Holy cow. The last two days have been absolutely exhausting! The last time I went through a Tropical Event was Charlie, I think in 2003, in Orlando, and there wasn’t any “getting ready” for it because 1) its appearance in central Florida was a complete surprise to everyone including the meterologists, and 2) I was at Disneyworld in a hotel, and not going anywhere even if I had wanted to. So I let Disney “get ready for it.” I wish I could have done that this time, too. Disney’s logistics are unsurpassed, and they have absolute armies of bodies to direct at various tasks. We did have about 18 hours notice on the storm, and the entire place was swarmed by Maintenance Ants taking down anything that might fly, pruning the heck out of trees that might drop branches, and getting ready in every other imaginable way. I don’t think we even lost power in that storm, and the afternoon after it passed through, we were watching a movie at Downtown Disney as if nothing had happened. Of course, it did basically flatten a lot of the airport, and we had to drive to Jacksonville to get out, which is when we learned that Vital Lesson: always fill your gastank before it hits, because after the power is knocked out everywhere but Disney, most of the pumps won’t work, and for stations with ancient equipment where the pumps do work, they’ve been drained for chainsaws, generators, and four-wheel vehicles.
Since, despite my desires, I do not have Disney on-call to fix this stuff up for me, I had to take care of it by myself. I did have some help from my guy, but since he’s using our experience with Charlie (a small but intense, fast-moving storm) as a baseline upon which to formulated his expectations, his input was not as useful as it might have been. His shining moment has been doing – and finishing – the absolute mountain of laundry with which we returned from Maine. Since our washer and dryer are in the basement, which I expect to experience Water at some point, this is not trivial. He was at it positively all day on Saturday. His second contribution – non trivial – was in locating and procuring two five-pound bags of ice with which we can turn our freezer into an ice chest when the power goes down. Which – at this point – the National Weather Service is telling us directly is a matter of when and not will.
For the last two days, I have been grocery shopping like a demon, laying in gallons of water, batteries, bungee hooks (for trash cans and other potential aerial missiles), bringing in the detritus around the house, performing a Public Information Officer for the other people living in our building, only one of which has personally experienced a Tropical Event before. She’s from Miami, and has been through hell and back on this front, and I’ve been grateful for the backup. Because – as always seems to happen – we did have a small contingent of the it won’t happen here folk. The ones who are certain that the media is over-hyping things, etc. Not that the media doesn’t do this, but this storm is so damned big that when the astronauts on the space station took a video of it, you can actually see it curving with the earth. It’s not really possible to “over” hype something like that. Also, my grasp of risk management indicates that even if you consider the probability of a negative outcome to be small, if the outcome would be catastropic if it did occur and you were unprepared, you. prepare. for. it.
Zzzooo. I spent yesterday morning cooking for four or five days, making soups that can be served at any temperature, and making the Fritatta of the Gods. This would be the recipe I provided in my last post, only doubled or tripled. The bloody thing is three inches thick if it’s a millimeter. AND we had to bring stuff up from the basement, AND tidy the outside again AND stake the heck out of the tomatoes with velcro and prayer. AND put the cars in the municipal garage where they will be (I hope) safe from flying debris and rising waters. I was also very happy to hear the roar of chainsaws around my neighborhood, as sensible people took down branches rather than leaving them to fall.
Ah. Now there’s the rub. Rising Waters. NWS is telling us to expect a flood because, duh, we’re getting the biggest and slowest moving tropical storm that anyone has seen in decades, and the ground here is already saturated because we’ve had a very wet August. And me, I’m thinking, OK, 3 inches of water in the basement. What a PITA that will be.
We started to get the little outlying rain bands yesterday afternoon. Just a tease, really. The rain started in earnest several hours ago. But the center of circulation is still far off enough that we’re not getting any wind. It’s hot, sticky, wetter than water, and flat calm. Creepy, in a way, like being in the Eye is. My friend who is staying for the Duration and I took advantage of the Calm Before The Storm to take her dog for a walk. I got a chance to check out the Storm Sewer Action, and…urk…aagh…let’s just say I spontaneously and dramatically revised my expectations for what kind of water to expect. The sewers – even at that point – were already running 18″ below the grate, and they were absolutely thrumming with the volume of water that was moving through them. Parking lots were already starting to get standing water. Now the bottom of my street is getting standing water. “Ponding” I believe is what the weather service calls this. And – crud – the wind still hasn’t kicked in. NWS thinks it will start in a few hours, and then things are going to be very nasty.
Per their update yesterday afternoon, the NWS gave us the Final Warning, and said that “Final preparations should already be underway” and reminded us that by the time the wind starts up, it will be Too Late. The latest updates don’t mention “preparations” at all, and just warn us that anything outside that is not tied down is going to become airborne and destructive, and – this kills me – actually said right out that the power lines are going to be coming down. Period. Not like this is a surprise. Verizon’s cell network started to go Ka-Blooey by 4pm yesterday, and Sprint’s data net has been mostly out of commission in this area since yesterday at 5. I haven’t even bothered to turn the phone on this morning, because I can’t imagine that this situation is going to get better. The power company sent out an e-mail last night to all their customers telling us that they have as many people on hand and on call as possible and that they’ll be dealing with the problems that they expect to arise as quickly as humanly possible. I’m sure they will, too. I have huge respect for anyone who winds up in a cherry picker during a storm. It’s not a job I’d be willing to do, and I’m deeply, unspeakably grateful, that there are people who will.
I really hope my street doesn’t go under water. I really hope that the Connecticut River doesn’t breach the levee. I hope that no one here dies. School was supposed to start on Monday, but the administration dealt with that decisively and sent out an e-mail saying that unless you were living in the residence halls already – this is move-in weekend – or working for the residence halls, food service, or physical plant, please do not present yourself on campus before Tuesday. I can’t imagine the chaos that must be going down with thousands of students trying to move in to the zillions of colleges that populate this area, or what it means for the administrators. I’m glad my job is just to show up and teach. I hope that will happen on Tuesday.
Here comes the wind. I thought it would start small and then get big, but that isn’t what is happening. It’s come on in a blast. The power lines outside my window are thrumming like the strings of a guitar, and the tree out front is already loosing leaves. We just had a gust that I could feel come up through the floor. Not around the window, but the wind got into the framing of the house.
In the meantime, here is my recipe for Hurricane Chowder. Keep some in the fridge and heat it on the gas stove when the power goes out. Freeze it in blocks and then eat it as it thaws.
Hurricane Chowder (with a red pepper cream)
For the red pepper cream:
2 large red bell peppers
2 T fresh oregano leaves
1 t ground chipotle or other hot pepper
1 T olive oil
½ t salt
4 T heavy cream
For the chowder:
2 bacon (or turkey bacon) slices, chopped
2 stalks celery, finely diced
1 yellow onion, finely diced
4 C chicken broth
1 lb red new potatoes, diced
2 T fresh thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
½ t salt
½ t freshly ground pepper
2 C milk, warmed up
Kernels from 6 ears of corn
Broil or grill the peppers until they are blackened on every side, then put into a paper bag and fold the top over to seal it. Let sit 10 minutes, then cool under running water and rub to remove the skins. Remove the stems and cores. Chop and puree in a blender or food processor. Add the oregano, ground chili, olive oil and salt and. Pulse the processor to puree while pouring in the cream. Puree the mixture, drizzling in the cream.
Put the bacon into a heavy soup pot and warm it over medium-low heat. If you use turkey bacon, you will need to add a couple of spoonfuls of olive oil to the pot as well. Cook until the bacon is getting crispy. Turn the heat up to medium high and add the celery and onion to the pot and sauté 5 to 6 minutes. Turn the heat up to high and add the broth. Bring to a boil, stirring to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Add the potatoes, thyme, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the potatoes are just tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the milk and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the corn and simmer another 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and discard. Stir the red pepper cream into the pot of chowder, and serve hot, if you can.