If you’re like me, you’ve been going online every hour or so to check the latest storm path tracking models.
My favorite is the spaghetti model that shows every model in existence at once, including of course the European model, so we can get the best possible idea of what may or may not happen to us here in the Chattahoochee Valley.
My family could have used this technology in September of 1979.
We were vacationing on the Gulf of Mexico, off Highway 30A. It was a simpler time, before pastel-colored boutique villages popped up along the Florida beaches and everybody in the Southeastern United States with a luxury SUV put one of those 30A sunshine stickers on their back windshield.
We were renting a weathered old house right on the ocean. At night we feasted on boiled shrimp and played board games, and during the day we rode the waves on tractor-trailer tire inner tubes.
And the waves were awesome. We weren’t sure why, until a helicopter from the Federal Emergency Management Agency flew overhead and ordered us via a loudspeaker to evacuate immediately.
Something about Hurricane Frederic.
We had friends who lived 30 or 40 miles inland, so we packed up the station wagon and headed there. The owners of the beach house said we could return the next day if it was still standing.
I remember lying in a sleeping bag on a shag carpet in Defuniak Springs, Fla., listening to the storm rattle the windows and shake the trees.
In the morning, our station wagon was still there, so we headed back to the beach. The house was standing.
We finished our vacation. The waves were still awesome, and we saw Jimmy Carter fly down the coast in a gigantic helicopter.
If back then we’d had smart phones and spaghetti models and Jim Cantor, then we wouldn’t have been anywhere near the state of Florida.
Instead, we took our vacation as planned, and boy was it exciting.
Today, technology sometimes gives us early warning.
But not always.
Sixteen years ago, and one day shy of exactly 22 years after Hurricane Frederic hit the Gulf, I was back on the beach with my own family.
This time there was no hurricane, and we’d have known it because we now had about a hundred television channels and the Weather Channel was one of them.
It was just before 9 a.m. and I was still in bed. My 19-month-old son pushed the door open, found the remote and turned on the television.
A tall building was burning. I turned it off.
“You shouldn’t be watching that,” I said.
I thought it was the movie “Die Hard,” with Bruce Willis. I’m not kidding.
We went downstairs and ate some cereal and then went out on the beach. We built a big sandcastle and went swimming in the ocean. I had just stretched out in a lounge chair when Bess called from the porch.
Something terrible had happened.
It was Sept. 11, 2001.
It was a brilliant day at the beach, the sun beaming and not a cloud in the sky. But when I remember that vacation, those days were foggy and dark, as if a deadly storm were brewing on the horizon.
We didn’t know a storm was coming and we didn’t know the route it might take or when it would end.
And then it happened. We mourned, we started singing “God Bless America” at baseball games, and we figured out how to get on with our lives.
That storm seemed to have a clear beginning, but it hasn’t ended.
Its presence doesn’t make the occasional Category 5 hurricane seem any tougher or any easier.
It’s just different, and something we’ve got to live with.