Forecasters this morning believe TS Rita will dip slightly to the south of Galveston, making landfall between Galveston and Corpus Christi overnight Friday-Saturday. That's slightly better news for us, but as Katrina proved, these beasts are unpredictable. A wobble here or wobble there can send it where you didn't expect. Beaumont remains conspicuously in the "cone of possibility." Voluntary evacuations have been announced in some neighboring counties, and a local decision is expected today or tomorrow. Rita's southerly drift invites a sigh of relief, but none here will turn their backs on her yet.
Mother Nature is perverse, isn't she? At the paper, we want to be neither alarmist nor sanguine. This is an odd moment, this calm before the storm. Everything is a portent of some kind: 100-plus degrees is forecast on Wednesday (warmer Gulf waters will energize the storm); a cold front has dropped down from Canada (if it bumps our current high-pressure system out of the way, the hurricane could slip past its flank and smack us) ... and so on.
I'm a Rocky Mountain kid. Changing climate and weather seem to be a part of every decision, unlike the lion's share of days on the Gulf Coast. But hurricanes are different animals altogether. They focus you. I'm alternately fascinated and awed by their power. In the Western interior, a drought, a wildfire, a blizzard, a flooded river, or a series of tornadoes are the most common menaces; a killer earthquake is possible, but rare. Here on the Gulf Coast, we follow one or two dozen tropical storms and/or hurricanes every year. The people of the Gulf are more resigned to the inevitability of being hit eventually; they even reckon there's a time when good luck has run out, and it's utterly natural to expect a big blow. Excepting cyclical droughts and heavy spring snows, I didn't grow up with any similar resignation that I'd eventually be touched by a major disaster.
Some of the older hands around here approach the tasks with that certain resignation; others are more anxious. I suspect what we're seeing will only get more amplified as both we and the storm near the end of the week. The Lake Charles (La.) American-Press has generously opened his newsroom to us, should we need it (and ours is open to Lake Charles.) I called Managing Editor Bobby Dower this morning, just to introduce myself, so it wouldn't be a stranger calling under fire later this week if we needed to move our newsroom operations. Bobby said: "At times like this, ever since Katrina, nobody's a stranger."
The likelihood that we'll be covering the aftermath of a hurricane here or nearby remains high. It can drain energy and wisdom. Being in the midst of any dangerous situation can challenge your emotional equilibrium, so it's not too soon to begin the process of girding yourself for long, arduous hours, dealing with people in extreme circumstances, and seeing things that maybe you've never seen before. If none of that happens, it doesn't hurt to have prepared yourself for it. With luck, life will proceed -- at least within our view -- as normal.
But preparation is wise. I live in a flood zone, so last night I moved some books, artwork and other valuables upstairs from my ground floor. I collected the hard-copy file boxes for two unpublished books, backed up (again) computer files containing books I've written or imagined-on-paper, family photos and the entire cerebral cortex of my computer life, in case I need to make a quick getaway. Rita can take the DVD player, the sofa, the cheap pots and pans -- although I'm certain my insurance agent would prefer for me to move it all to the attic! I brought my laptop, digital camera, bedding and sleeping bags, a couple cases of water, some cereal and peanut butter to the office.
Most of us didn't get into newspapering to write about teddy-bear collectors and humorous high school mascots. We didn't hire on at a newspaper simply to show how many colors and shapes we could fit on a fresh sheet of newsprint. We became newspapermen and -women so we could tell the right story at exactly the right moment and somehow everything after would be better for it.
For myself, I don't wish devastation to happen anywhere. I'd be exceedingly pleased if Rita dissipated into nothingness in the middle of the Gulf. There'll be other moments for stories. But if she hits here or nearby, we'll do what we're meant to do: Tell the story the best we can. All in all, I'd rather be the one telling than hearing. I trust that.