24 September 2005

Rita came to Houston & all I got is this dumb t-shirt

There is a stick in my backyard, and one in my front yard. Yes, a stick. A branch. Not quite as long as my forearm and about as bit around as ... a stick. A little thing. That's what Rita left me.

Two sticks. At least they did not go through the window.

We finally got some rain about 6 last night, a brief shower. Power started flickering about 9 or so.

We had a lot more rain and some wind in the evening. At some point, the dog heard the rain pelting the back windows & started barking at it. Laughing, I opened the back door to let her into the yard. She bounded out like a brave rocketship... then saw the wind & rain. Her ears pinned back against her head, her tail went down, and she looked at me like, "Uhh, I was expecting a squirrel. Can we go inside now?"

The dog & I went to bed around 2, when the TV news radar pictures seemed to show "the heavy stuff" a long way off. We did get a band of heavy stuff at some point in the night, and the dog barked a few times, thinking Rita was trying to get in through the window. But she was happy to mostly just play watchdog -- well, listen-dog really -- quietly next to me on the bed.
I slept like a stone until the phone rang: mom & dad checking up on me. Dad's weather gizmo recorded a high 42-mph wind, so you can see we didn't really get much 'hurricane.'

My neighbor, the one who evacuated, called to see if his house was still standing. I told him we didn't even lose power, and he sounded really miffed. I am sure that they drove a lot of hours in awful traffic to get away from this storm. I'm afraid the storm's little jog north to miss most of Houston will make people less likely to heed the evacuation warnings for the next one.

We'll see... Meanwhile, I would go pick up those two sticks, but it's still windy & raining, and I have a nice warm dog sitting on my feet :)

(Addendum: the photo above shows a pair of big trees that fell in the neighborhood. So, not everyone here got away with just a pair of sticks.)

22 September 2005

Calm before the storm

From my east-facing computer room window, Thursday morning looks ... normal. It's sunny, warm and humid. Life is normal, too. I make coffee and boot the computer. The only change: The dog senses that something is up. She was barking at air at 8 this morning. And now she won't go outside without me.

Rita has made a turn. She is toying with us. First, she teases us with her dirty side. Then she turns to show us her back-side. Yesterday, the National Hurricane Center had her aiming at Matagorda. Today, she is giving the eye to Bolivar. More than 1 million people are trying to get out of town.

My neighbors are leaving. He came by last night to ask if I needed any help carrying the lawn furniture out of the back yard. His wife ordered a mandatory evacuation of him & their adorable little girls. They will go stay with friends in Austin. He, like me, was here for Alicia, and he thinks Rita is likely to be no big deal for us. He does not look forward to sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on Highway 290. I reminded him that hurricanes and loud and scary, and even if his wife was OK with it all, his little girls probably would find it very scary. He hadn't thought of that. He also had not thought about shutting off the gas when he left town, but we all remind each other of these things because we don't want our own houses to explode if anything leaks next door.

Otherwise, it's just too normal here. Sun, no clouds, chirping birds, barking dog. Someone is out cutting their grass with a push-mower. I vacuumed yesterday and did laundry after reading a "hurricane preparations tips" list: "It might be your last chance to do laundry for several days." And we don't want the rescuers to find us with dirty underpants, now, do we? I washed & dried everything; I figure I can fold it while I'm trying to ignore the storm.

I felt silly vacuuming, thinking about the pictures I have seen of what was left of homes in New Orleans after Katrina. If mom comes over and sees that I cleaned only downstairs, I'm going to blame the upstairs mess on the hurricane.

21 September 2005


OK, Rita is now a Category 5 monster, and still growing. There is no Category 6, so no matter how big she gets, she will still be a Cat 5. Hurricanes do start to lose strength after they hit land. So a storm that is barely Category 5 when it hits land might drop down to, say, a Category 2 by the time it gets, say, 90 miles north of Houston. But a really really really big category 5 hurricane (e.g., Rita) could, theoretically, still be quite a monster 90 miles inland. Yikes.

The gas station across the street from my place has no gasoline & almost no water bottles. Who has the patience to stock up on water, one bottle at a time? Apparently somebody does. Not me. I'm just glad mom went to Sam's Club & stocked up 2 cases of bottles for me last week. I thought at the time, "Now, what does she think I am going to do with all this water?"

I rode my bike over to the convenience store so I could pick up some instant coffee. Hurricane or not, I gotta have my coffee. Even if I have no power, I should be able to light the gas stove to heat me some water Saturday morning. Otherwise, I'm gonna be really grumpy.

A gal at the convenience store said Interstate 45 is basically shut down southbound. If you work in The Woodlands and live south of here, you had better know the back roads to home, because otherwise you can't get there from here. Also, on the northbound/getting-the-heck-out-of-town side of I-45, they have closed off a lot of exits. Apparently they want the evacuees from Galveston & other points south to go all the way to Huntsville (another 30-ish miles north of my house) before they get off the highway. If you had other plans, too bad for you.

I took some 'before' pictures of the house & an 'open space' lot across the street. Mom is supposed to be doing the same thing, but then she is also trying to find the portable TV, radio, batteries, flashlights -- in short, being a mom. Dad called here a few hours ago, just after Rita shot up to Category 5, and said he would feel better if I rode out the storm at their house. I told mom I'll stay here with the dog. When the storm is over, we can walk over there. I figure if I think positive, it will all be ok.

Rita Madness

I went out this morning to prepare myself a bit for a truly annoying visitor who may or may not drop in this weekend. She's the type who just blows in, makes a total mess of the house, then blows out with nary a "hi -- bye."

Rita, they call her. She's a hurricane. A big 'un, they say. Category 4 so far, and still whirling away in the Gulf of Mexico.

The last one I saw was Alicia, a hellacious brat who landed on Galveston Island back in 1983. She was a comparative baby, a Category 3 at landfall, with gusts on land over 100 mph but sustained winds of 'only' 90-something mph.

I saw Alicia, literally, through the floor-to-ceiling windows on the 5th floor of the Houston Chronicle building downtown. I was a reporter there at the time, and I spent the night not sleeping in an uncomfortable chair there in the office. Mostly I watched Alicia rip gravel from the roofs of the downtown buildings and fling it through other buildings' windows. Oh, and I watched our windows bulging from the wind and pressure, praying they would hold. They did.

I don't even recall losing power; the newspaper came out 'as usual' the next morning, but so many trees were down that home delivery was nigh on impossible. I remember driving home on Memorial Drive or maybe Allen Parkway (the interstate must have been closed) and seeing all the underpasses flooded. But I made it home without any major issues.

At home, we had some trees down, but no significant damage. Memory says one of our trees fell on the neighbor's house, causing some damage there, but memory is as unreliable as a hurricane, and it may have been in another storm.

Home at the time was in the Spring Branch area, 15 miles or so west of downtown, which is some 48 miles inland from Galveston. I now live another 40-ish miles north, almost 90 miles from the closest 'landfall' point for Ms. Rita. Uphill, too.

The thing is, hurricanes don't just do their own damage; they also spawn tornadoes. My recollection (possibly wrong) is that the tornados from Alicia killed more people and did more damage than the hurricane itself. We have no basements to hide in here. So even though I'm not particularly worried about Rita, her offspring scare the daylights out of me.

I expect to lose power, so I'm charging the flashlights, stocking water, making sure the candles ae handy, etc. I got a fresh bag of dogfood, some bagels and crackers (colored Goldfish were on sale at Kroger but I'll probably finish the box before Rita even gets here). I thought about buying some bread, but Kroger had NONE. They were also out of bottled water. And low on soft drinks. No kidding.

Anyway, as of today, it looks like Rita will hit pretty far south of Galveston, but we will still be on the 'dirty side' of the storm, meaning lots of rain & wind. Lakrids hates storms. :( Wish us luck.