Sunday, May 20, 2012

A New Season

No, not the end of spring or the beginning of summer. Hurricane season has arrived early with the development of Tropical Storm Alberto off the South Carolina coast. Hurricane season is defined as the span of time between June 1 and November 30, but of course, the hurricanes themselves are true forces of nature and they form when they form irregardless (sorry, but I like this word for certain uses) of calendar dates. Yesterday, I checked the NWS forecast and saw a summary that declared that the low drifting off the North Carolina coast was sinking to the southwest, but could become a tropical cyclone in the following days as in: a tropical depression, tropical storm or, ultimately, a hurricane. I checked the radar to see the actual location. A thick mass of rain hovered off the NC/SC border. The radar showed a distinct rotation of the rain and a definite "eye" to the southeast of the heaviest rain.

TS Alberto is the cloud formation in center of satellite image
Some of you may recall from last years' posts that during hurricane season I begin every day looking at the National Hurricane Center web site. The NHC ceases current broadcasts at the end of the season, so I had assumed they would not begin current broadcasts this year until the beginning of this year's hurricane season. I checked the site anyway, and it is active. At first they were tracking the low pressure system, but by nightfall, the system had become the first named storm of this year's Atlantic hurricane season. Oh boy.

Chatting with Butch, another liveaboard here at Whittaker Pointe, we began to reminisce about Hurricane Irene, the big, long-lasting storm that struck Oriental dead-on last August. The frontside of Irene lasted longer than most hurricanes, the eye of Irene lasted almost two hours, and the backside left locals feeling as if there would be no end to the storm despite the storm surge rushing out as soon as the backside winds hit. The storm surge exceeded nine feet, topping the pilings at OHM (shown in photo below with waters still high after passing of Irene).

Robin's Nest sank when the surge receded, leaving
her atop the pilings from which she  fell and broke a window.

We mused over the mysterious disappearance of dock boxes all around the area, boxes that had been bolted to docks in most cases and filled with anything and everything from dock lines and sails to varnish, tools, outboard engines and Sunfish rudders. Vanished during the storm without a trace. Sure, they probably sank, but where? In only a few cases were the boxes found near where they had been mounted on docks. The others must have floated for a while before sinking in the raging wind and waves.

Many things that were lost during the storm were later found, in part due to the Irene Lost and Found on, a central collection of named and unnamed items that washed into strange lands. One shoulder bag containing a tennis racket washed out of its owner's garage near the river only to be retrieved on Atlantic Beach over thirty miles and a week later having drifted down the river, out Adams Creek and  Beaufort Inlet and across a few miles of ocean. Or did it surge down the river into Pamlico Sound and out Ocracoke Inlet and around Cape Lookout Shoals? All we know for sure is that it was hanging on a wall inside a building on the river when the storm struck and turned up on an ocean beach several days after the storm had passed.

Capt Ross, our dockmaster at OHM, had waves wash through his home on the river. With no second floor to which he could escape, he and his wife and two friends began an epic slog through the storm winds and the surge to dry land. They found safety, but only after knowing that they had nearly died, something not easily stowed into distant memory. Capt Ross' father was a decoy carver and hunting guide in Currituck on the northeast coast of North Carolina. He showed me a photo of his father in a coffee table book about historical decoys. I asked if he had kept any, and he said he had only a couple remaining. I asked what happened to the others. They were all sitting in the sunroom of his riverfront home when the Neuse River broke through the glass during Irene. The decoys floated into oblivion, maybe into woods along the river, maybe out to the Gulf Stream where they may float all the way to Ireland or the Hebrides or circle south toward the Azores or Gibraltar. Wherever the currents and weather might carry them.

This is the time of the year we confront the very real fact that we live in a floating home and, what floats can sink just like all the missing dock boxes. Hurricane season is not something that consumes us, but it is how I will begin each and every morning from now through November. Watching, studying, tracking storms as they form west of Africa near the Cape Verde Islands and cruise west toward the Antilles, then turn northwest toward the US mainland. Hoping that the storms collide with unfavorable conditions such as high altitude wind shear, cold, dry air or strong high pressure systems that brush them eastward into open water. We have had some busy hurricane seasons in the past few years. If this year is busy, we hope that it is busy offshore, not on the North Carolina coast.

On the other hand, offshore storms can threaten travelling mariners. Our friends Steve and Lynn on S/V Celebration (see link to their blog on top right) left St Martin's a week ago sailing their way back to North Carolina. Fortunately, they listen to weather guru Chris Parker on their SSB radio and learned that the low pressure system off North Carolina early last week had the potential to develop into something more serious. They wisely altered course toward the Abacos, but then continued to Florida where they will watch the weather and look for a window for returning offshore for the rest of their voyage to Beaufort Inlet.

Keep a weather eye.

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