Much of New Jersey, New York City and elsewhere definitely got hit very hard by Superstorm Hurricane Sandy yesterday: several feet of sand covering roads close to the ocean in Point Pleasant and probably elsewhere—50 or so homes burned down in Queens—extensive flooding of the lower Manhattan NYC subways—7 million or more customers without power—blizzard conditions in the Appalachians—and much more, without question.
I live in NJ, about 12 miles west of Manhattan. We didn’t get much rain but we did get very high winds, probably 80 mph or so, and as my wife and I huddled together on the couch last night, we held our breath more than once as the strong winds howled outside. Was a tree or a huge branch going to be uprooted or broken off onto our house or the electrical wires?
Around 7 pm we heard a loud noise and my wife saw a flash outside, like lightning. I went outside to check and was alarmed to see a tree, or a huge part of a tree, on the ground next door while downed electrical wires burned brightly. The smell was not of wood burning but of something else that sure didn’t seem like something we should be ingesting into our lungs. Fortunately, the very strong winds were blowing most of the smoke in a different direction than towards our house.
After a call to 911, and after the arrival of police and fire trucks, we watched as they parked outside our house. About an hour and a half later a worker from the local electrical utility finally came and was able to turn off the power to the wires that were still burning.
Over the rest of the evening, I kept going outside to take in what was happening. Wind gusts were extremely strong, and the branches in the three trees in front of my house were whipping around in a way I’ve never seen. But what was completely new and just as troubling was what was happening in the eastern sky, a sky lit up as if it was the very early beginnings of the dawn, 20-30 minutes before the sun actually rises over the horizon, and this was between 9 and 11 p.m.
As I stood on my front porch for 15-20 or more minutes, I came to understand why this was the case. I must have seen at least 10 flashes of light over that time. At first I thought they were lightning, but they weren’t. There was never any thunder the whole evening.
These flashes had to be from downed electric wires or transformers. Several of them were very big, and when they lit up the sky it turned a vaguely light blue. I hope that whoever was in the vicinity of these explosions and likely fires wasn’t hurt.
The last time a big tree came down on my block was almost exactly a year ago, during the freakish Halloween snowstorm of 2011. A huge tree a few houses away came down as the heavy snow piled up on the still leaf-full branches, leading to dozens of them snapping off and this one downed tree, falling onto a roof and across electrical wires and leading to a loss of power for two days.
A few days ago, as Sandy churned north from the Caribbean, I wrote a piece asking rhetorically if this “frankenstorm” was “God’s latest warning,” His response to the infuriating climate silence we have experienced with the Democratic and Republican Presidential candidates and the debates. I can easily tap back into that outrage if I think about what that silence is meaning and will mean for huge numbers of people and other life forms worldwide for many years to come. And I can still hope that, finally, maybe this huge, unprecedented, 1,000-miles-in-diameter monster storm will break that silence and generate the kind of organized, massive political movement demanding action on the climate crisis that we so desperately need.
Today, though, I’m just feeling thankful that my wife and I made it through the worst of Superstorm Sandy, while I’m concerned about those whose Sandy experience was much more impactful. I’m looking forward to getting back to my normal, day-to-day routine—until, regrettably but certainly, the next extreme weather event hits, one brought to us by the coal, gas and oil industry’s dominance of our two-party political system.