It was Tuesday, Oct. 1, and I was surprised to find this question bouncing around my mind:
Is it time to remove the hatchet from the attic?
I was surprised because in a normal year that query isn’t considered until hurricane season officially closes at the end of November. Then again, this was far from a normal year.
Back in May the nation’s hurricane experts sent a flood of fear across the delta by warning us to expect one of the most active storm seasons in years. They almost guaranteed a seven-month stretch of non-stop doom, a period when Mother Nature would be throwing haymakers with the frequency and accuracy of Mike Tyson in his prime.
By the end of May my memories of moldy sheetrock had come on so strong I began storm prep. The generator was repaired and supplies were stocked: five-gallon cans of gas, cases of water, freeze-dried foods, fuel for the camp stove, batteries for everything, extra dog food, first-aid kits, evacuations maps and rolling reservations made at hotels north of Baton Rouge through the end of November. I even sharpened the hatchet before putting it in the attic.
I was ready for stormaggedon.
Yet as September gave way to October, there was Bob Breck, FOX 8’s diminutive Sultan of Storms, telling his devoted followers the odds of a hurricane reaching our sinking coast this year were now about as good as Tampa Bay making the Super Bowl. Hell, we hadn’t even fought a serious thunderstorm yet, and Breck was saying the war was over?
“Looks like the gurus got it wrong,” Breck told me later. “They missed.”
Missed? This was the biggest whiff since Archie Manning told me, after that 8-8 season in 1979, that the Saints would make the playoffs the next year.
They went 1-15.
Like all meteorologists, Breck had an excu . . . a reason.
He blamed it all on TUTT.
Not the king, but the “Tropical Upper Troposphere Trough.” (But, of course, you knew that.)
“Basically there was a continuation of upper-level lows that create wind shear, which just cuts of the tops of thunderstorms preventing tropical storm development,” Breck explained. “Now, the experts thought that wouldn’t be a factor this year because of all kinds of other developments – which never developed.
“Another thing that happened was there was a tremendous amount of dust blowing into the Atlantic from Africa, and that made thunderstorm development from tropical waves coming off that continent even more difficult.
“As anyone in my business can tell you, predicting these things is very, very, very complicated, and sometimes this planet just doesn’t cooperate.”
Well, no one is complaining down here in the Big Swampy. But wasn’t Breck going out on a long, thin limb saying the chances were slim for us getting a storm the rest of the season with eight weeks left to play out?
“I base that statement on history: Louisiana gets very few storms, and no major storms, after September,” said Breck, who’s been doing his forecasting in New Orleans for 35 years. “And that’s because by October two things are going on that protect us.
“First, the water temperature in the Gulf is dropping. In fact, the temperature 100 miles offshore has dropped from 90 to 80 and it’s only going to get cooler.
“Second, this is the time of year when we start getting westerly winds across the region. So, storms that form in the Gulf are pushed to the east. And that’s why Florida gets storms in October and November, but we usually don’t.”
Usually. But not always.
I seem to remember a late October storm called Juan that flooded much of the West Bank outside the levees. And there was also Hilda and Lilly.
“I didn’t say ‘never,’ ” Breck reminded me. “I said we usually don’t have one after September.
“In fact, we have some stuff going on in the Gulf right now that could make me look pretty foolish.”
Sure enough, that “stuff” went on to become Tropical Storm Karen – and the official National Hurricane Center track showed southeast Louisiana in the “cone of uncertainty” as it headed toward New Orleans, with the possibility of becoming a hurricane.
Well, Breck’s westerly winds came on to save us, pushing Karen’s thunderstorms well to the east, and eventually battering her back into a mere depression, then a loosely organized mass of rain.
Breck had been right again. But just barely. And we have several more weeks to go.
So the hatchet is still in the attic.