Growing up in Florida I was no stranger to natural disasters. We had hurricanes, tornados, and floods every year. I can even remember a couple years that it actually snowed and for Florida that can be a natural disaster in it’s self. The hurricanes would come and that meant only one thing…..HURRICANE PARTY! Yes it’s true, we were always looking for a reason to throw a party and what better reason than a hurricane. Of course what always came after were the tornados and flooding.
I always found it facinating that for some odd reason the tornados only destroyed trailer parks. It’s like they attract tornados or something. Very weird. We had one trailer park were I lived that constantly got hit, one tornado after another yet they wouldn’t move or just shut down and build houses. Never got that one, some people just don’t learn I guess.
Anyway, I had been through so many Hurricanes and tornados, it was like second nature for me. Sure the devistation they caused, the lives lost, and property destroyed was devistating and I felt bad for those who prepared for it and still got hit but it was just a way of life. So in 2008, when my wife, then girlfriend and her two children were living in Houston Texas with a Hurricane bearing down on them it wasn’t a big deal to fly out and ride out the storm with them.
Afterwards, we decided to drive around and see the damage and get out of that hot apartment because we lost power during the storm so it was hot as hell. There were a lot of lines down, signs down and flooding, everything you would expect. The above picture is of the flooding that day in Houston, TX.
Riding out the storm as it passed over us, losing power, seeing the distruction and flooding was a reminder of growing up in Florida as the Hurricanes would hit us, year after year, and here yet again living in Virginia I had to deal with another Hurricane, downed trees, in the road, flooding, and powerlines down. I guess no matter where I live i’ll never escape these things.
So I told you about the trailer park that got hit by tornados repeatedly, here’s another tornado story for you. When I first came in the Air Force I was an A1C (Airman First Class) stationed at Cannon AFB, Clovis, New Mexico, the tail end of Tornado Alley. At that time, they had at both ends of the runway what they called ROM shacks. What they would do is have on Airman man these ROM shacks during flying hours. You sat out there alone with a pair of binoculars and watched each jet take off and land to ensure nothing fell from the jet and the landing gear came up or went down as appropriate and if something was wrong, called the tower to let them know.
So I’m sitting out there by myself and I see several miles away in my binoculars a tornado bearing down on us. I call the tower and ask if they see it as well. They say they do. I ask if they plan to send someone to get me, since I can’t just walk across the runway, and they say yes someone will be there in 5 mins. So I’m waiting and watching this slow moving tornado, 20 minutes later and the tornado is within a half a mile out and I’m still sitting in the ROM shack. I call the tower back and ask “when is my 5 min ride going to show up cause it’s been 20 minutes and that tornado is just about on me and if they don’t get here soon their gonna see me running across the airfield.” Their response “No one has picked you up yet?” Well let’s see….considering anyone entering the runway you have to approve and if you haven’t approved anyone I’d say the answer is NO! “Someone will be right there!” “They sure as hell better be.” Within in 2 minutes someone was there picking me up and speeding away. It just so happened that tornado turned before it got to us then disappeared. 4 months later they stopped manning those shacks and I had never manned one again.
I remember moving to Alaska in May 1995 and despite the cold I absolutely love the state. It’s the most beautiful place I have ever been and I have been a lot of places. Anyway, we move there, rent an apartment in North Pole, Alaska, and this apartment is half underground, half above ground which was kinda cool. June rolls around and one day suddenly the apartment starts shaking, pictures starts shaking, I had to grab the gas lanterns before they fell off the hutch and I thought WTF is this an earthquake? I had never been in one before and to be honest I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I got the kids, at the time I just had 2 and we got in between the door beems to the bedrooms, the kids didn’t know what was going on and I was laughing my ass off I was so excited. I couldn’t believe I was actually experiencing an earthquake. After several minutes it stopped. I found out later Alaska happens to have them constantly and that wasn’t the last one I felt. It like the hurricanes, tornados, and flooding, after 9 years became a way of life.
Another event I will never forget happened also while I lived in Alaska. I was working in weather and a Volcano in the Cook Inlet decided it was going to wake up. So it was the job of the weather flight to forcast the ash plume. Yes I didn’t think it could be done but it can. You basically are predicting, based on the winds and storms, etc where the plume and ash are going to flow and who will be effected. It just so happened that ash drifted over us, it wasn’t a lot but enough to say it was a weird experience.
And lastly, is the wildfire. Now, growing up in Florida, during the summer with no rain, we would have fires all the time, you’d see and smell the smoke and it seemed to last forever but I never really got up close and personal with them until I lived in Alaska. We were on a road trip one summer and there were wildfires raging across Alaska and it just so happened our destination took us through those wildfires. So driving to and from there was a section of highway where we are driving and the fires are burning not 15 feet from us off the road and on the way back the fires were within 5 feet. Needless to say I definitely stopped to take pictures. I had never been this close to a wildfire before and to me this was another one of the coolest things ever.
So, though I haven’t been in a mud slide, rock slide, or seen lava flowing, or even a sunami, I have seen my share of natural disasters. They are devestating but at the same time, at least for me, amazing forces of nature and I have some amazing memories and cool experiences because of them and wouldn’t trade them for the world.