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A Matter of Perspective

Three storms in three distinct places in the past two weeks gave me lessons in comparative meteorology--and life.

The first storm was Hurricane Ian. Such a storm normally would have done little to attract my attention beyond a passing curiosity. But this one was different in that it was projected to hit along Florida's Gulf Coast, where my father-in-law lives. The projected paths shown by the various models gained my undivided attention before the storm even hit the western end of Cuba.

As Ian crossed Cuba, brushed past Key West, and entered the waters of the Gulf, it gained strength. Forecasters began saying it would strike Southwest Florida near Tampa as a Category 4 hurricane. But over the next several hours, they modified the projected landfall farther south. What prompted me to virtually 24/7 storm monitoring was when they began saying that it was taking the same track and showing the same characteristics as Hurricane Charley, which had hit the Punta Gorda-Port Charlotte area dead center in 2004.

My second-born daughter, fresh from earning her B.S. in nursing, had just moved to the area the month before and was working at the local hospital at the mouth of the Peace River at Charlotte Harbor. She had called us just as Charley hit them. We were able to maintain contact with her off and on throughout that catastrophic storm and their cleanup efforts and lack of power. Thank God for cell phones! Several months later, we visited there, and signs of the destructive power of nature were still visible everywhere. Thankfully, all of our loved ones escaped uninjured but wiser for the harrowing experience.

I was thinking about Charley as Ian moved ever closer to Punta Gorda. Appeals for prayer went out. And those prayers were answered. Again, everyone in the family--my 95 year-old father-in-law, his 97 year-old sister, and my sister-in-law--all came through unscathed. Thanks to strengthened building codes instituted after Charley, material damage was minimal in contrast to the 2004 storm. Relative to the damages suffered farther south of them in Naples and Fort Myers, it was much less. Material damages can be repaired. Material losses can be restored. Lives cannot be replaced.

The next storm was again Ian and occurred a couple of days later, but this time it was in the Atlantic, heading toward Myrtle Beach. Again, our daughter, the same one who had weathered Charley, was in the target area. She and her family had just arrived in the area on vacation. The kids were out of school thanks to a teachers convention, also being held in Myrtle Beach.

Again I was glued to coverage by WeatherNation with a stake in the outcome. Again my daughter maintained contact with us via cell phone. But this time, she sent photos and videos in real time, and we could "live" the event vicariously along with her, watching debris fly past her hotel room window, the storm surge rise, and the angry waves lash the beach.

By the time Ian hit Myrtle Beach, it was "only" a Category 1. Again, however, every loved one escaped unscathed but surely aware of the power of God's forces of nature.

The third storm was an old fashioned nor'easter that hit the Outer Banks of North Carolina the day after my first-born daughter and her family, my wife, and I arrived in Kitty Hawk for an early Christmas present--a week in the sun and sand at the edge of "the graveyard of the Atlantic." We arrived in sunshine and warm temperatures Saturday afternoon and witnessed a beautiful sunrise on Sunday morning. But we didn't see the sun or get onto the beach for the next three days.

We went to bed Sunday night to the sound of winds howling all around, trying to get through the windows and doors, and rains lashing the windows, roof, and siding. The waves pounded the sand berm that separated the ocean from NC 12, the Virginia Dare Highway, and our house. The temperature dropped from the 70s to the 50s with wind chills in the 40s. When you come dressed and mentally prepared for the mid-70s, the true conditions are quite a shock. As on our trip to the Grand Canyon three years earlier, I was forced to buy an unplanned souvenir--a sweatshirt.

Built on stilts and rising to three stories, the house reserved for us vibrated and shuddered with each blast of wind. For the next three days, the horizon was obscured by rain, fog, and mist.

When the rains subsided, we ventured out to visit shops and lighthouses, the Currituck Maritime Museum, and the Wright Brothers Memorial. Weather conditions made the interpretive displays of the U.S. Live-Saving Service, the predecessor of the Coast Guard, much more realistic than they might have been in calmer weather. We fully understood the stiff winds that the pioneering flight brothers had used to give their flights success. But whereas we were freezing in coats and sweatshirts in October, the Wrights, the historic photo shows, were braving the bone-chilling winds in only suit jackets in December.

Three storms. Three locations. Three sets of circumstances. How one perceives them is all a matter of perspective. (For another perspective of additional storms, see Dr. Gerald Carlson's post at )

By the way, the sun did come out the last two days of our vacation. The seas were calm. And commercial fishing vessels plied the fishing areas up and down the coast in front of our house throughout the days and nights.

As the bard put it so succinctly, "All's well that ends well." And I'm sure that the events have provided fodder for more writing projects!

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