Hurricane Dean is lining up to "thread the needle," to shoot the Caribbean gap between Cuba and South America where it will encounter few of the land masses that sap a tropical storm's energy. That means it's getting a running head-start into the Gulf of Mexico, churning and boiling ever-harder and ever-faster as it approaches.
Two years ago, I began to watch then-Tropical Storm Rita as she lined up to shoot the Florida Straits. She did, became a hurricane ... and rammed Southeast Texas. Rita's physical reverberations are still being felt today, 23 months later. The low-grade nervous fear will last a lot longer.
Dean is probably 6 days away from hitting anywhere in the western Gulf, but Southeast Texans -- who had always sniffed at approaching storms before Rita -- are already considering where they might land in an evacuation. They are playing "contraflow chess" in their minds, trying to guess which roads a couple million Houstonians will clog if they, too, evacuate in another Texodus. They are calling grandma in Texarkana, auntie in Midland and old college roommates in Tulsa. Rita was the hot stove and nobody wants to touch it again.
I wrote here two years ago that you know you live on the Gulf Coast when you don't feel the least bit guilty about hoping that a hurricane hits somebody else. It's not unneighborly, malicious or uncharitable. It's an all-too-human prayer. You simply don't want this catastrophe to be visited upon you or your neighbors. Your mind wants to see the squiggle on the weatherman's map whip a U-turn back to open water, or to simply fizzle out over open water. Anywhere but here.
Once you've huddled in the humid dark beneath a growling storm that is ripping your roof out by its roots, you never want to turn off the lights again. Once you've come home to find a 100-foot pine sliced through your living room -- and another through your bedroom -- you never want such a homecoming again. Once you've spent two year wrangling with insurance agents and roofers, you cannot imagine wasting another two years of your life in such a frustratingly endless loop.
Yet, here comes Dean. In all likelihood, he'll miss Southeast Texas. Still, everybody is watching, hoping to see the squiggle careen elsewhere. A hot stove creates powerful memories.