Thankful for the National Weather Service

Published 6:16 pm Saturday, September 3, 2016

In 51 years of living in Southeast and Southside Virginia, I’ve seen my share of tropical storms, nor’easters and hurricanes.

I was 4 when Hurricane Camille blew in, uncharacteristically, from the west, having mowed a path of devastation through the Appalachian Mountains, killing 259 people and causing more than $9 billion in inflation-adjusted damage.

The storm was a Category 5 hurricane when it slammed into the coast of Mississippi and had weakened to a tropical depression as it headed into Tennessee and turned east into West Virginia and then Virginia, bringing rainfall totals as high as 31 inches in some parts of the commonwealth.

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I was 7 when Hurricane Agnes hit the Florida panhandle in June 1972 as a Category 1 storm. By the time Agnes had tracked up the East Coast and back to sea from the Outer Banks, it was a tropical storm, but its rains brought widespread and severe flooding from Virginia to New York.

I watched on television in September 1999 as a Category 2 Hurricane Floyd smashed into the coast of North Carolina, and later that week I drove through a portion of inland North Carolina that had been underwater as a result of the flooding from the storm. For miles, the sides of the road were piled with the belongings of folks whose homes had been flooded.

Nearby, in Franklin, the downtown community was figuring out how to rebuild after it had been inundated. A combination of more than 10 inches of rain from the storm, along with soils already saturated from the passage of Tropical Storm Dennis just two weeks earlier had proved too much for the community.

My wife and I cooked food in a grill under our carport in Portsmouth after we’d lost power in Hurricane Isabel in September 2003, and we picked up fresh water from a Red Cross distribution center nearby. Our weeklong power outage was the least of our problems, as my mother’s house in North Suffolk was nearly encapsulated by fallen trees.

I cut a vacation short by a day in August 2011 to drive back to Suffolk to help cover the effects of Hurricane Irene. I remember, watching the trees swaying along Route 58 as we headed into the teeth of the storm, which had made landfall on the Outer Banks and moved into Virginia directly along our path.

The next day, I saw that a motorist had been killed along the same route when a tree fell along across the road in Brunswick County. I remember not wanting to tell my wife how dangerous our trip had been, but she already knew anyway — she’d watched the trees bending with the same worries I’d had.

What occurred to me on Saturday as the outer bands of Tropical Storm Hermine scraped past Western Tidewater is how blessed we are to live in a time when we have advance notice of these dangerous storms.

I can hardly imagine how terrifying it must have been for folks to awake to the pounding winds and driving rains of such powerful forces of nature without having been given any advance notice about them.

Even if we fail to take the recommended steps to prepare for these storms — and we all should — it’s almost impossible for Americans to be truly surprised by their arrival in modern times.

So today, I’m thankful for the National Weather Service and for the tools it has to predict and track dangerous weather conditions.