Hurricane Henri and How It Missed The Hamptons

Hurricane Henri arrives in the Northeast
Jonathan Coccorese watches waves at Ponquogue Beach as Hurricane Henri reaches Long Island, New York, U.S., August 22, 2021. REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs

Several weeks ago, I wrote a story in Dan’s Papers about hurricanes and their recent inability to hit the Hamptons. Not long ago we had major hurricanes every two or three years. Trees would fall. Roofs would blow off. Back then, practically none of these hurricanes ever got stuck in the Gulf of Mexico, unable to get here. But in the last 20 years, we’ve still gotten hurricanes, but almost none of them have come here. All rattle around in the Gulf of Mexico before burning themselves out.

However, I had come across a scientific study in The New York Times that gave proof of why this was happening. With global warming, the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean was weakening. Hurricanes coming across the Atlantic that got pulled north by the Gulf Stream were no longer doing so. Result? We were free from hurricanes.

I hesitated to write about this. Because I was certain that if I did, almost immediately, we’d get hit with a major hurricane. Such is the Rattiner jinx. But I had the facts. I published this story.

Just one week later, the fierce tropical storm Henri turned north as hurricanes used to do and headed our way. And the media reacted hysterically. It would become the worst thing to hit the Hamptons in 30 years, they warned. Officials urged mass evacuations. Power was sure to go out for weeks. Winds would exceed a hundred miles an hour. Trees would crash into homes.  Ships would be blown across Montauk Highway. Waves would be 20 to 30 feet high. Stay at home if you don’t evacuate. Or shelter in our firehouses and schools. This is a full-blown emergency.

In response, stores boarded up their windows. Dozens of cars lined up single file at every gas station to be topped off. People mobbed the supermarkets, clearing out anything in cans. Flashlights, candles, lanterns and batteries got sold in hardware stores by the carload.

Reports on social media quickly accelerated to life threatening, apocalyptic and once-in-a-hundred-years.

And the maps of the Eastern Seaboard on TV weather channels showed the location of the hurricane off Miami, with the projected cone passing Palm Beach, then Charleston, the Outer Banks, and then slamming into Southampton. Half an hour later, it continued that way. Now the very center of the projected cone was hitting Amagansett.

Video of the homes that collapsed in the Hurricane of ’38 were shown. “Brace yourselves,” a weatherman at Rehoboth Beach in Delaware said when the hurricane had moved up just offshore Cape May, NJ.

“Fill every large pot with water,” our town supervisor said. The point of impact was now Wainscott. And it would hit exactly at high tide. “It will come at dawn. Stay home. Lock your doors.”

Well, I had enough. Nobody makes a fool out of Dan’s Papers. Especially when I had the facts.

I loaded 12 cases of anti-ozone spray into the back seat of my car and drove to East Hampton Airport where, by prearrangement, I met with Scotty Birkenstock, an old high school I friend who owns a military helicopter that saw combat in Afghanistan. Because of the bullet holes, it got sold to him as war surplus. His firm, Bum-a-Ride, rents it out for $200 an hour. It was 6 a.m. on Sunday. I told him to gas it up for four hours.

We met, bumped elbows, carried the 12 cases into the jump space behind the pilot, put on parachutes and hopped up into the sky.

The wind was strong and we struggled along at a few hundred feet, but now I watched the weather maps on my iPad while sitting on a box in the jump space, and was able to direct Birkenstock due south to meet the hurricane head-on out in the ocean off Atlantic City.

“Looks like the track of the hurricane’s eye is heading a bit to the west,” said one weatherman. I ordered Birkenstock up to 2,000 feet and then to swing west so I could attack it from the side. As the helicopter rocked and turned this way and that, I opened both side doors of the jump space, took out a can of anti-ozone and began spraying at the storm. I went through three cans doing this, first running across the jump space from one side to the other, then returning to the middle and back to the iPad, then back to the open doors.

Suddenly, the Wi-Fi evaporated. I shouted to Birkenstock to race back and circle around the Southampton communication towers where, briefly, I got a signal.

“The cone is shifting east a bit unexpectedly,” the weatherman said. “Now it looks like the eye will come ashore at Montauk.”

We kept this up for two hours. Fire the no-ozone from the west, then scoot back to the communications tower then out to fight further. Twelve cans in each of three of the cardboard cases got empty.

“Here it comes,” a weatherman said. “It’s going to pass Montauk 15 miles out to sea.  It’s gaining strength. The new landfall now is Westerly, Rhode Island. Hang on.”

“We’re running low on gas, captain,” Birkenstock said.

“Just another twenty minutes,” I shouted, grabbing another spray and throwing the empty one out into the sea.

As I said, nobody makes a fool out of me and Dan’s Papers.

And so I now emptied the whole four cases of spray and split the storm in two, the cone reeling to the east, the winds, lightning, thunder and rain heading west toward Manhattan and Westchester.

The Hamptons were now clear. No hurricane.

When we returned to the airport and set down, I was informed by the control tower that there were more than 120 complaints about our chopper. There were also 22 tickets waiting for me, seven for flying too low over populated areas, eight for trashing the ocean and seven for polluting the atmosphere with some cockamamie ozone spray.

Birkenstock wanted to give everybody in the control tower the bum’s rush, but I told him to forget it and gave him an extra $100 besides the $400 I owed him, cash on the barrelhead.

People are spoiled, that’s all. And if the events don’t match the facts, I fix them so they do. Otherwise, what’s it all about?

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