August 25, 2012

Bona Fide Tropical Storm Isaac

When I first moved here in November 2010, it was the tail end of hurricane season. Hurricane Tomas had just passed through the Caribbean, and left a whole bunch of crap on our beach. I resented the cleanup, but as a storm-loving Midwestern boy, I was not-so-quietly hopeful that maybe I'd get to see one of them in my time here. With 2010's season having drawn to a close, I looked forward to 2011.

Last year, we did get a brief visit from Maria. The storm migrated north of Puerto Rico so I took my big, heavy storm shutters down and left them on the ground outside my bedroom window. That night, Maria grew a tentacle that dangled down and swept across Puerto Rico from west to east while the rest of the storm floated north into the Atlantic. As I was laying in bed, the wind picked up and sprayed rain through my windows and kicked around the storm shutters outside. Mostly, I objected to the loud clanging and scraping of metal on concrete at 3 in the morning.

The next morning, we found that the awning in front of our dining hall had been picked up and heaved into our playground. Boom, no more monkey bars. I picked up the storm shutters behind my house and took a mental note that they were to be kept up in any storm threat, lest I lay there and shudder in the mist and hear them clang around again someday.

I had missed out on Irene, which came a few weeks earlier while I was in Michigan.

And that was it for 2011.

So in 2012, by the middle of June, I was checking the National Hurricane Center website everyday, wondering what was coming, trying to get psyched up for a good storm, secretly hoping that I might get to see one.

Fast forward to August 23, 2012. Enter Isaac. He was born just off the coast of west Africa, and within a week had rumbled across the Atlantic and declared himself a legitimate Tropical Storm. (Tropical Storms in progress, for the record, have fairly detailed Wikipedia pages.)

With my time in the tropics winding down, I decided that a bonafide Tropical Storm would be A-OK. Less cleanup, less potential for death than a real hurricane, but with all of the spectacle of something as yet unseen for me.

There are no hurricane sirens here in PR, from what I'm told. I guess they'd be redundant since as soon as we're in a potential path, we're all talking about them and facebooking them and stuff. We get all worked up, and the night before they hit - by then we know if they're close enough to do damage - people pack the grocery stores to stock up on the basics. The paranoid, conscientious Midwestern boy I am, I was well supplied days ahead of time. Remember, I'd been watching since June.

The day before, we put the storm shutters up, and I caulk the gap underneath my back door where rain loves to seep in from even an average rainfall. I can only imagine what it's gonna do with a tropical storm. It's weird, you stand out there and watch the waves lap up onshore, and the sun is shining, and there's this impossibly humongous beast lingering just over the horizon, ready to mess up your world, and you'd never know it.

Then the big night: Nothing happens.

I wake up the next morning. and the sun is shining and the birds are chirping. I brew some sun tea. I would have done the crossword, if I'd had one. All of Puerto Rico has the day off, but we spend it in staff meetings as long as we have power. I check the satellite images, and the center of the storm is about fifty miles south of us, but we're well within its wingspan. Where's the storm?

By 3:00 pm, gray clouds are coasting overhead, and little raindrops are falling. The wind picks up, the trees sway, and soon there's an average rainstorm going on.

But it lasts.

And lasts.

The back half of the storm, it turns out, is pretty good. The waves kick up, splashing over the beach into our backyard. Soon, I've got a pond back there, and the Caribbean just beyond.

It all picks up. And the wind howls. I lay there and watch a movie as the rain comes down in sheets and the palm trees bang their heads like awkward teenage concertgoers. Eventually I go to bed with the wind blowing and the rain pelting outside my bedroom window.

In all, we get about 20 hours of big waves, strong winds, and a lot of rain. There's nothing really dangerous in all of it, save for the flash floods in some communities. We never even lost power. But: my thirst for a good storm is quenched.

And though all I dealt with this time was paranoia - and a some cleanup the next few days, I bet - I have to wonder how different this would be if we'd been in the middle of a real hurricane, one of those 110 mph affairs, not some minor tropical storm centered 50 miles to the south. My house sits probably 20 yards from the Caribbean, which advances a little bit each year on our property. It was nothing for it to wash up and fill our backyard with water and beach sand. There's a basketball court out there somewhere that crumbled into the ocean. If you go down the street into the barrio, you'll see uninhabitable houses at the sea-end of every street that have collapsed into the encroaching water.

These houses... they're not going to last forever.

I'm heading back to Michigan in a few days, weather-permitting. We'll just see what this guy does in the meantime. At the time of this writing, it has a 50% chance of becoming a tropical storm in the next 48 hours. My flight is Wednesday....

EDIT: Pretty sure that guy out in the Atlantic is going North.