Most of you have seen that Hawaii has been under a Hurricane Warning for the past few days. Not only was this the first hurricane warning I’ve ever experienced, but it was also the weekend of my birthday. But with the weather being so unpredictable, we didn’t do much eating out, so this post is a very special post of what it was like for this previously landlocked Missouri boy to experience a hurricane in Hawaii. So, thus, begins the tale of the Great Freak Out of my 35th birthday…
Growing up in Missouri I have been witness and party to a great number of weather events in my life primarily tornados, floods, and massive lightning storms. We had multiple TVs burn up from the house getting struck by lightning from the various storms. It was just one of the perks of growing up in tornado alley.
The most notable weather-related event actually took place 25 years ago in what is now known and referred to locally as The Great Flood of 1993. Unprecedented amounts of water burst through the St. Louis area, as well as other parts of the Midwest, sweeping down from the north stretching as far as Minnesota. I grew up in a small town that was close to where the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers meet—in fact, a small creek that connected to the Missouri River ran through my backyard. However, the little town of Defiance, MO had actually never flooded in its recorded history. Little did we know, though, that the new construction in neighboring St. Louis county had included placement of levee which unbeknownst to us meant my home was now a brand-new floodplain.
I remember all at once there was constant talk of the rising river but nobody in my town was really worried because it had never flooded. I remember hearing stories from the older generations in town about the times they had to go and help surrounding communities with flooding—but never had to worry about it in Defiance. We had seen similar levels of water before, but the river had other relief valves…but then we realized that one of the valleys that normally absorbed the overflow of our rivers was no longer taking any water on. That’s when the levee that protected the farmland behind us broke and every person in town mobilized immediately and spread the word.
Behind our little town was a section of farmland that as a child seemed endless. I was almost 10 at the time—just a kid—there was nothing I could really do to help. I remember I sat up on a hillside and I watched the farmland fill in. I’ve never seen anything like it. It reminded me of The Ten Commandments (with Charlton Heston,1956) when the Red Sea came rushing back together. All that farmland filled up in a matter of hours—but it seemed like only minutes. It wasn’t long before the entire town was filled in. Fortunately the center of town was set higher than the outer edges of town—but bear in mind my whole town was only about 10 blocks long.
I was whisked away to family members’ houses. I spent most of my time at my grandmother’s, but my aunt and uncles also spent a lot of time with me. I only got to go home occasionally to see the progress, to help with sandbagging, to see and meet all the volunteers from all over the country who came to help save my home. There was one guy in particular who I’ll be forever grateful for joining the effort who came down with a group of college friends from Boston University. He and his did what he could to lift the spirits of a very downtrodden boy. It was definitely one of the most formative experiences of my life.
It’s amazing how events can simultaneously harden and weaken you in different ways. Watching my parents go through that stuff gave me a sense of ability and belief in myself, but it also left me very wary and watchful of my surroundings as it relates to the weather. Maybe someday I’ll tell you folks about tornados but for now let’s stick to the flood.
In my new home we don’t have any rivers to worry about and we don’t really get tornadoes either, for that matter. However, Hawaii has the ocean, so now we get tropical storms and hurricanes. In the back of my mind I’ve always been a little concerned about this and I was never sure about how frequently these things happen, or how devastating they can be after watching news coverage of places like Florida, New York, and Puerto Rico. So, when I heard Lane had formed up in the Pacific near Mexico, I took notice. But I didn’t say anything because we’d just gone through waiting on hurricane Hector and he stayed far far away. Additionally, I noticed that Oahu folks weren’t altogether too concerned when the weather man says a hurricane is close, which intrigued me to say the least.
As time went on and we learned more about Lane, I began to understand more about why Oahu residents don’t take hurricane warnings as seriously as you’d expect. As it turns out, hurricanes don’t really ever come to Oahu. Now, that doesn’t mean they can’t come to Oahu, and that doesn’t mean they won’t come to Oahu, but for whatever reason it just seems they don’t. All that being said, I grew up in a town that never flooded…until it did.
So, I just kept watching and keeping tabs on old Lane as she worked her way across the Eastern Pacific. Fortunately, we still had a small section of supplies we gathered for Hector, but Oahu didn’t seem to be phased since Hector just passed on by. As the days went on, meteorologists started developing more intensity in the discussion of Lane though. But, again, locals around me didn’t seem phased. But then Lane started to get really close and it stalled about 500 miles south of big island—the only problem with that was Lane was 350 miles across…so it was an issue. Then it made an unexpected turn north and that’s when people started to take note.
As the intensity of the weather men grew I began to assess my situation. We were lucky enough to find a great place in a beach community when we moved to Hawaii. But the caveat to living in a beach community is I had inadvertently moved my family into a flood plain. It’s not the craziest thing anybody ever did, but it certainly did factor into things like hurricane prep and threat assessment and suddenly it seemed the entire meteorological community had come to a consensus: Lane was heading here. Now.
I’m man enough to admit at this point that this is where my freak out officially began. I’d seen pictures of Hurricane Iniki—the last hurricane to hit Hawaii back in 1992. Coincidentally, most of you have probably seen Iniki in action in Jurassic Park since they were filming on Kauai when the hurricane made landfall. Around this time it also came to my attention that my in-laws had not prepared and at that point my freak out doubled down. The freak out was in it to win it. There was no turning back. I honestly could not bear the thought of not trying to be there for Jacqui’s parents if they needed us. That being said, it was also brought to my attention that they did not live in a flood plain. And while we had supplies, they had the perfect hiding spot to ride out the storm.
Now, in retrospect, maybe I should’ve listened to my father-in-law a little bit, but I still find it pretty wild. But nevertheless, on Wednesday night my freak out had taken over completely. This was only further exacerbated when we saw a notice that was sent out to service members and their family members about the anticipated trajectory of the storm. At that point we packed up the Nugget and the huskies and headed to my in-laws. This was, of course, music to my mother-in-law’s ears because that meant her grandbaby would be around for several days. And it was at this point I felt like the universe decided to play an epic game of kick the can with the hurricane and its anticipated arrival on Oahu kept getting pushed back.
So, here we are on my birthday and Lane’s currently not even a hurricane anymore and it seems to have hung a hard left. Once all the warnings were canceled, we did end up getting out on Saturday to walk around Pearlridge Mall and had a tasty lunch from Young’s Kalbee. Out of all the things I’ve gotten for my birthday, one thing I’ve definitely never gotten for my birthday is a hurricane scare. This isn’t meant to be dismissive as Lane certainly left her mark on Hawaii island and Maui. Several homes have been damaged or lost altogether and there are many people in need of assistance. If you’d like to help, I included a list of charities and organizations to whom you can make donations.
Charities and Organizations Helping With Hurricane Recovery
For any local residents who have additional food/water from your hurricane preparations that you want to donate check out these local organizations: