Thursday, November 1, 2012
Memories Of A Past Super-Storm Remind Us All Of The Power Of Nature
By Dennis Daily,
Special to ASSIST News Service
PALM SPRINGS, CA (ANS) -- There is nothing worse than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Long before I would move to Washington, DC -- where I would work for20 years -- I visited the nation's capital often. I had three sets of aunts and uncles there and had being going from my hometown in Washington, Indiana, to DC several times a year, since childhood. In the early summer of 1972, I made yet another trip east. Before the Interstates were fully finished, the drive took two days.
I decided to accept an invitation to visit CBS Radio in New York City. I had gotten to know one of the weather forecasters at CBS, Gordon Barnes, by phone and he told me to come visit some time. I was a real fan of his. He was not only a meteorologist, he was a pilot and had been a pioneer in understanding the importance of winds at high altitude in influencing the weather. He was not only CBS Radio, but also did local television weather on WCBS-2.
Being a radio "groupie," I jumped at the chance to see what all those CBS Radio newscasters and sportscasters LOOKED like as they voiced all the shows that were sent down the network line to my station in Indiana.
When I arrived and was taking the tour of CBS, I was suddenly in awe of the amount of equipment the network had. I got to meet one of my idols, legendary newscaster Douglas Edwards. I even caught a glimpse of Walter Cronkite, from a distance. I sat in as another legendary newsman did his nightly show ... Lowell Thomas.
I spent two days at CBS and loved every minute of it. But, because
I was visiting a weatherman, and because some really bad weather
was apparently looming large, Barnes didn't have too much time to chat.
That was OK, I was given nearly free access to all the studios and spent
What I learned would stand me in good stead in a few years when I would get a job at the old Mutual Broadcasting System in DC.
When it came time to leave, Gordon Barnes had only a few minutes to chat and wish me well. He was too busy that morning looking at radar screens and information coming in from the weather teletype.
But, knowing I was going to drive from New York City to Washington, DC, he DID give me some advice as I was leaving. "You might want to check your windshield washers," he cautioned. I would find out in just a few hours that his warning was a massive understatement.
You see, Gordon Barnes, was too wrapped up in the weather to adequately inform me that he was sending me out into the throat of Hurricane Agnes.
Ironically, the huge storm had first come ashore in Florida, and again in Georgia and the Carolinas.
But, suddenly, the storm regrouped and began to meander. Agnes changed her mind and turned back out over the Atlantic. Then, she changed her mind again. And, on nearly the same track as Sandy, Agnes crossed back onto land between Washington, DC, and New York City, right along the Interstate 95 corridor. And THAT was the path I was taking to Washington.
I was about two hours out of the nation's capital when Agnes hit land, again, just south of New York City. It was 1 p.m.
On the Interstate visibility was rapidly decreasing as the outer bands of the storm were raking across Washington, DC, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
The storm got so heavy I decided to closely follow a big rig. I figured that the driver was likely more familiar with the stretch of I-95 and was sitting up higher. I began to simply follow his rear lights. At one point he began driving slower and slower. Then stopped. As he slowed to a halt it began to get lighter. The brightness was not from a clearing in the clouds, but from the overhead lights of a parking lot; they had apparently come on in the middle of the day because of the storm. I realized that the driver had pulled into a rest stop and I had followed him, not realizing he had taken an exit ramp. Things were that bad.
I finally crept into Washington and made it to the house of one of my uncles. I remember him telling me I was an idiot to drive in that weather.
For the next two days it rained torrentially. In all my life, I have never seen rain come down with such constancy.
By the time the rains had stopped, gauges in the Washington suburbs had registered 15 inches of rain. The Potomac River was rising. It would crest at 15 feet above normal. The waters of that fabled river began to lap over its banks. The water crossed a major parkway and rushed into the basement parking garage of the Kennedy Center.
Although the storm's greater tolls in life and property were in Pennsylvania and New York, in the DC area was hit with a Biblical deluge. Some 16 people would die in flash flooding in the city and surrounding suburbs.
At one point, on the second day of the constant rains, I ignored my uncle's orders and drove to downtown Washington. The nation's capital had become a ghost town.
I parked my car near the Capitol Building and walked to the center of Pennsylvania Avenue. I was not wearing boots of any kind. A fast-moving river of water was racing down the broad avenue, moving off Capitol Hill. I could barely keep my balance.
The city's all-news station was reporting that the flood waters had come down Rock Creek (which runs through much of the center of the city) and had destroyed the adjacent parkway and done major damage to the National Zoo.
I drove back to my Uncle's house, stopping at the classic National Cathedral for a few minutes. I went in. Amid those praying for the rain to stop was was an army of janitors dealing with leaks in that amazing structure.
The next day I headed for Indiana, stopping to spend the night in Wheeling, West Virginia. I had dinner at a little sandwich shop run by an older fellow who called himself Papa Schulz. "You think this is bad," he said. "Come outside. I want to show you something."
He pointed to a bronze star where the first and second stories of his old restaurant met. "That's where the water got during the 'Big One,' the flood of 1913. Now THAT was a flood."
That night I couldn't sleep. For one thing, I couldn't get the window shut in the old hotel where I was staying. The constant sound of the rain should have helped me sleep. But, it didn't.
I spent a lot of time thinking about weather and the force of nature and the way that force runs in cycles.
Eventually, the weather people would retire the name "Agnes." And, ironically, even though it was the most-costly hurricane to that date, it was only a category 2 storm. It was not the winds of the storm that did the damage, it was the massive load of moisture that it carried with it when it struck the east coast.
It's a good thing Papa Schulz isn't alive today. I'm afraid
what he would see on television and hear on the radio about
about the destruction of Hurricane Sandy would bring back painful
Long associated with religious programming, Daily returned to his hometown in southern Indiana for 26 consecutive years to anchor and produce five hours of programming from four churches on Christmas Eve. For several of those years, the broadcast was relayed around the world via Armed Forces Radio.
After his two decades with UPI, he returned to local radio in California's San Joaquin Valley. He now lives in Palm Springs, California, where he is semi-retired, but he continues to do freelance radio work, voicing daily reports on various topics. Dennis Daily can be contacted by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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This story is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of the ASSIST News Service or ASSIST Ministries.