Thursday, September 13, 2007

Humberto: A night under the storm

The Enterprise newsroom, under wraps for Humberto

I decided to spend the night in the newsroom, waiting for Humberto. Not because I expect catastrophe, but because the predicted rainfall makes flooding likely between my home and our newspaper ... and flooding would make it hard to do the serious work of covering this storm.

The last advisory from the National Hurricane Center said Humberto was getting angry, gathering steam less than 50 miles off our coast. His winds had swollen to 65 mph and would get stronger, they predicted. In fact, when he makes landfall only a few miles from where Rita hit in 2005, Humberto would be roaring at near hurricane strength. Had Humberto enjoyed a running headstart at us, he might have been a real bruiser.

The last news deadline passed and we unfurled blue tarps -- God, it looks like FEMA exploded in the newsroom -- to protect computers from any roof leaks that might spring under 5 to 15 inches of rain and near-hurricane force winds. We don't think the roof will fail ... but we watched it cave in two years ago and those images are hard to shake. Yeah, paradox runs thick right now. We remain confident that Humberto will not scrape across us like Rita, but he might bring some of his own wickedness to town and we are reluctant to be too sanguine about a mere "tropical storm."

A few minutes ago, I walked out onto the parking garage's roof under light rain and a gentle breeze. The night sky was the color of bruised salmon as refinery lights reflected off low clouds that scuttled eastward like slow-freight trains passing a bum. The next few hours should swell to a frenzy of water and wind. Tomorrow might be a difficult commute for everyone, but we'll know more by dawn. And if we're lucky, Humberto will rush off to die an unceremonious death in Mississippi.

More as the night unfolds .....

UPDATE 12:15 A.M. -- Humberto is now officially a hurricane. A buoy in the Gulf recorded sustained winds at 74 mph -- just one mile-per-hour above the minimum speed for a hurricane. So suddenly, Southeast Texas will absorb its second hurricane in two years, a rather ignominious distinction. Oh well, I hope we act like we've been here before, and not as if this is our first trip to the freak show.

Humberto will hit within the next 1-2 hours. A Weather Channel reporter on Crystal Beach remarked a few minutes ago that an unusual number of frogs were scattered all over the sand there. My first thought was, "Brave amphibians." But then it occurred to me that if you're an amphibian, maybe you needn't be brave in the face of a hurricane. Go figure.

I'm going to sleep in my car in the newspaper's parking garage tonight. Maybe in a few hours I'll wander down to the street for a ringside seat on another thriller. Might as well look it square in the eye.

See you in a few hours ....

UPDATE 2:50 AM -- About 40 miles from where I sit right now, Hurricane Humberto has made landfall in a Category-One churn of 80 mph winds and presumably some unlucky frogs. The thrum of driving rain and modest winds here make sleeping in the echo-y parking garage almost as difficult as sleeping below the flight deck on the USS Enterprise during the round-the-clock bombing of Afghanistan ... a bunk where I never got a good night's sleep. But more than the echoes, the occasional, ever-so-slight jarring of my Subaru made it even more restless.

And this is just Humberto's overture. The serious wind and rain is still a few hours away, even though the storm has likely begun to dissipate as it crosses the energy-draining land. Most people are sleeping through this part of the storm. Let's hope Humberto rolls into town on wobbly legs, more spent than energized.

UPDATE 5:30 AM -- Our power has been out for a couple hours. I hooked up my laptop on battery power to a secure landline. We have had reporters and photographers in the field all night and I know they're OK because they're posting to our website. A fresh, new wave of reporters will start arriving soon. The sun will rise and Humberto will keep running east until he's out of steam.

Tonight, I stood in the doorway of our Main Street parking garage and watched Humberto rage ... just as I watched Rita two years ago. Humberto lacks her guttural growl, her raw fury, her intensity, her sadism. He's a rookie hurricane, without the seasoning that a week in the Gulf offers. For the moment, it seems that all he had in him was a power outage and some flooded streets ... but we'll know much, much more when the sunlight can pierce Humberto's thick, gray poncho. And a lot of people will awaken to the remnants of this storm and later, they'll tell all their friends that they slept through a hurricane.


Love, Rita said...

I didn't find out Humberto had grown in strength to a Category I hurricane until my alarm went off this morning and I turned on the news, as I always do. I live not far from the Texas/Lousiana border, about 2 hours from Beaumont.

I don't expect to experience much more than heavy rain and some wind.

It was a nice surprise for my supervisor to call and tell me NOT to try to come in.

Now I can go sit outside on the deck and watch the storm!

Jill said...

Nice reporting! Hope everything turned out for you. Here near Jersey Village I watched the clouds roll in and decide they had nothing to offer us. I was expecting at least a little rain, but we got nary a drop.