We've all seen the images before; palm trees bending like they're made out of playdough, roofs flying off like a giant kite, and rain that seems to defy gravity.
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But for most Brazos Valley residents, the idea of a hurricane is something foreign. Heck, the last time a storm blew through College Station, Hurricane Rita did nothing more than wet the asphalt a little and rustle the tops of the trees.
I fit into that majority of people that has never seen first hand what a hurricane is. And so of course I'm going to do the only smart thing and try to get as close as I can to one. My new anthem for this week will be "Hello Dolly!"
Kristen Ross and myself have been lucky enough to be invited to go along with the Texas Task Force 1, a crew of emergency teams from across the state that assemble when disaster strikes. Or, in this case, before disaster strikes.
And while these men and women can assemble in as little as four hours, they're not simply running towards danger without a plan -- they know exactly what needs to be done and what needs to be taken to handle the situation properly.
At 5:30 Tuesday morning, the crews were already wide awake, checking out their gear one last time and sharing stories with each other. There was a little bit of tension in the air, a seeming mixture of impatience and nervousness. For anyone that has participated in competitive team sport, it was a feeling similar to a locker room before a big game.
Admitedly, I'm a little nervous (I use present tense here because Dolly still has yet to make landfall at the time of this blog). Yes, Dolly is only expected to be a category 1 hurricane, but still something that can dump 20 inches of rain in 24 hours and spawn tornadoes along with the already 60-70 mile per hour winds is something to be feared and respected.
As we rolled town through town towards the storm, I felt like the calvary. We were 11 vehicles deep in a row, loaded with boats, emergency vehicles, and a giant equipment trailer that reads "Urban Search and Rescue" on the side. If you've seen the movie "Twister" where the storm chasers drive towards the tornadoes in multiple vehicles, that's exactly what we looked like.
When we were close enough that we could smell the salt in the air, we passed under an electronic highway sign that read "Hurricane warning for Brownsville. Avoid travel to Brownsville." And yet, we continued onward and took the exit towards Brownsville. Because that's what these guys do, is head towards the places where people will need help.
And as the team members began to warm up to us, they started sharing their stories, calming some of the fears I have. These crews train extensively to prepare for these siutations, and many of these members have responded to numerous hurricanes, including Rita, Dean, and even Katrina.
So for the time being, I don't really have a better idea of what a hurricane so as to inform those who are curious just like I am. But I have a feeling come Wednesday, I'll be quickly given a crash course by mother nature. At least I know I can expect one thing -- I'll be in good hands.