Into the storm: Sandy hits NJ

The rain has started. A squirrel just scampered across the street, completely unaware that this rain is different: this one has a hurricane behind it. It will know soon enough.

And possibly things like barometric pressure do give animals some warning: yesterday felt eerie all day, and not because it was overcast, and still, and the TV was playing non-stop ‘coverage’ and hype. It FELT weird.

I’m sitting here, with squeaky-clean wet hair, in a warm house, wondering which of the many things we take for granted might disappear over the next few days. Our power lines are buried – but a tree across a supply line somewhere else can easily take our electricity out for days. Our refrigerator has ice cubes! My morning protein shake was produced with water, ice, electricity – and was as close to chocolate heaven as possible in a liquid: I wonder if there will be one tomorrow. We are so spoiled by modern conveniences.

Other people are already having their lives severely disrupted – but Sandy can only move so fast, and we must wait our turn to see if we are lucky. Or, rather, lucky this time. When I moved to NJ in 1981, hurricanes were not on the list of things to worry about. I didn’t have to contend with them while rearing children – a blessing. It is weird to have the land change under you.

I have friends in hurricane-prone areas: they knew going in what the possibilities were. I got an email this morning with advice: ‘when cleaning up, get your stuff out to the curb before your neighbors do’ so you are first in the pick up chain. Welcome advice – hadn’t thought of that. My friend in Florida has to deal with fallen tree limbs and flying debris scattered around her home – on a regular-enough basis to have knowledge of how to take advantage of the timing of garbage pickup after a storm.

Snow emergencies in NJ are crazy: people rush around buying extra milk, emptying the shelves of bread and batteries. But in 31 years I have never seen a time when the snow wasn’t cleared within a day so that people could get to a grocery store.

Now, with the change in weather patterns, I know people in NJ can be without electricity for many days – and I shudder to think of the cleanup. Hurricanes are different: the aftermath can be much, much longer. If you load up on perishables, and your electricity fails, or your basement floods, your advance planning can be moot. It happened just last year with Hurricane Irene.

Like many aging or disabled people, I don’t face cleanup with equanimity. Storms don’t care. Once this is through, I will remember to contribute more to disaster relief efforts elsewhere – going through it yourself raises consciousness, makes it personal. I could move – if there are safer places in the world. Many people – most people in the world – don’t have that option.

As a scientist, I know that if global warming models are correct, it is already too late to implement many of the measures humans could have taken. I can’t help wondering whether hurricanes in NJ are part of the cost of that inertia. My time scale is too short: there have been hurricanes in the past which affected the East Coast this far north. But dread isn’t a reasonable feeling.

Things have an odd way of coming together. They call it serendipity. I dunno, but I just checked my calendar, and tomorrow, the day the winds and the damage are supposed to be most extensive, I have an appointment for the company that maintains our solar panels. They would be working inside, installing a new meter required by the state so we can sell our power and solar credits: I hope the panels are still there when they come! And I don’t really expect the technicians to show up tomorrow (NJ keeps non-essentials off the road).

I hope WE’LL be here.

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