Hurricane Irene: From Hype to Havoc

Twenty-four hours before last weekend’s hurricane hit, I called a friend to suggest we postpone our Saturday-night plans, given the predictions about Irene. He laughed and declared: “Don’t believe the hype.”

By the following afternoon—with rains falling steadily, winds increasing in force and television news reporters droning on about the impending Armageddon—I made an executive decision. I called my friend and cancelled. My local market here in Medford was out of bottled water. My parents had filled their bathtub with a reserve supply of H2O. And I had to visit five stores before finding one that had batteries in stock. This storm was going to be very heavy, and it seemed foolish to brave a 30-minute hurricane drive just to have a few beers.

“I understand,” he said. “You’ve been scared into submission.”

That night my girlfriend and I stayed with my sister, who was away on a business trip. In case things got hairy, I figured she would need the support and company. So we watched movies, drank wine and played cards, all the while monitoring satellite images on our smart phones and fielding texts from concerned friends and family. When the power went out around 11 p.m., we thought, This is it! Here comes Irene!

To be sure, Medford got its share of damage. Some creeks epically crested their banks and a few trees gave up the ghost on top of power lines, porches and rooftops. But was it the apocalypse we had been prepping for? Not really. And in the days that followed, numerous blogs, news outlets and talk radio programs decried the so-called “hype” preceding Irene’s landfall in New Jersey. (Such comments seemed to ignore the havoc wreaked upon the Shore and many central and northern New Jersey towns).

Looking back, I’m once again flummoxed by the fickleness of human reaction. Last winter, after a particularly crippling blizzard, news chatter was the precise opposite. The snowstorm was far worse than predicted, and people criticized everyone from meteorologists to Governor Christie, who neglected to return from his vacation before the white stuff hit. When it comes to catastrophic weather, the media and government are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

We all need to simmer down and put things in perspective. One hopes Irene will serve as a lesson that we are powerless in the face of nature’s wrath; whether a storm is more or less powerful than expected, the fate of such things is beyond our control.

I am a little disappointed that I had to cancel my Saturday night plans though.

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