Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Ride with Irene

Irene, Toppled Tree
And so we have weathered the storm. Here in Boston, the general attitude toward Hurricane/ Tropical Storm Irene has mostly been one of sarcasm. Sure, there was some anxiety - stocking up on water and that sort of thing. But for the most part it's been a collective rolling of the eyes, a general feeling that the whole thing was unnecessarily hyped up by the media. One local establishment posted a handwritten sign stating "Closed tomawrah due to wicked bad hurricane!" Other businesses ranted against the public transit system for shutting down - drafting "Closed for the Day Thanks to MBTA" signs explaining that their employees have no way of getting to work - but that otherwise they would have happily remained open.

Irene, Branches on the Road
My own feeling was that the hurricane/ storm was not so much intentionally overhyped, as unpredictable - and there was a conscious decision to err on the side of caution. I also felt that it was insensitive of some to make light of a potentially destructive phenomenon just because it did not cause havoc in their neighbourhood. We live on the border of Somerville and Cambridge, MA, where the storm felt mild - but it did damage even here. Around mid-day Saturday, a large tree toppled over onto a major road around the corner from us, knocking out power lines and blocking part of the street until the city cleared it away. Had anyone been walking, cycling or driving on that side of the street at that exact moment, they could very well have been killed.

Irene, Toppled Tree
Today we carefully cycled around the neighbourhood and discovered more trees uprooted and large branches strewn across side streets. The strange thing is that the wind did not feel all that strong even during the worst of it, so we were surprised to see some fairly large trees knocked over. Does this mean they had shallow root systems?

Irene, Power Lines Down
Powerlines were downed in quite a few places, too. One local coffee shop that decided to stay open lost power on Sunday afternoon, yet remained operational for as long as some pre-brewed coffee remained. Customers would come in and sit with their drinks and pastries in the dark - quite happily, since this was one of the very few places open.

Irene, Branches on the Road
Surveying the damage in our neighbourhood, I think that the calls for caution were justified, even if the storm did not reach hurricane level. Overwhelmingly, motorists chose to stay off the roads here and the streets have been mostly empty - which I am certain accounts for the lack of injuries and casualties, considering the fallen trees and dangling powerlines. Cap'n Transit wrote a post a couple of days ago about the connection between driving and hurricane deaths that is worth reading.

I hope that all my East Coast readers are doing well, and that the storm has not been too severe for you. Has anyone been cycling?

33 comments:

  1. "Has anyone been cycling?"

    Nope! Wind blew too strong. It is still going on actually as I am writing. Tomorrow I get out to assess the damage. Here, people took it seriously as we suffered serious floods in spring with some famers that were not able to make the seasons and people who lost their homes.
    When Katrina hit the South and the government did not manage the situation properly, everyone complained, criticised.
    Now that the authorities are being a tad too cautious, people are criticising again. I don't know, sometimes you have to ignore these things.

    Unless that cynism is a reaction to the con-scheme that H1N1 was, or to the soft-assed handling of the BP oil spill?
    In that case, I understand... Double standards never convice anyone.

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  2. I think for the most part that the media and weather forecasters err on the side of caution because if they don't, the bad stuff can get real bad real quick. Even better if nothing too terrible happens.

    We had an ice storm here a few years ago, the local media did say that it was coming but for the most part people didn't go crazy with precautions. I am not even sure if it was reported nationwide all that much because as it turns out my house was without power for 26 days following the storm so I didn't get the opportunity to watch the news. Now I know how to be prepared for a storm like that, but didn't beforehand. I wish there would have been more hype beforehand, maybe some suggestions on how to prepare.

    Now, after the storm and the destruction it caused, the media is more apt to make more noise when powerful and destructive storms are a possibility. I appreciate that.

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  3. I agree that it was better to be safe than sorry, and I don't think that closing the T was a bad idea. It was a Sunday after all, and people should have been prepared to sit at home and not need emergency tchotckes. Unfortunately with a storm of this magnitude and unpredictability, things can get pear shaped pretty quickly, and then it's too late to evacuate.

    I didn't bike anywhere, but I did take the dog for a walk in what I presumed was the calm before the storm, but may have actually BEEN the storm.

    One thing that I noticed as I obsessively watched the giant trees sway in our backyard, was that the tops of the big trees were really moving while the lower vegetation was relatively calm. I wonder if there was unusual stratification that might have made the storm feel less severe at ground level, but which might be responsible for the downed trees?

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  4. I've been riding around town keeping an eye on stuff for family members. I can't actually LEAVE town, because all the roads in or out are underwater (on one of the roads out of town, you can see an abandoned car that someone tried to drive through. It's sunk almost up to the roof). The wind wasn't too bad, although parts of our little temporary island are without power because of downed trees, but the flooding is a real thing here.

    I think, in the aftermath of the storm (and during the storm, I was out and about quite a bit last night) it's been much easier to get around by bike than it would be by car, with all the road closures and downed limbs everywhere. One of the nice things about bicycles is that you can get around or over things that would stop a car.

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  5. Louisianian here- Cat 5 Hurricane Andrew blew through my town when I was 12, and I vividly remember how it lingered over our city. I was staying at a friend's home, and her mother, exasperated with our boredom, told us to go ride our bikes in the eye of the storm. I'll never forget that calm, green sky or that branch, picked up by a sudden gust of wind, that hit me in the head!

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  6. HOLY COW! I can't believe the tree is just completely uprooted!!! Glad to see that the storm hasn't done too much damage (hopefully it stays that way). As you said, I think being overly cautious is always better than no preparation at all. Stay safe out there East Coast peeps!

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  7. Healthy trees have large and deep root systems. The roots you are seeing are rotted and atrophied. If you look around at storm damage you will see snapped tree trunks with plenty of black rot inside. When the same sort of damage occurs underground the roots simply wither and compost.

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  8. I haven't ridden today. I've only gone outside to check my gutter downspouts to make sure they're working properly!

    A tree two houses down from mine toppled on my neighbor's car, causing some major damage to the roof, but thankfully it fell on her car and not her house.

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  9. I'd have to say that most older New Englanders know they've seen worse because they lived through catastrophes like the 1938 hurricane. Years later they built a massive hurricane barricade in Providence. It's pretty impressive looking. Check it out sometime.

    As for me, I am a proud survivor of the Blizzard of '78 (I lived in Brighton at the time.) That really was wicked. The city was shut down for a week.

    Other catastrophes were even worse but they involved the Saux. Tony C's beaning - on my 12th birthday, Bucky Effing Dent, the ball between Bill Buckner's legs, and Aaron Boone. Maybe you are immune from hurricanes since the curse has been lifted.

    In any case, I road my bike around my home here outside DC and from the looks of things you were hit harder than we were. Still the storm maxed out here around 2 am so there was a creepy aspect to hearing 60 mph winds trying to tear the house apart in the dark.

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  10. That root ball does indeed look way too small. It’s probably the result of getting squashed between the curb, concrete and compressed soil. Trees need room, too, but don’t expect roadbuilders to know that.

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  11. Glad to hear you're all okay! I wondered how you were holding up.

    We get bad, bad windstorms here nearly every year, downing huge trees and causing total havoc despite their regularity. When I was 12, we lived in an area that got the strongest downdrafts in Washington history: 120mph winds for a week. Ruined Christmas, let me tell ya. A couple years ago I got an extra week on top of "Christmas" break, since wind knocked out power to my school for another five days. Last Christmas the roof on our newly-purchased house blew off and ended up all over the neighborhood. The neighbors had a tree fall on their house, though, so our problem didn't seem so bad. And every year, someone complains that there wasn't enough warning that the high winds were coming.

    That downed tree's pretty impressive. Ususally it's the combo of high wind and heavy rains that does it, due to ground saturation.

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  12. I believe that trees tend to topple after an extreme soaking especially if it has been drought conditions before hand. This weakens the roots. (this is from memory, I didn't research it, but believe that I have heard this before when we lost many old trees in my area after a heavy rain)

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  13. Big summer storms are tough on trees - a combination of saturated ground and the trees still bearing their leaves means they catch a lot more wind and often just get uprooted because the wet ground lets go. Sometimes they can be replanted, but probably not street trees which might cause a lot of damage if they fall.

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  14. MelissatheRagamuffinAugust 29, 2011 at 7:20 AM

    We were on the outter bands of the storm where I live. I did go out riding on Saturday morning, but stayed in once the storm got going in earnest.

    Veloura said: I also felt that it was insensitive of some to make light of a potentially destructive phenomenon just because it did not cause havoc in their town or neighbourhood.

    THAT is exactly how I felt about the earthquake last week, and that stupid picture of the patio set with just one chair tipped over. My little brother's floor collapsed. I know a bunch of people who lived in trailers who are now homeless because of the earthquake. The town of Culpeper, VA had enough damage that they had to shut down the schools, county office buildings and the courts for at least the rest of the week. The domestic violence shelter in Culpeper also had to close. Sure all that happened at MY house was that a few pictures fell off the walls, and my mountain bike would have fallen over if it weren't chained to the porch railing. But, that doesn't make it okay for ME to go joking about it when other people were significantly effected.

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  15. Interesting reading Capn's Transit's post. When we had a big storm here in 2007, all the deaths were car related. One man got swept into a drain by flood waters when getting out of his car and the other ones were in a car that had the road collapse under them. They shouldn't have gone over that section of road as there were warning signs there. I think cars give a false sense of security in situations like that.

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  16. There were some strong winds in my part of Somerville, at least briefly. I live on the second of three floors and I felt the building shake at one point.

    I didn't attempt to ride Sunday, but I was recovering from the d2r2 100k anyway. Which was great, by the way, but really hard! The first 12 miles took more out of me than any 50 I've done before.

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  17. It may be easier to get around by bike, but that doesn't make it safer. In the pics above, you are WAY too close to downed power lines on wet streets. They don't have to be sparking to be energized.

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  18. Carl - Photos often distort perspective; I assure you that I stood well far enough from the power lines in that shot.

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  19. My town, Beaumont Tx, endured two major storms, Rita, and Ike, two years in a row. It is a coastal town with heavy tree coverage. The two storms toppled literally a million local trees and changed the look of the town, like weeding an overgrown garden.
    I simply LOVE the photo of you pointing to the toppled tree! "Velouria's series of unfortunate events"

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  20. Re trees - It also looks like all the old brick sidewalks in that neighbourhood didn't allow the roots to grow as deeply underground as they otherwise would have. Walking around there, I'd always thought the brick was only on the surface, but from the looks of that hole there seem to be layers of it.

    Inside the house, we felt absolutely nothing even during the worst of the storm. We did go outside briefly on both days and it was rainy and windy, but no more. The extent of the damage was a surprise.

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  21. Pretty much everyone in our part of Brooklyn has been cycling based on what we saw yesterday when we were out. There was no transit at all so it really was bike city when the sun came out in the afternoon. The storm here ended up mercifully less strong than expected, though there was significant flooding and damage in places. Our streets look like yours, lots of branches and downed trees as well as scary looking messed up scaffolding. Bonus: the storm wiped out one super lame/gross graffito. Woo!

    A lot of my friends left for country houses and had a far worse time than those who stayed. I am so very worried about friends in Vermont.

    That Cap'n Transit post was definitely worth reading (pretty much all of his posts are great, he is awesome). I did hear on NPR that the first three injuries down south were related to driving.

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  22. I think one of the fatalities here in NJ were car-related. A woman drowned when her car was washed off the road. Fortunately, because of all the "over-preparing" deaths and serious injuries reported were in the single digits. Massive property and infrastructure damage, but that's just stuff.

    I did have to work Saturday morning, and since the trains don't run on weekends anyway, I had a 40-mile round trip commute, but I left the shop a bit early (although tis was a surprisingly busy morning for bicycle shopping) and hardly even got wet on the way home.

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  23. From what I understand that the tree damage is due to a combination of rain soaking and loosening the dirt and sustained high winds. In riding around Providence today there are quite a few big trees with large roots downed, but we had about 12 hours or so of tropical storm force winds. The maple at the house behind us was bent over so much that it was touching our house. 1/3 of the trees in one of the parks near us are downed.

    I think the response was justified. Though we had 'tourists' out in their cars looking at the damage the minute the rain stopped, never mind that the wind was the same as it had been all day and trees were still falling.

    The bike was certainly the way to get around today. We were able to make it around downed trees and around town in a way that's impossible for cars right now.

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  24. neighbourtease - Yes, the effects of these things is generally worse in the countryside, so it always surprises me that it's the first place people try to "escape to." Hope all of yours are okay.

    I was also sad to hear about the covered bridges destroyed. Trying to figure out whether the one in Windsor VT/ Cornish NH has been damaged.

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  25. The root on that tree looks a lot better then the roots on the tree I saw down on Charles St and the tree that went down on the Boston Common. The tree on Charles St just snapped at the base. So it looks much healthier then these two trees.

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  26. "Cap'n Transit wrote a post" That IS worth reading and remembering.

    Cyclist know all to well that way, way to many people are allowed to drive that have no business driving in the first place since they are a danger to the general public.

    As the post also pointed out it is the poorest of the poor that get thrown away when trouble strikes. This reveals the lie that people with more care about the poor with their "me first" attitude.

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  27. Hey rubix: We may have crossed paths at D2R2 yesterday. I did the 115k route. Irene was on my mind during the ride, but luckily she spared me and the others I was riding with until just after we finished. Then the skies opened up and the rain did fall!

    It's almost eerie to think about how downtown Brattleboro became flooded just hours after we rode by it on bike, under overcast skies and a gentle summer breeze.

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  28. It's been raining here, but not near as bad. Hubby and I went cyclocamping for four days and went to see the baby sea lion creche on the Dutch seashore. Biked along one of the big dikes and got sheep poo all over our bikes. We biked in the rain for a few hours and got really cold to the bone.

    Glad to hear you guys made it through! It's been on the news over here and everyone's been in our thoughts and prayers.

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  29. Urban root systems are the very definition of stressed. Not only do they have trouble obtaining moisture and having sufficient room to grow, but their function of holding the tree in place is compromised by these factors.

    Y'all are not used to tropical storm winds either like we are down on the Gulf Coast. And neither are your trees.

    Be careful riding around. Live powerlines can be lying on the ground, and you don't want to be around those, especially if the streets are wet or damp.

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  30. I'm glad for you things weren't worse, though it looks like there was significant wind related damage. I live near a small town that suffered a great loss from a tornado in 2003. We've learned not to take any storm lightly.

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  31. Hurricane? the French word is ouragan. Not to be confused with orangutan, though, they also rip out trees.

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  32. Hurricanes are sneaky things, sometimes the scariest stuff is what happens the day after. As a kid in South Texas I got to experience a bunch of them, mostly small ones or indirect hits from the "biggins" but a few monsters too. I remember that when things would be flooded badly you would have to deal with things like rattlesnakes in trees, tarantulas and scorpions looking for high ground, flooded roads that would develop enormous (invisible) 4 foot deep potholes after you had a couple of days to get used to driving through them, etc. etc.

    One of the images I remember most vividly is the photo in the newspaper of the Jaguar crouched on top of a floating chest freezer in someones garage. Jaguars aren't supposed to come up into Texas from Mexico anymore but that one must have been blown in with the storm.

    One of the things we used to do after the storm was to jump on our bikes and ride around looking at all the damage. It's so flat there that 12 or 15 inches of rain over a couple of days just didn't have anywhere to go so whole sections of the county would be covered with shallow expanses of muddy brown water with fast flowing currents where the ditches and wet weather cricks were hiding under them. There was a dirt road close to home where a drainage crossed it. All the kids for a couple of miles would gather there and play in the water, we'd wade and throw rocks and whatever. We'd also try to ride our bikes across. One storm was big enough that when me and my friend Don tried to ride across we got about waist deep when the current just pushed us over and swept us away. I got hung up on a mesquite tree in someones flooded back yard a hundred yards away and Don managed to grab a wire fence that was waving around a bit farther yet. We both managed to hang on to our bikes. It sorta re-calibrated our concept of fear. I never felt the need to do that again. I wonder if our folks had even the faintest glimmer of an idea what we were up to...

    Spindizzy

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  33. I saw a guy on the news riding a bicycle in about 2 feet of water! So I guess that's a new one. I'd never seen that done before. I'd guess it'd be possible to ride a bike through water up to the point it begins to float. But that's only a guess.

    I'm surprised that the wind didn't feel that strong. We had a freak windstorm here in Seattle last spring that broke whole trees. One landed across the street from me and it made it to the 5 o'clock news.

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