Thursday, April 12, 2012
The Punishing of Her Wrath
Colorado had a very dry winter this year. Natives and newbies alike, will tell you that lack of snow, spells bad news for the fire fighters. Last week alone, there were fires all along Colorado’s plains and mountains. From grass fires to forest fires.
On Monday March 26, 2012, as I spoke to a neighbor, I noticed a billowing on the horizon. There were no clouds in the sky that day, so it was easy to recognize these were clouds of smoke. We had seen this exact thing last year when Boulder had their fire. I ran inside and told the kids I was going for a ride to hunt down this fire. Having no idea where the fire was, I drove in the general direction of the smoke until we found a caravan of media, police, and fire trucks. My curiosity began to pique. I had never been this close to a forest fire before.
We finally reached the scene. The feeling was surreal. I saw the amount of people standing there waiting with their horse trailers and hoping for news on their homes. It was shocking. I was overcome with a feeling that the kids and I could find ourselves in harms way if the wind blew in our direction. It was time to get out of there and let the officials and residents take care of business.
I am obsessed and fascinated with Mother Nature and her powerful fury. The amount of smoke at this fire was overwhelming, and the winds were gusting to hurricane strength. I had seen Mother Nature and her force before. This would be a bad one. People ask me why I chase these things: forest fires, tornadoes, hurricanes...
Have you ever watched the Weather Channel during a hurricane? Or heard the familiar t.v. weather alert system telling you to go to your basement or interior room of the house because of a tornado warning? Now, fast forward to the post storm news, and you see the coverage from during the hurricane or tornado. There are always groups of people acting like idiots on the beach with eighty to one hundred mile per hour winds. You know the ones, because you look at the person sitting next to you and actually say, “Who does that? Morons!” Then there is the footage of the tornado that shows a group of people with apparently a few loose screws and too much testosterone, chasing the tornado. Just like the movie Twister, the tornado always seems to turn in their direction as the driver scrambles to get away. Have you ever wondered what is wrong with that person? Who they are?
Hi, my name is Linda Mitchell and I am that moron. For six years, I lived in Virginia Beach with my oldest son and ex-husband, Buck. We are self described weather nuts. We have countless hours of footage from tropical storms and one hurricane. Her name was Bonnie.
Despite the fact that family and friends beg you to stay indoors, to which you verbally agree, you still grab your video camera and take off for the beach. Ok, maybe you don’t! Buck and I did. There was something really amazing and astonishing about our experiences. We were always very fortunate to walk away without any scratches. I’d like to share Hurricane Bonnie with you.
Let me preface this story with the fact that there were many false alarms for Virginia Beach, including Hurricane Felix. Felix was a category four storm that was bearing down and heading right for Virginia Beach. His winds were 140 m.p.h., and he was predicted to be well over 170 m.p.h., a category five, when he made landfall at 11:00 a.m. Friday, August 18, 1995. Buck and I were incredibly stupid!
The extent of our preparations was to fill the tubs and sinks with water, bottle about fifteen gallons of water, and we had plywood on hand to cut and cover windows as necessary. No thought what so ever to the lack of electricity. Oh, we also had flashlights with fresh batteries, a full tank of gas, and a freshly cooked ham. Yes, a ham. Somehow the ham was going to save us! Our family and friends were incredibly scared. They understood the strength and remembered Andrew from 1994. Buck and I were naive.
At 10:00 a.m., the winds began to pick up and our excitement grew. We expected Felix to come ashore at any moment. By 1:00 p.m., the winds were the same and we were told Felix would be a little late. By Saturday afternoon, we understood that Felix had stalled. Within days, Felix weakened and drifted out to sea. Buck and I would not find out for three years, just how lucky we were.
On August 23, 1998, we made our usual preparations for a direct hit to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We brought everything loose into the garage, bottled some water, and loaded the flashlight with fresh batteries. Bonnie was on her way. She would be a tropical storm when she hit Virginia Beach.
We went about our business that day. When we got off work, Buck and I jumped into our Mazda 626 and headed for the beach, video camera in hand. While we sat at the red light, a No Parking sign that had been cemented into a bucket flew past our car, and missed decapitating me by approximately eighteen inches.
“Woah!” We both yelled. “That was close. That bucket must weigh twenty-five to thirty pounds at least. Is this safe?” I asked.
Despite this close call, we continued on.
I excitedly video taped the bushes and trees as they bent and contorted. The hotel pool had its own waves, to my astonishment. Anything that wasn’t nailed down was airborne. I attempted to make my way to the beach, but no matter how hard I tried to walk, I was unable to advance through the wind. Even though my mouth was closed during this time frame, when I took refuge behind the safety of the hotel, I found myself pulling twigs, rocks, and sand from my mouth. The wind literally wedged my mouth open enough to insert beach debris.
At that moment, I yelled to Buck, “I think we should leave. This doesn’t seem safe anymore” Anymore! As if the cemented sign, pool waves, twigs in my mouth, and inability to walk weren’t enough.
Buck was angry, yelling back, “I’ve waited my whole life for this and you want to leave?”
“Yes”, I yelled. “I want to leave. This doesn’t seem like a tropical storm to me.”
Aggravated, Buck met me behind the hotel and we began our windy and raining trek home. The radio announced that Bonnie had stalled over top of us and regained her hurricane status.
Within an hour of being home, I received a frantic call from a good friend. She nervously told me that the water had climbed the three steps leading to her home. I reassured her everything would be ok, jumped into my Dodge pick-up truck and started what would be a very scary five mile journey. The rain pounded on my truck like a hard rocker on his drums. The water rushed across the road like an Indy 500 race car and the darkness surrounded me like a wet blanket. Downed trees blocked major roadways. Despite these barriers, I arrived safely at Donna’s home, and we prepared for the difficult drive back to my house. This was an experience that neither she nor I would forget anytime soon.
Tucked safely back at my home, the winds howled, lights flickered, and the driving rain pounded the house like a carpenter pounding nails. As we looked out of the windows, we could see only the darkness of the rain.
Around 11:00 p.m., we lost our electricity and sat in complete darkness. The darkness and fear was compounded by the deafening sound of slapping on the side of our home. When I shined the flashlight out into the backyard, there was a tremendous amount of shiny metallic debris and insulation. I asked Buck what the shiny material was and he replied, “Our house!” Suddenly, the excitement I had earlier in the day was gone. All I had now were the sounds of Mother Nature, reclaiming what was hers, and the deafening sounds of Bonnie and her destruction.
Buck and Ryan managed to sleep through Bonnie. Donna and I weren’t as lucky. We heard each and every smack of siding, and every drop of rain. When Bonnie’s eye crossed over us, we had a few minutes to assess the damage. I was amazed that Bonnie, barely a hurricane, could wreak so much havoc. Trampolines had been hurled a block away; Siding and shingles cluttered people’s lawns; Tree branches were scattered. After everything was said and done, Bonnie took the lives of three people and caused 720 million dollars in damage. Ten thousand dollars in damage was done to my victorian dream home. For the next two years that I lived in Virginia Beach, I was unable to sleep during any wind storms.
I was grateful, however. I learned when Mother Nature comes to claim what is hers, you either flee her path, or prepare to feel her full wrath. She takes what she wants and spits the rest out.
When people ask why I chase these things, I guess I would say it is because there isn’t much that is more powerful than Mother Nature. She keeps me understanding that I am just a speck of dust on this great planet. I am only a small piece of a very large puzzle. I should always be true to myself, love others, forgive, move forward and try to leave my mark.