Storm chasing

My triumphant return to the northeast somehow became a story about a hurricane.  In the last 48 hours leading up to my dawn flight from Tucson to Manchester NH, I was suddenly getting emails (and a blog comment) from friends & family who were concerned about my apparent interest in flying into the midst of a famous hurricane, namely Irene.

Not to worry.  My flight was via Chicago, which meant that I didn’t need to worry much about in-flight weather and also that there would be an astonishing rarity in these days: a plane with lots of empty seats.  86 people on the Tucson-Chicago leg bailed out presumably because they couldn’t get their connections to eastern seaboard cities like Washington DC, New York, Baltimore, and Norfolk.  Without all the crowding, it was like flying in the 20th century.  (The illusion would be complete if only I didn’t have to turn my head and cough at the security checkpoint.)

We landed in Manchester in the late afternoon on Saturday, when people in North Carolina and Virginia were firing up their generators and bailing water, with only scattered clouds and no rain.  But not for long — the long gray tendrils of Irene reached us that evening and the excitement began.  Being from the area and having seen many an expiring hurricane dawdling up the east coast, I knew what to expect.  By the time they get up around Boston, the weather event is basically a lot like every summer afternoon in central Florida: torrential rain, occasional high winds, predictable flooding, plus a local bonus lots of hyper-excited news coverage.  I met my long-lost wife and we went out for dinner, then spent the night at a hotel listening to the splatter of an overloaded rain gutter splash the window.

The next day at noon, we took to the road.  The trusty GL was as surefooted as always, making the 200 mile drive up I-93 and I-89 a non-event for the most part, despite constant heavy rain.  Swish-swish went the wipers, the tires sliced through the puddles (as long as I stayed at a reasonable speed, far below the posted limit), and inside we had plenty of time to talk and listen to podcasts.  The best part was that virtually nobody was out, so the highways were wide open and there were no yahoo drivers to avoid.  We paused in Hanover NH near Dartmouth College to take in a long lunch and were the only people in the Chinese restaurant.  On the other hand, it was a bit sad to see spots where the White River and others had apparently overflowed their banks and flooded some farms and homes.  Up on the high ground of the Interstate we had little to complain about, but down below the damage was quite obvious and I’m sure many people are having a really rough time at the moment.

All of this is a long way of saying that we drove through a tropical storm (“hurricane” status having been stripped from Irene about the time she arrived in Massachusetts) for four hours and the most exciting part was lunch.  Things got considerably more interesting once we pulled into Vermont, where the Airstream has been stored all summer.  I was concerned that a tree branch might have fallen on the roof, but no.  The lake was rolling with huge widely spaced waves like you’d expect on Lake Michigan, not on our relatively small “sixth Great Lake.”  The power went out at the house, because this is Vermont and that’s what happens in virtually every storm.  We hung out with the family by candlelight for a while, then fired up the noisy backup generator that services the house on these occasions.

The Airstream needed no external power, of course, but as we attempted to sleep we were located far too close to the generator’s Sturm und Drang cacophony and it was a bit like being at the worst rally of our lives.  No “generator hours” here; we were the guests and without the generator the basement sump pumps in the house would cease working and then we’d have our own little tale of flooding to tell.  So we endured some noise until about 3 or 4 a.m., when the generator finally ran out of gas.  At 5:30 the hard-working representatives of Green Mountain Power arrived with a powerful chainsaw and proceeded to spend about half an hour rescuing power lines.  It was not the best night for sleeping, but the power was back on when we finally awoke for the fourth or fifth time.

And today it is the classic “day after” a major storm: startlingly clear skies, a beautiful view of New York state across the open waters of Lake Champlain, and the ground littered with downed branches.  I got out the wheelbarrow, ladder and tree trimmers, and with a little help from Emma cleaned up the overhanging branches in the driveway so that the Airstream will be able to depart in a few days.  The trees needed trimming anyway.  Tonight, friends will come over for dinner on the deck.  A precious few warm days remain up here in northern Vermont, so we’ll make the most of them while plotting a convoluted route down the east coast and across the south, in the Airstream, during September.

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Editor & Publisher of Airstream Life magazine