Volume 13, Issue 36 ~ September 9 - 14, 2005
Where We Live
by Steve Carr

What One Degree Has Added to Atlantic Storms
Hurricanes have not only increased in number, they have also gotten bigger while the season has gotten longer

I’ve gotten back into competitive sailing after almost 30 years away from the game, so I’ve been spending a lot of time out on the water. Sailing has become a sort of Bay window for me to gaze into the often-stormy waters of a Chesapeake spring and summer, when it seems like we have been dealing non-stop with the remnants of tropical depressions and hurricanes.

Like after a recent Wednesday Night race at the Annapolis Yacht Club, we were motoring back into Back Creek as this living, breathing, trash-talking black storm rolled in from the west and enveloped Annapolis. The sky was 20 shades of gray as the tempest drifted menacingly along the Eastport side of the creek like a sharp knife. We were floating by on its roiling edge, like cruising through the eye of a hurricane. No wind. Just nasty, charcoal briquet clouds and lightning that sizzled when it popped, and that magical glow you see when sunlight gets sucked into the belly of a whirlwind and turns golden. We were so close we could smell it.

We weren’t so lucky the following Wednesday night, when we started off on a river of glass. Imagine over 100 boats of all shapes and sizes, their crews enjoying a cold beer after a busy day in Stressville, drifting slowly toward the Eastern Shore with the outgoing current. I laid on the rail dreaming of weird, bait-headed monsters when a killer line squall descended from the east and blew the hell out of every boat in the fleet. Fifteen minutes later, the storm was gone and an enormous orangeade moon came bursting up over the eastern horizon as a tomato sun was setting atop the shining dome of the Naval Academy Chapel to the west, lighting up the stained-glass windows from within. The yin and the yang.

Storms on the Chesapeake always make sailing pretty sketchy, especially when there is lightning and you’re sailing at night. Take this year’s Governor’s Cup Race to St. Mary’s. Those poor buggers had a rough sail heading south into the heart of the bad weather as thunder-boomers tapped out a steady beat. Several boats were struck, but there were no casualties. You can bet those crazy sailors will be back next year, because being out in storms at night on the Bay, with lots of stoner lightning, is a frenetic dance through heaven and hell. Racing on open water with no horizon, using GPS bearings to navigate as building-sized freighters zip by spewing master-blaster waves. Drifting silently under the stars. Skinny-dipping in deep, dark water at midnight to cool off. Dodging the sea nettles and thunderbolts. Being wild and free. These are the days of our lives.

Wilder Than You Want to Meet
A lot of sailors I meet these days are talking about this as the worst hurricane season on record. Some folks think it spells doom for the low-lying communities, while some believe it will cleanse the Bay, like a power flush. Nobody really knows.

What can you say about a hurricane like Katrina? We are talking about mind-numbing power. The thing was bigger than Florida, over 200 miles wide. It was like the Borg. Resistance is futile.

I got curious about these storms of the century and went looking at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration website as Katrina drew a bead on the Big Easy. NOAA has the neatest hurricane model that tracks hurricanes by decade. Man, you should see what one degree warmer did to the Atlantic storms. The hurricanes have not only increased in number, they have also gotten bigger, while the season has gotten longer. Their paths are much more erratic. And we’re just getting started here. It’s going to get much, much worse.

The Gulf Coast will never be the same after Katrina, like New York and America changed after 9/11. Welcome to global warming, my friends. The next big hurricane could land almost anywhere between the Chesapeake and Galveston. Maybe we need a planetary war on hurricanes. Or perhaps it takes a real disaster to make people comprehend that it’s not the smartest survival strategy to build a city under sea level on the ocean. One thing is pretty certain: The nature of a hurricane is still mysterious and unpredictable, but it’s safe to say that living near big water these days is like living inside a bowling pin just waiting for the next strike.

There’s an old seafaring adage that goes Red sky at morning sailors take warning. Well, I think it’s a new dawn, folks, and we can all consider ourselves warned.

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.