Storm Series, Part Two: Lessons Learned


Weather in South Georgia is not unpredictable. We always have super-hot summers and mild, short springs. Fall is usually an extension of summer with days warm enough for short-sleeves lasting through October, sometimes even November. Winter doesn’t really start until around January and even then, we can count on cold rain more than hard, deep freeze. From time to time, we can expect a tornado or two, or at the very least, a handful of warnings. In Southwest Georgia, we all know that hurricanes blowing in from the Gulf of Mexico have the potential to be more ominous than those from the Atlantic.

Sometimes though, weather alerts feel a little like The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Our local meteorologists warn us for days about the potential for high winds and monumental amounts of rain, only to receive a smattering of rain with winds that blow over an outdoor trashcan. Inconveniences at best.

Last week as storm warnings swirled around us, I was spent. Completely exhausted by the what-if’s that had plundered my mind like dirty, smelly pirates, those last surges of adrenaline were all mixed in with gratitude, thanksgiving, and praise. On Tuesday evening ahead of the hurricane predicted to make landfall the next day, I got the news I’d been waiting almost a week to hear, “There is no cancer.” I was a walking, tear-stained soup pot brimming with relief and joy of the purest kind.

It was only at this point I tuned-in to the enormity of the storm headed straight for our little corner of the world. Our local news station had already declared themselves a “Storm Center” and were practically standing on their heads. This was their Super Bowl. You could see the anticipation and excitement on their faces as they used words in dramatic voices like, “impending, category four, first-of-its-kind.”

In our family, I’m typically Paul Revere. Jamie, our perennial dose of calm, rarely gets ruffled. A family counts on those personality traits to remain consistent. This time though, I hadn’t been paying attention. I was only focused on a world of three: Jamie, Jack, and Colin.

Come Wednesday morning, I’d not slept particularly well the night before. I was too full of gratitude to sleep. I felt like Ebenezer Scrooge when he awakens on Christmas Day to a world of freshly fallen snow and opportunities for goodness in abundance.

The boys were on fall break already, so when I left the house much earlier than usual at 4:30 am, they were still snuggled deep into their pillows. Paisley was on guard at the foot of Jack’s bed. Colin, sleeping diagonally across his bed, didn’t stir when I kissed his cheek.  Jamie’s slow, steady, deep snore filled the hallway. “Thank you, God,” I whispered as I tiptoed down the hall, my heart full.

Outside, it was humid and warm. The rain was coming; I could feel it. I went to the office and tied up a few loose ends. I left work around 10:00 am. I told Jamie I’d stop in at Wal-Mart and pick up some water “just in case” before I came home.

The minute I pulled into the Wal-Mart parking lot, I knew I was late to the party. Shopping at Wal-Mart is tricky on a good day. In the middle of hurricane preparation, it’s an all-or-nothing free-for-all. There was no bottled water. The only peanut butter left was all natural, and that wasn’t happening. Not even when facing down a hurricane.  There was a little bread. No milk. I got a pack of hotdogs and some sausage. I wheeled over to the camping section and threw in a flashlight, batteries, charcoal, lighter fluid, swooped down the pet aisle and muscled some dog food into the buggy. I grabbed toilet paper on the way to the register.

A lady whizzed by me in a full-on panic, her buggy full of Little Debbie cakes. An older couple in line talked about propane. I felt horribly unprepared with my BIC lighter and hand sanitizer.

This is my first lesson, I thought to myself. I will never do this again. When this thing is over, I will clean out the cabinet in the laundry room and stock it with supplies: gallons of water, lighters, candles, non-perishable food, JIF peanut butter. I will never scramble in an emergency again.

When I got home, we all unpacked the car and organized supplies on the kitchen table. Jamie and I put the basketball goal on its side, so it wouldn’t get knocked over. We pulled the trash can into the garage. Jamie moved his little red truck that he had inherited from his grandfather Shorty to the middle of the yard in hopes it would be out of reach of any falling trees.

And then, we waited.

The rain and wind picked up a little throughout the afternoon. Joe Cantore was still on his feet and broadcasting from the beach. I figured if it were truly a category four hurricane, Cantore wouldn’t be standing. The television signal was lost and found. I popped a bag of popcorn at 4:30 pm and told Jamie I thought we had over prepared.

At 6:30 pm we lost power. Slowly, the wind picked up. What had been a soft plunk-dunk, plunk-dunk of rain against the chimney flue turned into a soft whistle and then a low roar of the wind. Sheets of rain slap-slap-slapped the dining room windows. I lit candles.

We were anticipating. For a little while, all four of us stood in our garage and watched the wind blow over the pine t