But in 24 hours, or maybe 36, everything in my part of the world will change. The clouds will sweep in, the barometric pressure will drop, and the rain will fall in sheets. The wind will begin to howl, bending the trees, breaking them or maybe ripping them from the ground. The forces of Mother Nature will attack the structures built by mere human creatures—houses, fences, barns, bridges, storefronts, vehicles, electric lines—and in some cases those structures will fail. Creeks will overflow; steep slopes will give way. And before Hurricane Florence, having just hit the North Carolina/South Carolina/Virginia coast as a Category 1 storm, is over, many of the residents of those states will have reason to look back at this day as The Time Before.
In the distant past, our ancestors who lived in the paths of destructive storms had no warning whatsoever that something was on its way to ruin homes, crops and lives, especially if they lived many miles from the ocean, as we do in Western North Carolina. I suppose if you live on the coast, you have rough surf to give you some indication that a storm out at sea is coming closer. But this far inland, the sun shines right up to the day before the hurricane hits, and in the days before The Weather Channel, before radio and telegraph or even good roads and a fast horse, no one could predict that disaster would strike seemingly out of nowhere.
The most devastating flood in the area’s history occurred in 1916, when the French Broad River went over its banks after several days of sustained heavy rain. One theory is that two hurricanes came through the area, one right after the other. But weather records for the time are spotty, so no one really knows.
|The Flood of 1916 in the French Broad River Valley near Asheville NC|
Of course, predictability is relative, even with all the tools we have at our disposal in this technologically delirious time. Meteorologists have only a vague idea, really, what the impact of Florence will be; where it will go; how long it will stay. We’ve already been lucky to some extent in that the storm lingered longer than expected in the Atlantic, meandering slowly over the water, dissipating in strength while it grew in size. At this writing, the hurricane has hit the coast at Wilmington NC as a Category 1 storm, when just days ago, it was feared to hit as a Category 4. Still, most coastal residents heeded warnings and evacuated. The loss of life is likely to be less than it could have been—certainly something to be thankful for.
We are taught, as writers, to set the beginning of our stories at the precise moment when everything changes for our protagonists. Sometimes it’s not so easy to identify that moment in a swirl of plot possibilities. But today, on this sunny day, waiting for the inevitable onset of the storm, so many of those moments loom large. And we can only pray for happy endings.