It feels like a long time since I last wrote, and I miss it. Writing my experiences in this on-going journal is enjoyable and cathartic. Recently, however, I have been occupied with memorization and studying such that I had little time to reflect upon and re-write my adventures into something that sounded like an exciting life. Then Hurricane Dennis hit Pensacola. And though this kind of weather probably seems far away to most of you (it always did to me), it is a very big deal here.
I didn’t really pay attention to the path of Dennis (reported in the news) as it traveled up through the Caribbean past Haiti and Jamaica. When it closed in on Cuba, the hurricane watchers here at Naval Air Station Pensacola decided to cancel activities last Friday and fly the planes out to a safer location. As our collective eyes turned toward the storm, it aimed toward us much as Ivan did last November, and we were told to evacuate. There were all hands meetings Thursday afternoon and Friday morning to officially secure the Naval Air Station and evacuate all personnel by Saturday morning at six.
I left Pensacola on Friday morning under clear, beautiful skies. I was headed to Chapel Hill, NC, to take refuge with a high school friend of mine there. I drove past long lines at the few gas stations that still had fuel. The superstores (Wal-mart, Target, etc) had posted large signs listing products they were out of (plywood, lumber, fresh water, and so on). The radio stations were broadcasting National Weather Center flood warnings, potential evacuation orders, and hurricane advisories. This all stood in stark contrast to the absolutely pristine weather throughout the Southeast United States that day. It all seemed very ironic.
For those of you under the impression that western States are big, and eastern ones are small (as I used to be), let me be the first to disabuse you. Twelve hours I drove that day, all of it on the freeways and none of it in traffic. However, my friend made me very welcome, and the evactuaion felt more like a vacation. Essentially, I spent a carefree weekend checking out the college hangouts of UNC Chapel Hill. The only dose of reality I had was my morning telephone call to my class leader, letting him know I was alive, and periodic visits to the Weather Channel. I have to admit, it looked pretty menacing for most of Saturday and Sunday. Dennis followed the same path as Ivan, and predictions continued to place Pensacola right in the middle or just to the east of the middle of his projected path. East of the eye is the most dangerous place to be in a hurricane. The earth’s rotation, called the “Corialis Force,” imparts a counterclockwise motion to air around a low pressure area, which means that to the east of the hurricane, the wind is blowing off the ocean and has greater force than wind coming off the land (on the western side of the eye).
We were lucky, though. Dennis moved northward and came ashore right at Pensacola Beach, to the east of the city – the best possible scenario. There was minimal damage.The Navy Base was largely unaffected. I got the call to come back on Monday morning, and by the early afternoon I was on my way. Power had largely been restored to the Pensacola area by 11 PM as I drove in (though there continues to be a gasoline shortage), and at nearly every intersection there were state troopers and workmen repairing traffic lights, signposts, and power lines.
So the adventure ended well. I am impressed by the people of Pensacola and its environs. Everybody I met was more than willing to help with evacuation and hurricane preparedness, and most were calm and proactive about getting out. I had vague ideas of mass panic and desperate shortages at the onset of a hurricane, but Pensacola had prepared well (though, to be fair, it has significant previous experience) and the repairmen have worked straight shifts since Monday afternoon to restore power, put the traffic grid back together, and direct the return of evacuees.
I have just finished putting my apartment back together – pulling televisions out of closets, replacing the valuables that I carried with me, and resetting all the clocks. I have a test soon, and the next phase of flights is imminent, but such things are far from my mind. As I write this, Tropical Storm Emily is spinning north out of the Atlantic toward the Caribbean. Here we go again…