Joyride Through Cyberspace By Caroline Wright
Tales of Wind & Rain
from the Internet Gazette, October 1999

This time last week, I sat downstairs in a candle-lit room in which all the windows were covered with particle board. I had marveled earlier at the silence created by the boards. Now I noted that the fierce winds were clearly audible through the barrier.

For the past three days I had been making frantic preparations for this storm. I'd stocked up on candles, fresh water, Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee, and propane. I'd gone searching for plywood in a lumberyard filled with grim-faced customers on identical quests. I'd visited the bank and withdrawn several hundred dollars in cash, in case the banks were blown away. I'd filled my cars with gas and refilled all my dad's prescriptions. I had anxiously fussed at my friends for their rash decision to stay on the coast through the storm, and I'd been overjoyed when they finally changed their minds and decided to evacuate --- to my place, ten miles inland.

Now I was almost too exhausted to be afraid. But with every shrieking gust of wind, I held my breath.

As we searched for storm updates on the battery-powered radio, we speculated quietly about the path of the hurricane and the terrifying possibilities. The last National Weather Service update we'd seen online, before the electricity went out, showed that Floyd was headed for Myrtle Beach like a damned bullet. If it made landfall, this storm, with winds at 155 mph., would be catastrophic. What would my friends find when they returned to their homes? Was my own house going to survive? Outside the wind blew so hard that our radio couldn't hold a station properly. We turned it off after a while and sat silently, thinking about how this storm could impact our homes, our towns, our lives.

Waiting For The Storm

How did people survive hurricanes before the advent of the Information Age? Well, considering the terrible devastation wrought by the Galveston storm in 1900, they didn't always do very well. Over 6,000 people died in that storm. I wonder how many lives might have been saved if Galveston, in 1900, had been online?

Almost 100 years later, a Galveston company has created an excellent Web site, with plenty of history and local information which will come in handy the next time a big storm blows through Texas. The site also contains some of the most useful checklists and hints for preparation I found online. And these folks don't mess around. Their pages are thorough and precise, filled with wisdom earned the hard way by a community that worked hard to rebuild itself.

You'd expect that the National Weather Service's Hurricane Watch Office would have a superb site, and it does. The color-enhanced satellite maps and aircraft reconnaissance images are comprehensive and detailed. Tracking charts can be downloaded and printed. As Hurricane Floyd neared the Bahamas, we followed the strike probabilities section in this site very closely, and I was glad to have the raw data to absorb at my leisure. This site is the one to watch when it's headed in your direction.

I remember waiting for Iniki to arrive, when I lived in Kailua on Oahu. My housemates and I played Monopoly and ate banana bread for long hours, and tried to remain calm for our children. Though we would later learn with sadness of the devastation in leeward Oahu and Kauai, we were all utterly relieved when the storm passed Kailua.

In my travels I found a page about Hawaii's hurricanes which should interest readers of the Internet Gazette. Dr. Stephen Businger from the University of Hawaii at Manoa has compiled statistics, photographs, charts, and fascinating tidbits of history, and put them all into a long article about Hawaii's cyclones. Check out the satellite image map of little Kauai in the dead center of the eye of Iniki, and the links to up-to-date weather information for the Pacific, provided by the UH Department of Meteorology.

The Department of Transportation provides road closure information for each state, which certainly helps with evacuation travel plans, as well as routes for return after the storms are over. But technical wizard C.S. Papacostas of UH's Department of Civil Engineering has found a creative way to improve this system, too. The Honolulu Traffic Cams, strategically placed at 68 locations around Honolulu, show the city's main arteries in real time. Kalanianaole Highway has cameras, as does H-3. Perhaps someday this site will include the H2 and Pali, and eventually the neighbor islands.

The Aftermath

When Hurricane Floyd arrived in my little corner of South Carolina, its power had diminished a great deal. But the storm still managed to dump over 17 inches of rain on my small town. This morning's paper was filled with photographs of my neighbors, evacuating their homes on the crumbling banks of the swollen Waccamaw River. President Clinton declared my county a disaster area on Tuesday. By the time the river finishes rising next Tuesday, it is expected that 3,000 people in this county many of them poor folks without flood insurance - will be homeless.

Luckily, I am on high ground. But it's still frightening. And when it's not frightening, it's simply heartbreaking. Public health officials are worried about contaminated water and mosquitoes bearing encephalitis; yesterday a truck drove down my little dirt road spraying a noxious-smelling poison. I talked the other day with a waitress at the Sidewheeler, a popular riverfront eatery in town. A few days prior, the woman had evacuated her home with only the clothes on her back. She told me that she might soon be jobless, as well; the muddy waters have risen, and are now lapping at the terrace of the restaurant.

Since my road is partially flooded, we haven't been receiving the newspaper, and I've been rather dismayed by what I consider poor television coverage of the flooding. The Waccamaw is expected to crest at 17 feet by next Tuesday --- ten feet over flood level. I'm worried about the long highway that connects my road with the world; it's already submerged to the east. Thankfully, I can keep abreast of the situation online; my local newspaper has created special Web pages with complete information on the rising waters. The pages include many photos of the Waccamaw, and of the people whose lives it is changing. If you're curious, I've provided a link below.

SITES TO SEE

Hurricane '99 (Galveston, TX)
http://hamptonroads.digitalcity.com/hurricane/hgalveston.htm

NWS' Hurricane Watch Office
www.nhc.noaa.gov

Hurricanes In Hawaii/Dr. Stephen Businger
http://lumahai.soest.hawaii.edu/Dept/meteorology/businger/hurricane/hurricane_poster.htm

Honolulu Traffic Camera System
www.eng.hawaii.edu/Trafficam

Flood photos/Myrtle Beach Sun-News
www.myrtlebeachaccess.com/flood/pictures.htm


Caroline Wright, of WRIGHT FOR YOU Word Services, is a freelance writer. A former resident of Hawaii, she now lives in rural South Carolina. Feel free to e-mail your comments to Caroline at cw@wrightforyou.com.