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David Bouchier: A perfect storm

Chris Spannagle
Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

After Thanksgiving and Black Friday comes what I call Gray Monday, when we stand in line to return all the stuff we thoughtlessly bought just because it was on sale.

But there is good news. Tomorrow, November 30, is the official end of the Atlantic hurricane season. A few tornadoes skipped across Long Island a couple of weeks ago, and I’m inclined to hope that this was the last spiteful blow from the weather demon until the snow flies.

It seems that every year, without fail, the National Hurricane Center warns of more storm activity than usual along the East Coast. At the end of every hurricane season, they congratulate themselves because the weather was less devastating than they had predicted. This is really annoying, like those vague but empty terrorist warnings that suggest that something bad may happen, somewhere, sometime, so we had better watch out for whatever it is. Chicken Little seems to be acting as a consultant to several government departments — the sky is always falling. To be fair, every year a different set of experts warns that it will be a terrible summer for air travel, and this is invariably correct.

The trouble with worrying about unlikely disasters is that you could end up in the nursing home feeling cheated because none of them ever happened, and all your worrying had been for nothing. There’s almost nothing we can know for certain about the future. Meteorologists call their hurricane warnings “predictions,” because they are backed up with charts and maps of ocean temperatures, currents, winds, and so on. But there are so many shifting variables that you can no more predict hurricanes long-term than you can predict when the cat will get off your favorite chair. Such knowledge belongs only to the gods. Hurricane predictions have been wrong so often that they fall into the more ambiguous category of prophecies, or inspired guesses, like stock market forecasts.

Hurricanes and tornadoes certainly do grab our attention when they happen. A lot of people treat them as entertainment. There’s a special TV channel just for this curious obsession, and the internet is loaded with disaster footage that dwells lovingly on every vortex, so that enthusiasts can dedicate their lives to following the storm and gloating over the destruction.

Mother Nature can be an abusive parent, and hurricanes are one of the worst things she can do to us. They are blamed on everything from God’s vengeance to global warming. Nobody has thought of blaming social media yet, though they will. Long Island was practically blown off the map in 1938, and Sandy in 2012 was no joke either. The big trees overhanging the house, and the flimsy power cables running down the street are like a permanent Sword Damocles, just waiting for their moment.

You may say, as my mother would have done: “Don’t mention hurricanes, it’s bad luck.” This is an interesting survival of the ancient superstition that “naming calls” — if you mention a bad thing it will come, like the devil or certain politicians. It doesn’t seem to work for good things, like Danish pastries — I’ve tried. But there now, I have mentioned hurricanes, and tornadoes, perhaps a day too soon. Cross your fingers and hold your breath.

Copyright: David Bouchier

David began as a print journalist in London and taught at a British university for almost 20 years. He joined WSHU as a weekly commentator in 1992, becoming host of Sunday Matinee in 1996.