I dreamed last night.
I dreamed that my mother hand rented a lovely house in which to throw a party for the whole family and then some. It was larger than her home, though with a smaller yard, with a creek running right out back. My sister was there, and some girls I went to school with, and a little baby who so wanted to examine the ivy on the wall, so I lefted her up and she grabbed some ivy at stuffed it in her mouth. I pulled it out again, and when some busy-body told the baby “you must never play with plants, it’s too dangerous, play inside,” I said no, you go ahead and play with plants. You go ahead and grow up to be a geek, like me.
I dreamed that someone told me my dog, Una, had gotten away and they’d had to leave her at the shopping center. I went outside to look for her, but the park was full of extremely long cows. I looked out the back door and saw that it had begun to rain. I hoped I’d get to see the moment that the creek began to rise. I’ve always loved beginnings.
The creek expanded to fill its banks brown and muddy, and it kept on coming. I wondered if we would be flooded. I looked around, thinking how to prepare, then realized the creek was indeed flooding in, seeping slowly under the doors. I ran around picking up small objects that might float, cleaning up trash, trying to warn the others at the party, get them to help, but no one could hear me. No one was listening.
Because no one was listening, I could no longer speak. I’d lost the self-confidence to even try to make myself heard. The party continued around me and I stood at the sink, whimpering a little, hoping someone would notice and care, but no one did, and I wasn’t even sure anymore if I wanted them to. They’d yell at me for whimpering, for being so pathetic, so needy. I’ve always been such a bother to everyone.
I dreamed that the recollection of my dog gave me back my voice, though not much else. My dog, Una, was out in that storm somewhere, perhaps lost. I had to find her, and I had to drive, because she was so very far away, and the storm was so violent. I had no car. I’d come with my mother. I asked if I could drive hers, but she said I could not, something about it being a rental and the insurance. Could I ask my dad? Sudden;y I wasn’t even sure I could drive, cars had become so complicated, all manual transmissions, all weird, convoluted controls. I needed a car, I needed to go save my dog, but no one would help me, and no one would hear me about the flood slowly seeping across the living room floor.
I awoke and tried to remind myself I had no reason to be so anxious, I didn’t need to go find Una, she wasn’t missing. She was dead. She died almost a year ago. And my sister died just over a year ago. And while the party wasn’t exactly happening, the tornado warning that had woken me was real.
Isaias had arrived.
The “I” Storm
For those who either don’t know or who are reading this post long after the fact and have forgotten, Isaias is the name of a tropical cyclone that made landfall last night as a Category 1 hurricane, tracked overland, weakened to a strong tropical storm, and moved more or less right over top of me–the eye passed just to our west, moving up the Chesapeake Bay and making a second landfall near where my in-laws live, and then hitting my mother right…about….now.
Of course, these storms are pretty big, so the entire experience lasts eight hours or so, no matter where the eye happens to be.
The name, Isaias, is Spanish, and it got attached to this storm in recognition that Spanish speakers get his by tropical cyclones, too. American English speakers fall all over it, of course, not because we find it difficult to pronounce (“ees-ah-EE-ahs”) but because we find it difficult and intimidating to read. The same thing happens to my last name, which is also easy to pronounce yet trips everybody up (“uh-LAN-thus”). Anyway, my husband started calling it the I-Storm. It’s a good epithet, for a storm that has an eye.
What We Experienced
We’re all alright now, and the sun is shining, but things were pretty hairy there, for a while. We got all our hatches battened down last night and went to bed, knowing the storm would move in as we slept. I expected to wake to the sound of rain. We did not. Instead we woke around five-thirty to the tone of the tornado warning of my husband’s pager (he’s a firefighter). The day had not yet dawned, and the air was utterly still, utterly silent, in a way that you’d think would be comforting at such times but isn’t.
The warning was for the southern part of our county, though, not us. I persuaded our second cat to come inside
while Chris checked the radar on his phone, and we went back to sleep. The wind started to pick up.
When the tornado warning woke us up the second time, day had come. We were busy discussing whether this one a threat to us when Chris’ mother called to tell us to take shelter. We obeyed her and gathered both dogs, both cats (did I mention one of our cats hates the dogs?) and my laptop into the guest bathroom and huddled there listening in to the county’s emergency response communications as a tornado touched down in a nearby town, setting off electrical fires. We later learned that was the fourth confirmed tornado in our region from Isaias. There would be two more, to our north.
When the warning expired at eight, we left the bathroom and went about our morning. Small branches broke off our trees and rattled on the roof. Martha meowed to go outside and I explained to her why she should not. She meowed again and again. Percy curled up in a safe little nest under a table. He’d been panting from fear in the bathroom. Reilly lay on the floor looking worried. He doesn’t like odd noises. Kizzy slept. Kizzy could sleep through a hurricane. Chris turned on the local weather report–broadcasting in crisis-mode, of course–so he could stay abreast of the latest developments, while I puttered around the kitchen, frustrated to the depths of my geeky soul that the reception kept cutting out whenever they started explaining something sciency.
As the eye came up even with us and the maps on TV showed the storm clouds clearing off, the wind picked up, launching a series of gusts that leaned our trees over harder than I’ve ever seen them. Bigger-sounding branches fell nearby, and distant trees made odd noises. For the first time since we’d left the bathroom, I got scared. The weather people had told us to take this storm seriously, that although it would hit us as only a tropical storm, it would not be like the tropical storms we were used to–they normally pass us to our east, but this one passing to our west would put us on the “dirty side” and would be a whole different ball-game. The swarm of tornadoes we got was certainly new for us, but it was predicted, but these late big gusts were a surprise–I don’t know the numbers on those gusts, but I can tell you that nether Irene nor Sandy did anything comparable in our neck of the woods. Apparently, nearby Ocean City was getting some heavy winds, too, sustaining heavy damage. The weather people admitted surprise–apparently it was something called a “sting jet” that doesn’t usually happen in tropical systems.
By early afternoon though, the wind had fallen off to a gentle bluster, and the sun had come out. It’s a gorgeous day, now.
What the Weather People Said
A few weeks ago, I wrote, among other things, that it’s important to notice the experts we rely on–and to notice them as individuals. I wrote about huddling in the bathroom during a tornado warning, anxiously watching for updates by an on-air meteorologist, and later not remembering who that was. That seemed wrong to me. Accordingly, this time I paid attention.
While huddling in the bathroom we were not watching a person, merely the work of one or more persons, as warning boxes appeared and disappeared on the online map. However, afterwards, watching TV, those were people, people who looked distinctly worried, people standing closer to the path of the eye than we were, people whose families may have been huddled in a guest bathroom at that moment, for all I know. Of course, they were all very professional about it.
Of course, one of them was Dan Satterfield, whom I have interviewed, and noticing a person I have interacted with, however briefly, comes naturally, but I also payed attention to his colleagues on-air and enjoyed noticing them work as a team–the complexity they all had to be keeping track of, monitoring various streams of information while simultaneously performing live on TV, was impressive (lots of weather teams do the same, of course; it’s still impressive). All of them had that focused, high-energy manner of people on deck in a storm real or metaphorical, and I imagine they were all having a great deal of fun, the sort of fun you don’t really notice until after the fact, in retrospect, when you know that nobody died on your watch after all.
(Isaias did kill at least one person in the Carolinas and another in New York, but I have not yet heard whether there were any fatalities in WBOC’s listening area)
Just before we finally lost patience with the terrible reception–a byproduct of the storm, of course–they said that something about Isaias was weird besides its name. I could not hear what the weird thing was. Maybe it was the sting jet. Maybe it was something else, or the sting jet and something else together. I keep checking social media, hoping for some elaboration there, but there has been nothing. I suspect they’re all at home now, asleep.
It’s been a long, difficult day.
Of course I’m not just telling you about my day. This here is a climate story. I am not yet aware of any particular climate connection for Isaias, some way that it is better than your average tropical cyclone for telling the climate story–although the aforementioned “weirdness” may turn out to be relevant.
Mr. Satterfield said, in our interview, that “climate is what you expect, weather is what you get.” Some of our climate expectations involve tropical cyclones, and today we got one. It’s worth noticing.
But I was also very struck, and not for the first time, by the urge to watch reality unfold on television. Yes, there was a practical element to wanting to watch the coverage, and yes, watching the team explain things would have been fun had I gotten better reception, but there is also a sense of being more connected, more in control, if one is getting the latest news on a thing. There is even some element whereby reality gets realer if seen on TV.
How much of reality gets on TV?
Mr. Satterfield mentioned climate change on social media relative to Isaias–someone had asked about the storm surge, and he responded by saying it wouldn’t be bad, but worse than it otherwise would have been without climate change. He’s good at calling a spade a spade, when the subject of digging comes up. But otherwise I haven’t seen the topic come up much of late. although it’s clearly relevant to both storms and to COVID-19.
What I’d like to see is a BIG climate march, the kind we’ve had before, the kind that gets LOTS of media attention, the kind that reminds us and our elected leaders that we care. Why isn’t this happening? Why are big climate marches no longer being organized in the US? For years there have been only small, local events that don’t get the coverage, or bigger, dramatic events that involve activists getting arrested–and therefore only draw those people comfortable getting arrested. Why? We need to get the revolution back on television.
Because as easy as it is to mock the televising impulse, and as genuinely questionable it sometimes is, societal self-reflection is a legitimate function of television. It’s part of how we interpret the world to ourselves.
Think of how it actually feels to watch, say, televised storm coverage?
It’s practically useful, of course. Climate change is an emergency, and just as in any emergency it’s helpful to have someone on TV explaining the scope of the problem and how and when to respond. But it’s also comforting to be told you’re not alone–it’s not just the weather people and the reporters, it’s the people they tell us about, the other people out there also getting wet, also getting blown around, also cowering in their guest bathrooms. It’s comforting to be told yes, you’re right, this is big. It’s comforting to be told you’re not a fool to be afraid.
You’re not a fool to want to take action, and there are other people taking this seriously, too.
We need to get the revolution back on television, because sometimes I feel like the water is rising, something or someone important is missing and needs help, and no one is listening to me.