PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Sea storms – hurricanes and Pacific typhoons, tropical storms and Nor’easters are awesome in their visual drama, strength and magnitude. Their destructive power is almost incomprehensible. We are drawn to them like magnets. You may have heard that Hurricane Season here officially begins on June first and will last through September. It can have significant implications for Delaware Valley getaway and recreation seekers. But here is a list of do’s and don’ts when a storm is arriving and departing. All are based on personal experience as a Coast Guardsman and later, a reporter.
It was about 15 years ago. A Tropical Storm had barreled through the region, leaving streams, creeks and rivers flooded well beyond their banks. The storm had past, but the waterways were racing when 4 friends decided it would be great fun to challenge the rapids in a pair of canoes on the Perkiomen Creek. The canoes crashed on flooded land in Montgomery County. With the water still rising, they managed to climb a pair of trees. They were stranded. Water rescue crews were unable to help. It took a Coast Guard helicopter from Atlantic City to pluck them out of the branches. Never test your small craft skills against the tail of a storm.
One of the most heart wrenching experiences for our Coast Guard Air Detachment in Bermuda came on the eve of an approaching storm in 1954. The already roiling water against a Bermuda sunset was too much temptation for one of the crew. He took his new bride for a walk on a jetty to watch one of nature’s most dramatic events. Without warning, a powerful wave crashed on the rocks, when it receded, she was gone and never found. Avoid the temptation to get up close and personal with unpredictable weather. It can ruin a getaway in a split second.
Covering Tropical Storm Allison at Rehobeth Beach, Delaware in 2001, the sky and sea created an amazing panorama. A Philadelphia TV crew was shooting a segment for a later news show when directly behind the reporter with his back to the sea, a pair of dolphins leapt from the water and framed him in beautifully choreographed back flips. He never knew until he saw the tape. But out of the corner of my eye, while this was happening, I spotted a dad and son, about 5. The boy was playing near the rough surf. Dad was not holding a hand. Mom was nearby, let out a shriek and dad got the message. Keep children safely away the surf line.
The Collegeville Pharmaceutical executive was in a rush to get home on a storm punctuated night in 2002. He and his wife were leaving for a long planned trip to Paris. He was late getting away from the office and decided to take a shortcut across the Arcola bridge. But there was a police barricade and a sign warning of flooding. He moved the barricade and drove onto the darkened span. His body was found the following morning as the receding waters revealed the roof of his car, swept 100 yards from the road. Barricades and warning signs are in place for a reason. Failing to heed them can be fatal.
Hurricane Irene was approaching the New Jersey shore. There was plenty of warning. But it was a busy weekend in Cape May and the storm was expected to hit on Sunday. Emergency Management people were “suggesting” visitors leave early. Envisioning highway clogging traffic, Mary and I took off for home at sunrise on Saturday. It was a traffic free drive. News reports later that day and early Sunday detailed the long bumper-to-bumper crawl from shore to Philly and the burbs. When storm warnings go up and threaten a shore getaway, just get up and go. Save yourself a white knuckle drive. There’ll be many more shore weekends ahead.
FLOTSAM AND JETSAM
Boaters are well aware of storm warnings and allow plenty of time to get back to home port or a “Hurricane Hole”. But often forgotten is the aftermath of a storm as tons of flotsam and jetsam are swept down our major waterways. What’s the difference? Flotsam is stuff found in nature like uprooted tree trunks and branches. Jetsam is swept from ships and shore, like cargo containers and lawn or porch furniture. They become hazards that can easily punch holes in fiberglass hulls. It’s especially dangerous on the nearby Chesapeake Bay when the Conowingo Dam is open to spill the swollen Susquehanna River water into the bay. After a storm has blown through, always check Coast Guard Local Notice to Mariners reports and monitor VHF channels 16 and 22.
Fortunately these are not frequently occurring events. But in a lifetime of Hurricane Season getaways you will likely encounter a few. Just be ready, follow the long established safety guidelines, use common sense and summers will be a breeze instead of a tempest.