A blessing in the weather

Published 8:32 pm Monday, October 5, 2015

According to a June report published by the United States Census Bureau, it has been 10 years since a major hurricane has struck the U.S. mainland.

That marks the longest stretch of time we’ve gone without a Category 3 or above hurricane making landfall since the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Hurricane Research Division began recording the natural disasters in 1851. Prior to the current pause, the longest stretch has been eight years between 1860 and 1869 — 146 years ago.

That lull between natural disasters seemed as if it might end this weekend, as Hurricane Joaquin strengthened to a Category 4 while it rotated near the Bahamas. Many computer models had predicted the storm would make landfall as a Category 3 hurricane somewhere between the Outer Banks and New Jersey. One forecast predicted it would spin into the Atlantic without making landfall.

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As the weekend progressed, Joaquin drifted farther and farther away from the coast. What could have been devastating to Hampton Roads brought a share of wind and flooding on the level of a severe nor’easter, but those situations were like a summer shower compared to the damage that would have been caused if a Category 3 storm had hit the mid-Atlantic coast after so many days of rainfall from a separate storm had already left the ground saturated.

Our community has experienced its fair share of weather-related damage. We know well the level of destruction these types of storms can inflict. Whether it was the record floodwaters in Franklin from Hurricane Floyd or the damage caused across the state by Isabel or even the tornado that scrubbed whole neighborhoods in Suffolk, there’s no denying we’ve “been there, done that” when it comes to modern-day natural disasters.

We are supremely grateful to have been spared an up-close-and-personal look at Joaquin.

Yet even amidst that gratitude, we mourn with those communities that have lost lives and property to the storm. Both the Bahamas and South Carolina, in particular, were hit hard — the Bahamas directly, as the storm spun above the islands for 36 hours, and South Carolina indirectly, as Joaquin sat off the coast and fed moisture into another storm that already was causing major flooding.

The images of destruction from those two places are stark reminders of the true power of nature and of the blessing we experienced over the weekend, when a storm that had been expected to slam into our coast instead veered off into the North Atlantic.