Belated Thoughts on Irene.

Thursday, August 25th, 2011. 19:39

The Rain Before THE Rain


The air might smell like the copious raindrops that fill it, or like salt marsh, but my nose is stuffy. I guess that’s what I get for surfing in hypothermia-inducing, upwelled waters this afternoon. I paddled out amid the hordes at Manasquan, even though the cloud formations indicated impending doom and the water was painfully cold, because the waves actually had faces. Faces on which I could make use of the very minor trickage I have in my arsenal. The wind was blowing hard out of the south, but the jetty blocked it and surprisingly smooth peaks remained. Anyway, after about 30 seconds, my core ceased circulation to my extremities and now I can’t smell anything.

Thunder rumbles continuously, and the dense clouds are occasionally illuminated by dull, bluish flashes.

“Chance of rain: 90%,” The Weather Channel tells me. Every ten minutes. The local forecast breaks up the round-the-clock coverage of Hurricane Irene, which they’re saying could be a 100-year event–especially in terms of flooding. In terms of other things, well, the mayor just called and said a voluntary evacuation is in effect for the barrier island. I received a Facebook message from the Garden State Grudge Match Trials: “No comp due to evacs! Go surf, have fun, & be safe!”

We’re supposed to prepare for a direct hit: flash flooding and storm surge and high, high winds.

“A hurricane watch and a flood watch have been issued for our area.”

Irene is on-track to clobber New York City. The last time the city saw a hurricane was more than a hundred years ago. If I were still living in the city, I’d evac for sure. Fuck those sheets of glass falling from the sky.

Magic Seaweed is saying we’ll get a 15.5-foot swell on Sunday. Will anyone be there to see it?



Friday, August 26th, 2011

The Calm Before The Storm


Surf Taco in Seaside Park, N.J. is the place to be for lunch, it seems. Irene, that slut, is on the lips of every patron. This is a shore community. A core community. They live on an island less than a mile wide that keeps the Atlantic from meeting Barnegat Bay. They know how to weather a pounding.

Something is different about Irene, though.

Some speak brazenly, defiantly. They won’t leave; they’ll be fine. This storm is more bark than bite. Others speak in hushed tones about things they’ve heard from neighbors, friends, newscasters. At all volumes, there is talk of the waves.

Outside, the sun is blinding and there is a light breeze–from the south, I think. On surrounding blocks, people are working to board up their windows and secure their homes. Many of them will evacuate. All of them have been ordered to, but not all of them will listen.

The Parkway southbound will shut down at 8 p.m. tonight, from exit 98 on down. The bridges will soon tolerate only westbound traffic. We just came from the beach, where I surfed near-perfect (albeit chilly) head-high glass for an hour or so, with only a handful of others. No badge checkers. No lifeguards, except the ones zipping up and down the sand on quads to ensure no loonies without boards entered the rough whitewater. The force is rips are strong in this one.

As we left the beach, we ran into one of the guards, who said the police were about to begin ticketing surfers; they desperately want people to leave.

The mood amongst locals is a weird one. Excitement, nerves, a little bit of fear, and even skepticism. When Irene arrives, will we be grateful for our preparation and the fact that we abandoned our homes? Or will she be a bust, like so many other tropical temptresses who pass this way?

The skepticism shrinks with each new piece of information.

The girl behind the counter at Surf Taco whispers, “I heard they’re saying that if you have a mandatory evacuation and you don’t leave [in Cape May?], you’d better put your social on an index card and stuff it in your shoe…”

She doesn’t really need to finish the sentence. Hearing something very similar from a state trooper’s wife makes me shiver. In her version, foolish stalwarts are to inscribe their social security numbers on their arms.

I live on the mainland–but just barely. A hundred yards of marsh to the bay, and a couple of miles across that to the island. On my way home, I stop for gas. There isn’t any. At my next stop, they’ve only got premium. $3.57/gallon.

On the roads leading to the bay, there are flashing signs: “Prepare now! Homes along the water should prepare for evacuation.”

A few hours later, at 10:30 p.m., police cars are driving around broadcasting an eerie message along the lines of, “This is a mandatory evacuation notice.” They’re saying more, but I can’t hear it. I look on the Asbury Park Press’s site: no news. WOBM: not up-to-date. New Jersey Office of Emergency Management: more of the same. The police department has posted a PDF version of an evacuation order from the mayor. My house is on it.



Saturday, August 27th, 2011

Batten Down The Hatches


At 8:30 in the morning, my dad says, “I’m so sorry to wake you up, but I could really use some help putting plywood over the bigger windows.” When we’re done, we scrawl “Good night, Irene” across the boards.

I’m torn between toughing it out at home and holing up at my friend’s house, which is on higher ground and, more importantly, is hosting a hurricane party with lots and lots of wine. I decide on the latter and when I show up, it’s already pouring. It’s only 2 in the afternoon; we’re not supposed to get the brunt of Irene’s ferocity until tomorrow morning.

The wind picks up. The wind eases up. The rain intensifies. And dies. Repeat.


“There has been a tornado warning issued for our area.”

“There has been a flash flood warning issued for our area.”




Sunday, August 28th, 2011

The 100-Year Storm


The wind wakes me up at 2, 4, and 6 a.m. before I finally get up for some coffee. That’s about all the wind does. At Jess’s house, anyway. I check Surfline and Twitter on my phone. The waves are massive. Probably even the 15.5 feet that MSW predicted. We still have no way of reaching the ocean from the mainland, so I satiate myself by recycling other people’s mobile uploads with added comments like, “RAD!” and “EPIC!”

By 11 a.m. the sun is breaking through the rapidly dispersing clouds. When I reach my parents’ house, I see that Irene didn’t like a good portion of their trees. She also dropped a mud crab in the pool. Don’t worry, he was alive and well. For the rest of the day, the wind gusts at 60 mph, though the humidity has been sucked from the air and the visibility is extremely high.



Monday, August 29, 2011 and Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Aftermath


It’s tempting to say that Irene was overhyped. I expected coastal New Jersey to get it the worst, and most of us (thankfully) suffered no battle wounds. We might even want to say that the mandatory evacuations were superfluous. Long Beach, however, was so mutilated that the city actually tried to cancel the Quiksilver Pro with less than a week’s notice. Inland communities bore massive freshwater floods and tornadic activity. Hundreds of thousands were left without power. Entire sections of street in North Carolina have gone away without leave.

I think if Irene was anything, she was wily. But those waves that everyone was anticipating? Well, she delivered those, without a doubt.

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