When the Hurricane of 1938 slammed into Westhampton Beach as the single worst disaster to have hit that town back then, there was no weather service worth its salt to tell anybody it was coming. It was reported off Miami, then they got a call from North Carolina. Rain and wind, the weather service called for—if you happened to be listening to the radio.
This storm was so incredible, it destroyed hundreds of homes, flooded downtown, killed about 35 people, wiped the mansions off Dune Road and blew open the roof of the Village Hall, resulting in thousands of important village papers ultimately floating down into a forest in northern Vermont the next day.
Compare that to what we just had. There were ALERTS on the Weather Channel, EMERGENCIES DECLARED by the governor, 24 inches of snow predicted between Monday midnight and Tuesday noon. And then this blizzard, Nor’easter Norman or whatever, might swing around and blop us again on Wednesday.
Panicked crowds jammed the markets on the East End for firewood, bottled water, lanterns, kerosene, batteries and flashlights and canned goods. 25,000 flights were cancelled around the airports of the New York Metropolitan area. Southwest Airlines cancelled more than 1,000 of its flights coming into the northeast, diverting them to airports outside the danger zone. Two friends of mine, attending the South Southwest weekend in Austin, Texas had whimsically decided it would be appropriate to fly out to South by Southwest using Southwest Air from JFK to Austin and back. On Sunday, when the storm was imminent here, they changed plans. They’d fly to Charleston, South Carolina, rent a big car with snowshoes on it and drive it to Washington D.C., then take a cab to the train station and hope the Amtrak and Jitney could get through the drifts to take them home. When the storm was underway, I got a text from them that they had just completed the 9-hour drive from Charleston to Washington and asking, how were we doing out there? I had to tell them it was raining. They said that couldn’t be right. I said it wasn’t. What we got was rain.
I wrote a story published in Dan’s Papers last October that NASA had just launched a weather satellite so effective that when it went into service in November, they’d be able to predict when a rain squall would arrive down to the second. It would no longer be 80% chance of rain in 15 minutes. It would be rain in 15 minutes. I suggested that this might be taking all the fun out of life.
Well, that satellite is up but not yet operational, according to my contacts at the weather service. And so we had rain, no 24 inches of snow and no Hurricane Clarence or whatever.
I sometimes think we’d be just so much better off if we had no weather service. Think about it. Which is better, a forecast of wind and rain and then the worst disaster of the 20th century without any advance notice? Or advance notice of the worst disaster of the 21st century that puts you in a panic for an entire week before the date and then…Clarence the Clown. No contest, if you ask me.
Without the weather service, we could fall back on what the farmers and fishermen have to tell us about what kind of weather is coming. They have all sorts of homilies.
“A wet spring means plant your potatoes early.”
“Smoke on the horizon means fire’s a comin’.”
“Breeze from the south means rain tomorrow.”
“Plant tomatoes too early and you get tornados.”
“Hail in the morning means clearing by three.”
The President is looking for agencies he can cut out or gut for not doing their job. Maybe we could fire everybody and bring in some farmers and fishermen to send out their messages of the day.
Seems to have worked just fine before the National Weather Service poked their nose in things.