Now living in Florida but having grown up in Tidewater Virginia and coastal North Carolina, I famously remember one of the great storms that came upon us in mid-October sixty-seven years ago. Back then hurricanes were named for women and Hazel was the name of the one which struck our area in October 1954 with quite a wallop. But as bad as she was in Tidewater, it was nothing compared to the damage found in Oak Island, North Carolina which, on October 15th, came ashore and literally destroyed the entire community. I remember hearing the news about the destruction of Oak Island on the radio that day, and the word was out that Hazel was taking a more inland route which would later bring it close to Newport News, my hometown, so we all listened late into the day to get any information we could. Back in those days there was no 24/7 news and weather, so we listened to the semi-hourly updates on the radio and tuned in on the TV in the evening to listen to Joe Foulkes with TV in Norfolk. His booming voice always did a great job as he detailed the location and track with his large grease pencil which he carried in his suit jacket pocket daily. The prognostication at home was that Hazel would give us a pretty good go of it early the next morning, so everyone needed to take heed.
That night Dad, a doctor, went to the hospital to make his rounds while we listened intently to the radio and listened to Mom tell stories about hurricanes down on the Outer Banks where she was raised. The previous year I had witnessed a small, but still strong hurricane at our cottage in Nags Head so comparing that one to the more powerful Hazel sent chills down my back.
The following morning early, Hazel struck like clockwork. We could hear the house creak and groan with the heavier gusts and the kitchen door was blown open, requiring Dad and we two boys to force it closed and push the refrigerator against it to hold it steady. Some shingles came off the roof and a loud thud signaled a major and very large limb had come out of our backyard Cottonwood tree but thankfully it missed the garage which held Dad's brand new Oldsmobile. Within two hours the wind died and the sky began to clear and unlike earlier seasonal storms, it dawned crisp and cool and going outside required a windbreaker, whereas the day before it was tropical-like.
As we entered the cool light of sunshine in our gaces, we decided the huge limb in the yard would make a very good fort, and Dad told us to have fun because the following day it would be cut up and removed. The marsh across the vacant field beside our house had turned into a lake covering the entire field as well, meaning we could navigate around the field in our canoe like the Jamestown Indians would have done in similar fashion so many years ago. With school out, it was a fun day and we only lost power for about two hours so all in all, excepting the ugly hole in the symmetry of the big tree and about a dozen shingles gone, and a tightening of the lock on the exterior kitchen door, all else was okay. Reading the afternoon paper and listening to the news that evening, we realized how lucky we were after reading the story about the disaster at Oak Island and we were also pleased to find out that our cottage at Nags Head was safe. The storm circumvented the Outer Banks on a semi-circle to the west before approaching Hampton Roads from the southwest, then meandering north into central Pennsylvania where it was a huge rainmaker.
Now that storm came and was gone in two days, covering October 15th and 16th, so if you think we are out of danger this year, good luck with those thoughts. Luckily it appears, however, that the most recent major storm, Sam, approaching the Leeward Islands will likely stay well east of the coastal United States but, remember, such predictions can change in a minute when discussing fickle hurricanes and there is still plenty of very warm weather in the tropics with time to brew several more storms before our season is over. So, as a word to the wise, just stay prepared. Don't worry, be happy, but be prepared and we will all be fine. And enjoy the nice fall weather.