(Sept. 14) MOBILE, Alabama — For those of us on the central Gulf Coast, the ritual of tracking hurricanes involves a strange psychological tug of war between “been-there/done-that” disdain and a just-beneath-the-surface feeling of gnawing nervousness.

Modern meteorologists have become so accurate so often with storm-track forecasts that sometimes, we ignore their warnings that these tempests can change rapidly. If, five days from landfall, we in Mobile are told the quite likely track is for the eye to aim at New Orleans, 150 miles west-southwest of us, with maximum likely sustained winds of a weak Category 1 storm (about 75 miles per hour), we tend to shrug.

Yeah, we know that the vaunted “east side” of most of these gales is where the worst rain and storm surge will be, so even a New Orleans landfall will still likely give us some low-lying street flooding and some downed tree limbs. But those possibilities leave us almost blase. Sometimes, we handle such results even from pop-up summer squalls.

Then again, it seems as if roughly a quarter of the named storms do change projected tracks even when the meteorologists sound most certain of their forecasts, and a somewhat overlapping quarter of them strengthen unexpectedly. We darn well know that, but we act otherwise. If the current track doesn’t include us, well, we’ll wait until it hits somewhere else and then see if help is needed in the aftermath.

So, then, even though we know better, we can let ourselves get caught off guard….

Still, I look out the window and already see quick gusts bend the elephant-ear plants in odd directions, and I can literally feel the barometric pressure start to drop. There’s a weird anticipatory sensation, something like when one is in midleap into a spring-fed pool without having first checked to feel how cold the water is.

Yes, we hate these storms and wish they would fizzle into nothing. And now, we’re starting to really worry about this one…..

[The full column is here.]


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