Friday, August 26, 2011

The Great Inland Hurricane

While following the progress of Hurricane Irene up the Atlantic Coast this week... probably assume that hurricanes (typhoons in the Pacific) are limited exclusively to oceans and large gulfs. But even meteorologists were agog four years ago, when mild-mannered Tropical Storm Erin pushed far inland from the Gulf of Mexico...and formed a distinct hurricane eye smack over Oklahoma!

"Hurricane" Erin's winds revved up to 57 mph, with gusts up to 80—a far cry from what Irene is dishing out. Even so, wind velocities were powerful enough to savage roofs, down power lines, and wreak damage over a wide area. But it was the rains, as so often is the case with hurricanes, that proved deadly to seven people caught in flooding.

In an area unaccustomed to rain in such volume, inland residents were caught off guard.

As the storm wallowed over the state, Oklahomans watched their rain gauges fill with alarming speed, and then fill again after they were emptied. Rivers and streams surged out of their banks and into homes, while storm drains turned into white-water rapids.

Even trees reached critical tolerance levels—caught in rushing water, or marooned in waterlogged soil that loosened the anchorage of roots, many simply let go and toppled. And still the rains came, in quantities more suited to the tropics than to the normally dry Southern Plains.

Had Erin been coupled with Irene's higher winds, the damage and loss of life most likely would have been far greater. But the sheer volume of water that flooded onto the plains that day four years ago gave Oklahomans an inkling (a disturbing one, at that) of what more powerful coastal hurricanes can do.

So you folks along the Atlantic Coast: good luck.

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