Mikebasil's Blog Stormy Weather (Part Two)
Stormy Weather (Part Two)
It was Hurricane Sandy that really started me thinking about storms and their power to frighten and awe us. I have a number of friends on xhamster that lay directly in the path of that enormous storm and I monitored with fascination that awful period when they huddled down and awaited the onset of the storm. Unlike me on my fishing boat off the coast of Portugal they couldn’t uproot and run away. They just had to sit there and wait for the storm to do its worst.
It was no ordinary storm either. From a tropical wave on the 22nd of October in the Caribbean, Sandy grew within hours into a tropical storm and within two days into a hurricane lashing the Caribbean islands and leaving 70% of the inhabitants of Jamaica without electricity, killing 52 people in Haiti, leaving 15,000 homeless in Cuba and causing a further 11 deaths and leaving massive damage and another two dead in the Bahamas. Waxing and waning in strength Sandy moved steadily northwards. By the time she gathered for her furious assault on the eastern coast of the United States she had grown into a monstrosity; the largest Atlantic hurricane on record fully one thousand one hundred miles in diameter and with winds up to a hundred miles an hour. Sandy was a bitch with a bad attitude.
This frightful super storm killed some 113 people in the United States and left a huge swathe of damage in its path. The approximate costs of the damage come to some 50 billion dollars making the second most costly storm in American history after the horrible Hurricane Katrina that devastated the city of New Orleans in 2005. My heart went out to those people whose lives were blotted out by this frightful storm but I was comforted at least by the news that all my friends had weathered the worst of Sandy unharmed other than by the temporary loss of their electricity and some structural damage. But it must have been a frightening time for all of them.
Storms can be very scary things. I’ve seen quite a few bad ones in my day. One eleven hundred miles across I cannot begin to imagine. I once stood on the cliff tops of the North Sea island of Helgoland and watched a terrible storm front bearing down on us from the west. There’s nowhere to run to on a small isolated island and I spent the night huddling in a little pub on the leeward side of the island as the world outside seemed to go insane in the fury of the storm. It was a bad one. When it struck the northern German coastline it cost the lives of eleven people and left an enormous amount of damage and flooding. You feel very small and insignificant when nature goes bad on you to that extent.
The sheer energies involved in a storm are quite staggering. It is estimated that an average thunder storm can contain enough energy to provide the whole of the United States with power for four days. And that’s just your everyday run of the mill thunderstorm! The amount of energy contained within a super storm such as Sandy beggars comprehension. They are common too. Even as I write these words it is estimated that as many as 8,000 thunderstorms are in progress in some place in the world or other; over 40,000 of them a day globally. We live in the path of the storm almost continually.
And storms kill hundreds of people every year. The damage they do is incalculable; the heartbreak they bring immeasurable. They could be getting worse too. If all the predictions of global weather change are true then we could be in for even stormier days ahead and awful storms such as Sandy may become commonplace. It is a deeply worrying thought.
But we’ve lived with stormy weather throughout our history. It is interesting to note how many words we have in the English language for a storm and from how many different cultures and languages they come from. The word “storm” itself is Germanic in origin from the German “Sturm” but we have borrowed other languages to denote this f***e of nature. We take the word hurricane from the Spanish word huracan but the Spanish first took the word from Taino, an Arawak language of the native peoples of the Caribbean. Another Spanish word we use for a storm condition is of course “tornado” and we take the English word “tempest” from the French “tempete”. One of the most interesting words we’ve borrowed is the word “typhoon” which comes to us directly from Chinese... “tai fun” which translates roughly as “supreme wind”.
There is a somewhat mythical note to this Chinese word of course for supreme in this instance has the connotation of a divine f***e; something unleashed by the very gods themselves. This should not surprise us since storms have throughout history been attributed to angry wrathful deities. Just think of the gods Zeus or Thor with their lightning bolts. Christianity even borrowed the same gods and morphed them into its single deity and the Christian God is often depicted at the wielder of storm and lightning bolt.
There is a lovely story from the city of York in England where I was born. In 1984 the church ushered in a new Archbishop of York whose views were somewhat controversial. He had said some things about the virgin birth that were deemed to be virtually blasphemous by Christian purists. On the night of July the 9th of that year the massive and beautiful old cathedral, York Minster, was struck by a lightning bolt which caused a devastating fire in the south transept. Of course it’s no big surprise that the cathedral would be struck by lightning in a thunderstorm. It is by far and away the largest structure in York and towers domineeringly above the entire city around it. Nevertheless many die hard Christians mumbled that the lightning strike was a warning or retribution from God! It may seem silly but there are still many who see a storm as divine intervention and it is even a part of our terminology to describe such disasters as may be the result of a storm as an “Act of God”.
Storms can even alter the course of history. Hurricane Sandy might even have some small claim to historical significance other than its obvious disaster. Occurring, as it did, at the very climax of the American presidential elections it is claimed that it may have significantly affected the outcome of the elections. The argument is that by interrupting the election and suspending the challenger Mitt Romney’s campaign just as it was gathering momentum that it swung undecided voters back toward President Obama who was allowed to appear decisive and “presidential” at the moment of crisis. Personally I think that sounds a bit woolly. The flipping American election campaigns go on for knocking on two years so it’s hard to understand why a few days of bad weather would serious affect the outcome. One did notice that there were no claims of “Acts of God” from the Christian fundamentalist alliances on the Republican side of the campaign.
Nevertheless history can be changed by the power of a storm. Interestingly President Obama is credited with reaching out to the minority Latino vote in America. What, if things had gone differently however, would the electoral mix have looked like had it not been for a particularly nasty storm in 1588. In that year a huge Spanish fleet set sail to invade the heretical small island nation of England to f***e it back into the Catholic fold and enslave it to the Imperial power of Spain. It all went horribly wrong and one of the main reasons it went wrong was because an enormous storm s**ttered and wrecked over half the Spanish fleet and sent the rest scuttling home with their tails between their legs. As a result of that catastrophe the power of Spain withered and the emergence of a new maritime power in England begins to emerge. Thus in the century to follow it would be English speaking people from Britain who would settle the North East coast of America and not Spanish settlers as in the Latin part of the continent. English might well be the first language of the United States because of.... a storm.
Storms are often used in analogy with military f***e. Remember Desert Storm? We often talk about storming the battlements, storm-troopers, whirlwind attacks or such like. In Britain we even seem to have a penchant for naming warplanes with storm related names such as Typhoon, Tempest, Hurricane or Whirlwind. There is one famous military cadre that takes its name directly from a historical storm however. In the year 1281 a massive Mongol invasion fleet set forth to conquer the island nation of Japan and bring it under the vassalage of Kublai Khan’s great empire. A massive typhoon destroyed the invasion fleet saving Japan from invasion. The storm took on mythological proportions in Japanese culture; a saving of their island by the hands of the gods. They had a word for the storm. They called it the “Divine Wind”.... the “Kamikaze”. Nearly 700 years later Japan would face invasion a second time on this occasion from the massive war fleets of the United States of America. In desperation the Japanese military turned to the last resort act of sending its airmen on suicide missions against the huge naval f***es facing it. Those suicide pilots were called Kamikaze... pilots of the Divine Wind.
So the power of the storm is imbedded into our cultures, woven into our history and moving dynamics that can shape our civilisations. Then again of course, as those people who faced Hurricane sandy will know, they can become very personal experiences.