It’s 4AM on Saturday and I’m up early. When you can’t go back to sleep in the 21st century you turn the on computer, then the news.
According to NOAA, and verified visually on Google Earth, Hurricane Irene is centered at 33.7N and 77.5W which puts it in position to munch Beaufort, North Carolina just a degree or so north and west at 4°43′15″N 76°39′9″W according to Wikipedia.
A degree of latitude is about 69 miles and NOAA tells me that the Lady is moving north at 12 knots, which means landfall in a few hours.
As you can see, this is a monster of a storm stretching up the east coast from the Carolinas to New York and beyond.
Not much more than a century ago my knowledge of such an event would have been constrained by distance (I’m in Southern Ohio over 500 miles away) and time, I would have to wait for the telegraph office to open or the morning paper to hit the porch.
Now I snap a couple of screen shots and resize one to fit this column from an altitude of 2100 miles as easily as if I were drifting overhead in my own space shuttle.
The TV is droning on about the cancellation of football games and gambling cruises while running continuous loops of the same footage as I refresh Google Earth and see that the eyewall is approaching the outer banks as 50 or 60 million people nervously lock their doors in simple futility and move away from their windows.
I was stationed near Beaufort for several years when I was young and vacationed near there for many years. I hate to think what they are facing in the hours and days ahead.
In another time, before the the morning paper or telegraph and motor travel, residents of the area would have been unable to move away from the storm more than a few miles and would have been forced to take what shelter they could find in nature or quickly contrive for themselves. They would have watched in awe and terror as the storm approached, a whirling, screaming power beyond understanding, their only links in mythology and folklore.
People are fleeing this storm by the millions, headed for higher and dryer areas, hundreds of miles east and inland, their ability to protect themselves by flight has improved greatly over the centuries. Their understanding of the massive power of this Saharan beast, this creature that has fed on the wattage of the hot summer ocean as it traveled for days across the Atlantic is not much changed.
I will hope that some miracle will turn this terrible storm back to the sea that spawned it but I fear for the lives and safety of many.