13 September 2008

He's heeee-ere

We're just getting the edge of Ike & he is already a huge pest. 

The photo at right shows you the house right behind mine yesterday evening. YOu can just barely see the top of one of those white plastic lawn chairs on the left, then the "naked guy" near the door, and the screened tent. I think they may be out of town, although someone did come by & push over the naked guy at some point late yesterday, I did see a light on there at some point last night. 

Below, you can see the view now. (Yes, it's a little dark and drippy, but it's only 5 am and the middle of a *hurricane* here.) What you see is the top of a tree that I think is just outside the view on the right of the "before" photo. At least I'm pretty sure it's not from the tree in the foreground of the dark photo.... It made an awfully loud noise about an hour ago and came down across the fence & -- i think -- the screened tent. I'm pretty sure something is holding that tent down so I don't have to worry about it coming through my windows. Not as sure about the rest of the stuff in their yard..... 

We do still have power, but I don't expect it to last much longer. We are still an hour or two away from getting the worst of the storm, and it sounds pretty nasty. I should be able to keep Twittering & doing various other things from the iPhone, and recharge occasionally from the car..... Hope to stay connected to the world because, frankly, it's a little scary. Stuff just keeps banging onto the roof, the doors, the walls, the deck. And we aren't even in the bad part yet.

12 September 2008

Covering Hurricanes

The image on the right is Ike around 7 pm Friday. The red words on the green map say "Houston" and "Me." The arrow shows where Ike is heading. He will probably go just a little bit east of "Me." But you get the idea.

Bear with me as I reminisce a bit about the old days. The last major hurricane to smack Houston was a brat named Alicia, and she walloped the area in 1983, doing pretty much the same thing Ike is doing but with higher winds & less storm surge. 

Hurricanes haven't changed much over the years, but the technology for reporting about hurricanes has changed remarkably. I was a Houston Chronicle reporter when Alicia came through, and oh yes, we blanketed the area and reported everything we could, but it was a simpler time, and a newspaper was a daily thing, not a minute-by-minute online information source. 

Back then, if you needed to know what's happening now, you had your TV on, or, after the power went out, you turned your portable ratio to KTRH. [OK, some things have not changed; I bet most of us will *still* tun our portable radios to KTRH after the power goes out.]

Back then, when a tree fell on the power lines, it also fell on the phone lines. I can't remember when the Chronicle got its first satellite phone, but it was a monstrous military-looking gizmo that cost a small fortune for each call, so it was rarely used and we certainly did not have enough for each of the dozens of reporters scattered around the metropolitan area. There were no cell phones. No blackberries, no Twittering, no "live Ike webcams" (except TV news satellite trucks, of course), and no individual bloggers reporting on their own little microcosm of the world.

I was on "normal" duty for Alicia, so by the time the storm was up to strength, I was "off duty." But I couldn't go home because everything was pretty much shut down. I spent the night on the 5th floor of the Chronicle building, watching gravel fly off the roofs of the downtown high-rise buildings, breaking all their windows. The newsroom, at the time, was one large open space with enormous windows across one wall. Those windows bucked and bulged all night long, looking scary but ultimately doing their job.

When the storm had passed, I went to mom & dad's house in Memorial, where they had some trees down. I remember Allen Parkway was pretty well flooded but otherwise it was just a lot of branches everywhere. 

Storms are different now. I can sit at home & watch people all over Houston taking about their hurricane preparations, what they see out their windows as the storm rolls by, what they see on TV. I can unplug my TV and still watch live coverage on TV stations' websites, or (gasp) on my iPhone if the power goes out. (This assumes I can still get a cell signal, not a foregone conclusion if the towers get smacked.)

It's a different world, when I can sit at my house & know that power is already out and some homes are already flooded in Clear Lake. I know power is flickering in midtown. I know things I never would have dreamed about knowing back in 1983. And somehow it's comforting to know all of this because it fills the void that might otherwise be filled with fear of the impending monster storm.

11 September 2008

Why The Woodlands Cares About Hurricanes

I've mentioned before that I am pretty far away from the coast, which means worrying about hurricanes is a bit silly. It would take one whopper of a storm to bring hurricane-force winds all the way up here.

But if they did get here, it would be pretty catastrophic: It's not called The Woodlands just cuz it's a pretty name. The photo on the right shows my house, sorta. What it shows more clearly is the reason I wanted to live there -- the enormous trees. There are six 100-foot pines in my front yard. (My ballpark estimate on the height). There are a bunch more in the neighbor's front yard. And more in my backyard. 

It's a happy place for trees. Unlike typical suburbs, The Woodlands has historically required developers to plan out their subdivisions with minimum possible impact on the existing environment -- the big trees. And so we have these great neighborhoods full of greens and browns and the smell of pine after hurricanes.

Because hurricanes are not that great for tall pine trees. After Rita, when I lived in a townhouse with much less lush forest around, we had one tall pine go down in the neighborhood, not because of the wind but because of the combination of wind + wet. Because unfortunately, once the ground is wet the tree roots don't hold onto the ground so well, allowing the trees to topple.

That was the problem with Alicia in '93. My parents lived in Memorial (closer to Houston but on the west side) at the time and lost some big pine trees. It had rained a lot right before Alicia, and the trees just went "schloop" out of the mud when the wind hit 'em.

We don't expect that for Ike because it has been very dry for weeks here. But we probably will still have a lot of branches to clean up. The big hope is that none of them go through a window. 

The big question remains as to where Ike will hit. The latest forecast moved him northeast a bit. 50 more miles northeast and The Woodlands will move from his "dirty side" with higher winds & more wet, to the "clean side," a veritable walk in the park as we had for Rita. 

Crossing my fingers & hugging my trees.

As I write, dad is on his way over to help me bring the outdoor furniture inside. Such a good daddy!

10 September 2008

Ike Looks to Mess Up a Weekend

It appears Hurricane Ike is going to rampage across Southeast Texas this weekend. 

I'm something like 65 miles inland from Galveston, but the latest update to the National Hurricane Center map (right) looks like Ike may come a lot closer than storms of recent memory. (Remember Rita?) If you look very closely at the map, you'll see a little reddish "x" just north of the 30-degree line and just a tad east of the hurricane path. That's approximately where I am. 

Assuming there's anything to say, I'll blog here and/or microblog via Twitter as the cable connection + iPhone allow.