For the love of storms

Maybe it’s because living in New Orleans as a child, I grew up on tracking hurricanes on maps that came in the Times-Picayune newspaper and could be found at K&B Drug Stores in the Crescent City, but I’ve always had a fascination with weather.

So days like today, when we’ve been warned of a chance of severe weather, get my blood pumping extra hard.

I was too young to be able to remember Hurricane Betsy’s strike on the Crescent City in 1965. In fact, I was told I slept through it all along with my father nestled in a walk-in closet in my parent’s bedroom in the house we moved into shortly before my second birthday while my mother and a close family friend rode the storm out in our den.

And while I remember Hurricane Camille in 1969, I wasn’t in New Orleans for that one. Family friends my mother grew up with in Quitman were visiting our family that weekend and my father ended up putting my mom, my sister and me in the car with that family as they fled back home to north Louisiana as Camille barreled toward New Orleans. My father remained behind to secure our home. Camille veered east before striking land and New Orleans, causing severe destruction along the Mississippi coast but sparing the Crescent City. My father drove to north Louisiana to pick us up and bring us home a few days later after electricity had been restored in our neighborhood.

But I do remember sitting through several New Orleans hurricanes not unlike Hurricane Laura that struck Lincoln Parish last August, peering outside of windows secured with masking tape that my parents had put in place in an attempt to keep glass from flying around the inside of our home in case the windows were shattered by the storm.

Somewhere in my attic I have a collection of hurricane tracking maps with year-by-year trackings of Atlantic hurricanes. This was long before any kind of weather radar. The tracking points were reported by early versions of Hurricane Hunter airplanes and the information was already hours old before they would be reported by local news television stations.

I drove my mother crazy with my fascination as she would plead with me to get away from the window and draw the curtain as a hurricane or tropical storm raged outside. I would often go out into our garage or front porch to watch lightning during storms. That drove my mom crazy, too. Funny thing, it drives my wife crazy when I still do it today, and she lets me know it.

When it came down to consider college majors, I sincerely considered meteorology and knew what was then known as Northeast Louisiana University had a strong program for it. My big problem was that meteorology requires major math skills — something I didn’t have. So instead I stuck with my strength, and I’m still writing today. If storm chasers would have existed in those days, I’m pretty sure I would have gone ahead and tried to major in meteorology anyway.

I had a house full of friends who evacuated from New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and watched with them as the levees gave way and the city flooded. I had nine people from New Orleans staying in my home here when Katrina hit, along with three of their animals. Two of those friends had to stay here two months before finally being able to return home.

When the EF3 tornado struck Ruston on April 25 of 2019, once I realized how bad it was I quickly jumped in my car and tried to reach downtown. Electricity was out everywhere. Ruston Police Chief Steve Rogers stopped me at the intersection of Interstate 20 and Highway 167 South. He leaned down into my car window and told me that I needed to go home. He said it was too dangerous for anyone to be out because there were so many live power lines down. By dawn I had two flat tires from driving over what was left of the old Pow-Wow convenience store while I was winding my way through the damage to get back home.

But I still was able to hop into our truck and went to Louisiana Tech and returned downtown, spending the day reporting on the immense and terrible destruction. I was both exhilarated and horrified. It’s something only a true news junkie can understand.

I’ve lived through and reported on some pretty major ice storms here in north Louisiana over the past 37 years that I’ve lived here. And I lived through and reported on what I had previously believed to be impossible when Laura, still a full-fledged hurricane, roared through Lincoln Parish last August.

Don’t get me wrong, I hope and pray for no weather issues today, or ever again for that matter. But it’s also true that these are the kinds of days I live for and thrive on — watching to see if Mother Nature unleashes her fury again and serving the people of the parish I love and call home by giving them the news they want and need to know as quickly as possible.

Stay watchful and safe, Lincoln Parish, and please forgive me if you think I’m a little crazy because of my love of storms.

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