One of my fondest childhood memories is low-crawling across the front yard of my family home with my father as Hurricane Hazel bore down on us. It was October 1954, I was seven years old and it was all a lark. Never mind that Hazel, a Category 4 monster, took 95 lives in the U.S. in an era when hazardous weather alerts were primitive and another 81 lives in Canada as a rare extratropical storm.
Then there was Hurricane Agnes in 1972, a rare June hurricane that was downgraded to a tropical storm that then proceeded to ravage the Mid-Atlantic, taking 129 lives and causing $1.7 billion in damage ($13 billion in today's dollars) and caused railroad damage so extensive that it helped lead to the creation of Conrail. I was 25 year old newspaper reporter by then and it was anything but a lark as I flew over the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre area of Northeastern Pennsylvania and looked down on the destruction.
All this by way of saying that people in the Middle Atlantic are pretty much inured to hurricanes in the age of the Weather Channel. Hurricanes happen to other people in other places, notably Florida and the Gulf Coast. But Hurricane Irene, which is likely to hit the North Carolina coast on Saturday morning with Category 2 or 3 winds, could be a reminder that Mother Nature does not play favorites.
This is because Irene has all the earmarks of taking a path not dissimilar to Agnes.
That so noted, if you live in the projected path of Irene, you need to do the following immediately if not sooner:
* If you have plans to go to the beach, cancel them. Storm surges can be deadly, especially on the barrier islands of New Jersey.
* Be selective about panic shopping. Like do you really need a month's supply of toilet paper?
* Make sure your windows can be protected with blankets or sheets in the event that they blow out.
* Check your disaster supply kit. Don't have one? Assemble one. These kits typically consist of water (it's a good excuse for this guy to clean his bathtub and then fill it), non-perishable food, medications, spare batteries, candles, and stuff like a non-electric can opener (duh!).
* If the storm hits, stay away from windows, skylights and glass doors. Interior rooms are the best.
* If flooding threatens your home, turn off electricity at the main breaker.
* If you lose power, turn off major appliances (yes, including the AC) and water heater to reduce damage.
* Do not use electrical appliances. That includes your computer.
* Keep your cell phone fully charged.
* Do not behave like a stupid seven-year-old and his father and go outside even if it suddenly appears calm. This is because the eye of the hurricane may be passing over your area and winds will rapidly increase to hurricane force and will come from the opposite direction. (Trust me on this, okay?)
* Beware of lightning. This means not taking a bath or shower during the storm.
* More deaths occur after hurricanes than during them because of people anxious to get outside to survey the damage who have unexpected meetings with downed power lines and unstable trees. You have been warned.
Otherwise, have a ball.
FOOTNOTE FACTOIDHurricane names rotate on seven-year cycles, but the names of especially destructive hurricanes are retired. These include Agnes (1972), Alicia (1983), Allen (1980), Allison (2001), Andrew (1992), Anita (1977), Audrey (1957), Betsey (1965), Beulah (1967),Bob (1991), Camille (1969), Carla (1961) Carmen (1974), Carol (1954), Celia (1970), Cesar (1996), Charley (2004), Cleo (1964), Connie (1955), David (1979), Dean (2007), Dennis (2005), Diana (1990), Diane (1955), Donna (1960), Dora (1964), Edna (1968), Elena (1975) Eloise (1975), Fabian (2003), Felix (2007), Fifi (1974), Flora (1963), Floyd (1999), Fran (1996), Frances (2004), Frederic (1979), Georges (1998), Gilbert (1988), Gloria (1985), Gustav (2008), Hattie (1961), Hazel (1954), Hilda (1964), Hortense (1996), Hugo (1989), Igor (2010), Ike (2008), Inez (1966), Ione (1955), Iris (2001), Isabel (2003), Isidore (2002), Ivan (2004), Janet (1955), Jeanne (2004), Joan (1988), Juan (2003), Keith (2000), Klaus (1990), Lenny (1999), Lili (2002), Luis (1995), Marilyn (1995), Michelle (2001), Mitch (1998), Noel (2007), Opal (1995), Paloma (2008), Rita (2005), Roxanne (1995), Stan (2005), Tomas (2010), and Wilma (2005). Oh, and Katrina (2005).