You might have heard about this “Hurricane Irene” thingie that recently made a bit of a mess of things here on the eastern part of the US. Well, I can tell you that on Sunday afternoon, during the height of the storm here in New Hampshire, I went for a little walk — and got soaked as hell.
Well, the storm’s gone, but we still are picking up the pieces.
I happen to live in Lebanon, New Hampshire. I’ll spare you finding a map: imagine the state of New Hampshire, and then stick a pin along the western border, at about the north-south midpoint. Congratulations, you just gave my car a flat tire.
Anyway, I live fairly close to the Connecticut River (that’s what forms nearly all of New Hamsphire’s western border), and right along one of the Connecticut’s feeder rivers. Irene dumped so much rain on us that we have serious flooding problems.
Part of the fault goes to New England’s geography. We’re hilly, with a lot of rocks. That means that water tends to flow downhill very quickly, and build up in lakes, rivers, and streams, and then run like hell for the ocean. The Connecticut is well above flood stage, which means that the dams along those feeders are being very tightly regulated to distribute the excess water as best they can. Instead of letting some areas just get completely wiped out, dams are maximizing how much they can safely hold, and selected flood-prone areas are getting flooded.
Such as, say, my parking lot at home. Like I said, I live right on one of the feeder rivers. Normally, I park about two to three feet above the river’s level. On Sunday afternoon, my assigned parking place was under three feet of water, and my car was on the street (considerably higher). It quickly receded, but those damn dams have it almost back up to that level.
That’s Lebanon. West Lebanon, in particular the big commercial area (well, relatively big — it’s the largest shopping area in at least 25 miles) is right on the Connecticut. And it got flooded really, really bad. There’s a K-Mart and a J. C. Penny’s that are still cleaning up the messes, along with a bunch of smaller stores in the area.
I drove through that area this morning, and the most remarkable thing about post-flood cleanups is something I never considered: dust.
There’s a lot of dirt normally suspended in water, and flood waters especially so — they pick up a LOT from going over land that normally doesn’t end up under water. And when the water recedes, it leaves a lot of mud behind. Mud being mixed water and dirt, it dries up and you are left with a lot of dirt. Add in traffic, cleanup efforts, and the slightest breeze, and you end up with more dust in the air than you’ll see this side of a Phoenix dust storm.People were driving with their headlights on at 9:30 in the morning just so they could be seen.
But we’d doing OK. We’re New Hampshire. We’re used to messes. All we have to do is pretend that it’s a brownish blizzard that we don’t have to dress warm for, and we’ll be fine. After all, a hurricane’s pretty much just a summertime Nor’easter.
But here’s a key point. This was a hurricane. (Well, to be precise, the remnants of a hurricane.) Those are ocean phenomena, and New Hampshire has a seacoast. The shortest seacoast of any state that has one, but we are not complete strangers to the ocean and its ways.
Vermont, on the other hand, has no seacoast. It has a big honking lake on its northwest corner, but that’s it. And it got a hell of a lot more of Irene’s fury than we did. All those effects I described above? They got them all, a lot worse, plus more.
I like to give Vermont a bit of teasing every now and then. I call them “Vermonsters,” point out how their state is pretty much filled with granolas, and even mock their geography — our states are kind of mirror images, but we have our broad base on the “bottom,” while theirs is on the top. They’re naturally unbalanced, compared to us. I even cite the fact that until 1970, there were more cows than people in the Green Mountain state.
But when it comes down to it, our neighbors to the west are, at their core, decent folk. I’ve known a lot of Vermonters, and almost without exception they’re fine folks. A trifle wrong-headed in some ways, mainly politically, but that’s really not that important, in the big picture. They’re still fellow Americans, and they’re seriously boned right now.
One reader actually reached out to me before the storm, expressing concern. I was touched, but really — the worst this storm did to me was a mild inconveniencing. However, just a few miles west of me are a whole lot of people (well, plenty of people — the state only has a population of about 630,000) who actually are suffering. They’re the ones who could use your sympathy — and support.