof!– the swirling bands of rain disappear from the screen like a magic trick. But, knowing that is pretty darn unlikely, I instead find myself wishing that the storm knocks somewhere other than my front door, even though I don’t wish bad luck on anyone else. And so I watch the radar like I’m bowling, leaning left and then right, hoping that somehow the motion of my body moves the storm where I want it to go.

2. Hurricanes make me charitable, too. When you find yourself preparing for a storm, out and about gathering water, batteries, food, etc. everyone you come across is a friend, and you are lashed in the boat together for better or worse. “You leavin’ or ridin’ it out? You boarding up? Bout to get windy!” These are the greetings you exchange with friends and perfect strangers. As the storm approaches and everyone heads home to hunker down, I am reminded of how strong our communities are when faced with tough times: texts and emails and calls coming in from friends and family both near and far, with well wishes and offers to check on homes, to come over for dinner when the storm passes, to stay safe, to holler if you need help. The Gulf region has taken a lot of hits over the years, but the fabric of our community stays tightly woven, and that is a beautiful thing.

3. Isaac makes me worry. This is the first hurricane to hit the area since the BP oil disaster in 2010, and the churning of the water from Isaac may well toss up oil that has been lurking offshore. This is a stark reminder for me of how thoughtful we need to be about restoration moving forward, and that we can’t neglect the marine environment when we talk about recovery from the oil disaster– the oil hasn’t magically disappeared. There is still a long way to go before BP has made good on its promise to “make things right” for the Gulf, and I’m afraid we will get a stark reminder of that when we see what Isaac stirs up.

4. Hurricanes remind me of how vulnerable we are, and how we become more vulnerable with every passing year. Storms are a fact of life on the Gulf, but sea level rise and loss of protective habitats like wetlands (which act like giant sponges to protect coastal communities from storm surge) means that we are more at the mercy of Mother Nature than ever before, in spite of our efforts to engineer ourselves into a protective cocoon of levees and seawalls– you just can’t engineer the wildness out of nature. If you think of our coastal communities as the beating heart of the Gulf region, then our wetlands and marshes are the rib cage that protects us. Losing them to filling, erosion or oiling peels away our protection one layer at a time, and that is a loss for everyone, not just those of us who call the Gulf region home.

It’s starting to rain a bit, and so I will sign off for now. Keep the Gulf in your thoughts today, and we’ll see you on the other side.

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