October Storms

Fri, 10/29/2021 - 8:37am

The high wind advisory that was supposed to end at two this afternoon was bumped up to three. It seemed on target, the wind was letting up in mid-afternoon when I finally decided to brave the storm, or what was left of it.
A long night of intermittent pounding rain and howling wind had faded into a gray day of lessening rain and gradually diminishing wind. The weather sites did not agree, some extended the storm into infinity, an endless loop of the Perfect Storm thirty years ago the end of this month.

That may have been the time my uncle on the West Coast, my long-deceased weather oracle, sighed and said “Martha, these storms last three days.” He’d graduated in the early 1930s, gone to college, to a civilian position as a government engineer, to WWII and back to the government. He even moved to the West Coast when they needed missile engineers in California, with vague murmuring about retirement back east. Ultimately, he chose that land, earthquake, wind and fire over New England winters.
But always, he watched the weather and had alerts that would rival the best on any network. I’d always presumed he’d found some obscure station but now that he’s been gone over 20 years I wonder if he had some special intel codes available still from his time tracking missiles sent out over the Pacific.
Yes, that weather alert ending at three this afternoon has been extended until “eleven this evening.” I hate October storms. Last night on the news someone on the beach over on the south shore of Rhode Island was exclaiming over the waves, expected in winter “but it’s only late October!”
Okay, the Perfect Storm was 30 years ago, if this guy lived around here he might have been a kid, but wouldn’t a kid remember those fearsome days? Sandy was only in 2012. And there is usually some horrid, wind-driven, drenching weather in late October, surf high enough to throw white spray over the crests of the hills, and race up the beach.
I wasn’t paying attention to the tide, today, and was surprised to realize it was two hours after high when I went out and saw water higher than it normally is in the inner reaches of the New Harbor, almost to the floor of the boat house that extends over the edge of the innermost part of the pond. Nothing seemed out of order, there was some wind, but nothing dramatic, it seemed as I made my little loop over Beach
Avenue to Ocean and then up to Old Town Road. Then I headed east, and felt the wind coming down Chapel Street.
The surf was wild around the harbor, still, the waves crashing over both the green and red jetties. I was in the parsonage of the Harbor Church, dog-sitting during Sandy, and remembered that pattern of water driving in from the east, hitting the east wall then curling around its end and coming into the harbor over the wall from the shallow water below the Surf.

The very harbor had appeared to be under attack.

I dipped down through the empty parking lot then felt the full impact of the returned wind hitting me broadside on the Front Street. There is an illusion of calm on that protected piece of Corn Neck just beyond Bridge Gate then the wind hits, the sand blasts and the view is of white water churning the length of the east beach.
It wasn’t raining but when I pulled over by the monument I felt not only the battering wind but saw the splash of the ocean rising up the riprap on my car windows. There used to be more land where the monument is now perched, on drawn maps, suspect but for the inclusion of buildings; on postcards, notably of the single-room jail that sat on the seaward side of the road; and photographs of flat land where there is now a dune.
Seven minutes after taking the photo of the ocean-streaked glass, I captured another, of a newly painted house on Mansion Road. Side by side I would never imagine them to be both facing east, a few minutes apart, one just beside the road, the other a few rolling fields inland.
Now the wind advisory has been changed to a gale warning until noon tomorrow, which sent me down the Beaufort wind scale rabbit hole, that chart showing classifications of winds, from air to a multitude of breezes, to gales and only then to storms and, finally hurricanes. Gusts over the past day have reached the top level of of the scale.
I’ve been looking at this chart since it was in print in my “Farmer’s Almanac,” and my mind will always go breeze, storm, gale, with “wind” in between breeze and gale despite its complete absence from the good Rear Admiral Beaufort’s attempt to quantify natural forces.
As much as I tell people I go to NOAA when I am serious about a forecast I find myself stuck in these other sites, one of which has a solitary recommended action: “Avoid the subject event as per the instructions.” It seems, ultimately, to be about mariners, ignoring people who live
on land on the ocean but not on a boat. Or understanding the futility of offering evacuation directions to an island when there are no boats running.

And we haven’t a good history of taking evacuation orders seriously, after all, we have an extraordinarily low number of power outages compared to the mainland. And while we’re not, most of us, at the survivalist level, I still maintain that the whole toilet paper crisis of 2020 all began when someone got behind a team of Block Islanders shopping in a warehouse type store, stocking up, as we do, on paper goods
and other non-perishable items. Someone looked over, wondered what they knew, those who appeared to be hoarding paper goods, and in all the uncertainty filling the airwaves back then, the spark was ignited and maybe we did start that fire.
It is still howling, the wind loud enough that I cannot hear the surf.
This is the time of year when reality dashes fantasy. The notion that is so lovely, well into the fall, falling asleep to the sound of the ocean rushing the shore, slides back to summertime dream status.
And for that alone, I hate October storms.