Volume XII, Issue 1 ~ January 1-7, 2004

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Bay Reflections

We Survive Phenomenon to Phenomenon
by Gary Pendleton

The job of looking back to look ahead is a daunting one. I worry that I will forget to mention key events and overlook the big stories of the year. I fear that I will miss a major disaster or the passing of an important person. Important scientific and cultural achievements will surely slip my mind.

I feel inadequate to write about war, wildfires, terrorism or California’s new governor. I know that if I tried to summarize the important global and national events of the past year, I would only disappoint myself and bore you. So I won’t even try.

But I sure can write about the weather.

With a February blizzard and a September hurricane, 2003 brought more weather phenomena than I could ever have expected and then some.

So I’ll just say 2003 was a phenomenal year — which is not to say it was a good year or a bad year.

2003 followed a string of mild, nearly snowless winters and a terrible drought, possibly the worst to hit the state in 100 years. Farmers were hit hard by crop failure, and wells were going dry. 2002 also unleashed a tornado on Charles and Calvert counties and, later, toppled the famous Wye Oak with an ill wind.

In 2003, the situation reversed. At year’s end rainfall at National Airport is 20 inches above average, a fraction of an inch short of the all-time record.

The year came with the coldest and snowiest winter in years. Then, on February 19, a blizzard dumped more than 15 inches of snow on parts of southern Maryland with high winds good for drifting. A week after the blizzard, very heavy rains caused flooding and collapsed roofs.

Rain continued right up to Hurricane Isabel, which had been downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it hit Maryland on September 18. Still, it had enough energy to create terrible flooding and inflict lots of inland damage. Isabel’s winds created a storm surge that raised tidal waters of the Bay and its tributaries to levels exceeding the 100-year flood stage. The storm surge and wind-swept waves combined in a one-two punch combination that knocked waterfront communities for a loop.

In addition to that pair of powerful and historic storms, Marylanders witnessed other natural phenomena rarely experienced in our part of the world. On a clear evening in November, the red glow of the Aurora Borealis, also know as Northern Lights, appeared in the sky as a reddish glow coming out of the north. In early December, an earthquake shook foundations and rattled windows but caused little damage.

In recalling these phenomena, I am struck by what seems an important reminder: Even though we live in an affluent and technologically advanced society, we are not immune from natural disasters or other perils. As Americans, we are citizens of the most powerful nation in the world, yet there is no way for our government and its security forces to completely protect us. Life offers no guarantees that we will be spared.

Indeed, life is full of surprises, ambiguities and uncertainties. Any day now a new disaster may come. Will there be good news to balance the bad?

As a counterbalance, life offers innumerable small pleasures. Appreciating friends, a sunny day or a cool breeze can help ease the way.

Songwriter and musician Warren Zevon passed away from cancer in 2003. He had struggled to achieve success and struggled to overcome alcoholism. Then he died young. But in doing so, he gave a lesson in handling adversity with grace and dignity. When asked if facing death had taught him any lessons, he replied “Enjoy every sandwich.” Those are words I will try to live by in 2004.

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Last updated December 31, 2003 @ 9:12pm.