Watching Hurricane Dorian with horror this past week stall mercilessly as a Category 5 storm over the Bahamas was terrifying and heartbreaking. Waiting for him to make his way up to Charleston was like lying naked on a paper sheet in a paper gown for hours at the doctor’s office for a female exam – feeling vulnerable, exposed and immensely uncomfortable. The uncertainty of when, where and how strong he’d be when he hit us was painful. It seems absurd to hope for a Category 2 or less, but that’s what was bearable for us to deal with if we were going to stay.
This was my third hurricane experience. The first was 20 years ago in Copenhagen where we were living as expats. We didn’t even know a hurricane was coming (or that Denmark even had hurricanes) because we didn’t speak Danish and only watched TV here and there and what TV we did watch in English were reruns of Baywatch, The Bold and Beautiful and BBC’s Absolutely Fabulous. And, it wasn’t like we were getting alerts on our flip phones.
I remember that night (now) with giggles. We hired a babysitter for our one-year-old son who warned us of the storm when she arrived. I can’t remember her name, but I remember she was also an American living with her family a few blocks away and came highly recommended. She didn’t seem too worried about it. Clearly her family was as unaware as we were. So, we just went to dinner a short drive away not thinking too much of it. When I got out of the car the door flew open and nearly took my hand with it. I should have realized then it was more than just a “nor’easter” I was used to. Once we were seated by the window, we looked around to see that there was hardly anyone in the very popular place. The waiter was immediately at our table (not something we were used to in Europe) and remarked that the restaurant may have to close early because of the weather. We quickly put our order in and heard something really loud outside. Looking out the window we saw an enormous steel sign that had just been ripped from the side of the building blowing by the restaurant. We didn’t wait to eat our dinner.
We drove home about five minutes away with the windshield wipers on full blast and wind pulling the car to the side. We asked the babysitter if she needed a ride home since she came by bike. She said her dad was coming to fetch her and she’d come get her bike in the morning. We went to bed, still not too bothered with the storm. In the middle of the night we awoke to loud banging and wind and rain blowing IN the house. The roof sky light in the hallway had come unattached and was bouncing up and down. My husband ran to get a ladder and climbed up to the top of it with me holding onto his legs on the bottom rung as he attempted to pull it shut. As crazy pelting rain and wind came pouring in on us and the rest of the hallway for what seemed like a very long time, and my husband trying not to be carried literally away, he was finally able to get the sky light brackets back in place. After that, we never bought or rented a house with skylights again.
Moving to Charleston just a year ago from Amsterdam brought the promise of endless sunshine, beautiful weather almost year round and so many outdoor activities to revel in. Three weeks into that move here in late August, we evacuated when a mandatory evacuation order was issued, a week before Hurricane Florence was due to hit. Being “newbies”, we found a hotel that would take our two dogs in Augusta and started to pack the car. In the driveway we saw our neighbors securing their outdoor furniture and they asked if we were leaving. They were not. In fact, none of our neighbors on Daniel Island were leaving, which, at the time, seemed crazy to me. We arrived in Augusta with an 11-year-old 150 pound Newfoundland and a little Coton du Tulear, luggage and our teenage daughter. We lasted one night. As soon as we heard that the hurricane was downgraded to a tropical storm, and the highway was back open to two lanes, we made our way back before Florence arrived. That storm was like a nor’easter. A short week later Hurricane Matthew came through – also as a tropical storm. That one was memorable. Matthew greeted us in the middle of the night and woke me in my shaking bed in my shaking house with his screeching wind and rain. I started wondering if the roof, sky light or no, was going to stay on.
This week Dorian arrived like a beast in the middle of the night upgraded to a Category 3 while we slept. He woke us with loud wind like a train as he shook the house like we were his snow globe. Checking my iPhone at 2:30 am to see him directly below Charleston, I cringed to learn he would be crawling slowly though at 7 mph towards us. The rest of the day was a nail biting, nerve racking haze of stress and anxiety. I feel guilty complaining thinking of the Bahamas. It was somewhat comforting checking in with my amazing neighbors, my nephew up in Myrtle Beach and my family and friends not in the South.
Yesterday morning I went out to inspect the damage finding a large bush down and lots of leaves and such scattered around. My neighbor helped me get my garage door open that had lost power and I checked in with my friends in the hood to see if everyone was ok. It could have been so much worse.
The likelihood that hurricanes will continue to threaten us is something we’ll have to accept living here. Weighing the pros and cons of evacuating and paying close attention to NOAA online for the path and strength of oncoming storms is a new normal from June through November. You take the good with the bad like living anywhere. We won’t have blizzards, have to shovel mountains of snow, scrape ice, or freeze getting in and out of the car. We won’t have days and days of grey and we will have an actual beautiful Spring. But, we will have more hurricanes.
If I’ve learned anything experiencing storms in general, it’s to have a plan. I’m thinking my plan from now on when a hurricane, no matter what number is assigned to it, is roaring up the coast heading towards me and my people, will be to round up my people (which includes my dogs) and get the hell out.
How to Help Victims of Dorian in the Bahamas: