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Respecting the Fickleness of Mother Nature

 

No one can say that they didn’t know that Hurricane Irene was coming or that they didn’t know that she had the potential for causing mayhem on her way up the East Coast. Nonetheless, residents of several communities in our readership were surprised at the harshness with which the storm hit some hamlets and outlying areas.

While this area is not known for its earthquakes, we do have a history of flooding from tropical storms that is so entrenched that even those readers born after 1972 know that Agnes was “the big one.” Even though some creeks in the area have since recorded higher water levels, Agnes remains the storm that caused the most widespread damage and affected the most people. My fascination with meteorology in fact began with Agnes, even though I was stuck on the farm in Herrick Township until the water had receded and my father could come and take my sister and me home.

I was captivated by the images that I saw on television and in the newspapers and books that I collected after the flood. I was thrilled to be in Towanda during the Eloise Flood of ’75, mocked at the time as the second “100-year flood” in a three-year period. Although not nearly as disastrous as the ’72 flood, watching the Eloise event unfold gave me a respect for Mother Nature that I have not since taken for granted.

Neither Agnes nor Eloise was especially windy by the time they reached us. They were “rain events,” which left me confused about a story passed down through the Hiduk family about a humongous dead tree that lay on its side in the ravine below the barn during most of my youth. It was supposedly a casualty of Hurricane Diane, one of three consecutive tropical storms to reach the north during 1955. I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of winds had snuck into that narrow ravine and toppled a tree, the roots alone of which reached 12 feet off the ground when it came to rest.

In advance of Hurricane Irene’s approach, the most that I expected from the storm was a loss of power, so I stocked up on flashlight batteries, bottled water, fresh fruit, and beer. Friends who were supposed to come up from Lancaster County for the weekend were chickening out, but I had resigned myself to the fact that, if I was stuck in the house with just the cat, I had my basic needs covered.

Like many people with whom I’ve spoken since the storm, Saturday didn’t seem to be living up to the hype produced by the media in advance of Irene’s arrival. Many people deemed the day to be hot. It was certainly warm and humid. My friends decided to make the journey to Bradford County after all and even decided to stay over again on Saturday night when it appeared that Irene was weakening and pulling out to sea. As evening approached, our non-plans evolved into an impromptu campfire as the balmy weather continued, albeit some ominous clouds and a few sprinkles.

I think we packed it in around 11 p.m. and awoke to gusty showers and reports that Manhattan would be spared the brunt of the tidal surge. My friends packed up their belongings and headed out of Terry Township toward Dushore, and I contemplated lying back down since the cat made it look like such a good idea.

My day began to change with a call from my friends, telling me that they were perhaps the last people who had been allowed to cross the little concrete bridge on German Street (Route 220) in Dushore as the Little Loyalsock Creek was beginning to burst out of its banks. The cat was nonplused by my announcement that I was going to work.  I grabbed my camera and arrived in Dushore just as the ’Sock was cresting and Marsh Run was surging out of its banks on the other side of town. As a reporter and photographer, I was excited. As a member of the community, my heart ached. I knew that many of the same people were being flooded who had experienced the torrential spring rainstorms of April.

I assumed that weather forecasters had erred greatly and that things must be just as bad in Bradford County. I couldn’t get out of town to the north, so I cut back over to Wilmot Road, stopping to drag a fallen tree out of the way, and made my way through New Albany and Monroeton to Towanda. I found very little damage to speak of along the primary routes in Bradford County, including my return to the Wyalusing area via Route 6. I drove back to Dushore, which was a muddy disaster area, then made my way down Route 87 to the Colley Pub, where I enjoyed a bowl of hot soup and heard of the severe flooding in Forkston and Mehoopany.

I returned home and to the concept of napping when I got a call from Nancy Keeler that there was a tree down on my road, which I confirmed by walking out front and looking down the road toward it. I stayed long enough to watch Wyalusing fire chief Adam Dietz and two other volunteers cut it up and move it out of the way. Though not nearly as large as that old tree at the Hiduk farm, I finally had a working knowledge of what had brought it down. While wind gusts were surely no stronger than 35 mph at that point in the storm, the ponds behind the beaver dams were bloated, and the entire valley had become a marsh. The tree’s root structure simply couldn’t hold it up against the wind any longer.

Thus my storm adventure had reached its end, and I slept soundly, my respect for Mother Nature intact. When I awoke to reports on the Weather Channel and other news networks that people from New York City were already complaining that the storm had been overhyped, I was dismayed. I was impressed when Mayor Mike Bloomberg made no apologies for forcing the evacuations of hundreds of thousands of people and the unprecedented shutdown of public transportation. The plan was well executed, and there were likely many lives saved by his actions. As reports of major damage and flooding from upstate New York, New Jersey, Vermont, and Connecticut began to trickle in, I felt that Bloomberg might somehow be vindicated, but I fear that people will not heed the warnings ahead of the next big storm because they dodged the bullet. They need only to take a look a few counties away to see the mass destruction caused by high winds, heavy rains, and tidal surges. They were always in grave danger. They were also very lucky.

The same can be said of the Endless Mountain region of Pennsylvania. While most of us can revel in the notion that we fared Hurricane Irene without much incident, she is still a storm that will be remembered for many years by those who experienced her fickle wrath.

 


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