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You always recall your first hurricane

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Column by Jim Clark

My first encounter with a hurricane, that I remember, was in 1954. We had just moved to a house on a hill in northern New Jersey, a one-story with a basement, facing west.
I remember hearing about this storm called Hazel that was cutting across the northeast on its way to Canada, after starting in Haiti where it killed 1,000 people. At that point, I had no idea where Haiti was, but I didn’t want something that could kill that many people coming my way.
My parents said not to worry, that it was greatly weakened by the time it got to us.
I learned a bit about hurricanes then, particularly the fact that the wind comes only from one direction when you’re on one side of the storm or another.
The wind was brutally strong from the east, but we had our front door open except for the screen door, since we faced west. No air conditioning in those days, incidentally.
I sat there fascinated and watched the driving wind and rain, which we seemed to be immune to. But then I saw a tree, about 15 feet tall, blow past the house. Not a branch, mind you, but the whole tree.
If I remember right, I went into my room and pulled down the shade. I didn’t want to see any more of it.
So now I’m older and supposedly wiser, and where do I live? Florida, one of the spots where hurricanes strike the U.S. first. My home is surrounded by big trees, too.
But in this day and age, we have things like satellite images, constant radar and other tools to tell us when and where a hurricane will strike, and how strong it will be. Most of the time the forecasts are accurate, but occasionally a storm will veer to a new course and surprise people. Just remember Hurricane Charley, which was supposed to hit the Tampa Bay area head-on, but suddenly turned and smashed into Punta Gorda. That was in 2004, when we were hit with the triple whammy of Charley, Frances and Jeanne.
The important thing is to be prepared. We should all know about the standard things to keep … non-perishable foods, water, flashlights and batteries, a battery-powered radio, etc.
Just make sure you’re ready to follow the paths of storms, and remember, most tracking coordinates only indicate the center of the storm. Damaging winds and rain can venture hundred of miles from the main path.
The Atlantic hurricane season starts today, June 1. Tropical storms Alberto and Beryl jumped the gun by being the first named storm in May. We didn’t have too much to worry about from them, although we got needed rain from Beryl, and let’s hope our summer and fall are just as calm.
But just in case, be ready. Then you can just sit back and calmly watch those trees blow past your house. However, if you have any 10-year-olds living with you, don’t let them watch. It will be something that will stay with them a lifetime.
Jim Clark is the editor of the South Marion Citizen. He can be reached at 352-854-3986 or at editor@smcitizen.com.