I feel so helpless. Witnessing hurricane Harvey slam into Houston and the gulf coast of Texas, seeing furniture floating in four feet of water, people carrying the remains of their possessions in black plastic garbage bags on their heads as they forge through chest-deep rivers that used to be tree-lined avenues, helicopters rescuing children from the arms of their parents leaning out of second story windows, boats plucking soaking wet people off of parapets and knolls that were once scenic. It's just horrendous and it feels as though there's not a damned thing I can do about it.
Now Hurricane Irma has ripped through the Virgin Islands, damaged 95% of the buildings on Barbuda, left more than 7,000 homeless in the Dominican Republic, and is headed straight towards Miami, causing residents from Key West to Savannah, Georgia to evacuate. If they can. It is now the first storm on record to clock sustained winds of more than 185 mph for 37 hours. Its cloud field covers more than 300,000 square miles -- larger than the state of Texas. The devastation will undoubtedly be catastrophic. And we are helpless to stop it.
So if we feel helpless watching this from safe, sunny Buffalo, imagine for a moment how helpless those in the paths of these unprecedented phenomenons of nature feel. Sandbagging, stocking up on food and water, boarding up windows and doors, evacuating -- all can be helpful, but none will stop the storm from screaming through your life. You may be able to get out of the way, but you are helpless to prevent the destruction.
The perception of being in control is so fundamental. Our lives are pretty much built around creating this sense of being in charge. Forfeiting it voluntarily -- think boarding a roller coaster or jumping out of an airplane -- is one thing. Losing it involuntarily to a fierce act of nature is beyond frightening. The earthquake I experienced in the late 1970s in Bogotá, Colombia is (fortunately) one of the only times I have felt this deep and abiding terror, as the earth shook beneath my feet and the walls of the library I was in charge of crumbled, students trampling each other in panic, racing to get out of the building and to someplace - anyplace - safe on campus.
As the full extent of the devastation of Hurricane Harvey is revealed as the water finally recedes, our hearts go out to the millions in Houston and the gulf coast of Texas ravaged by this unprecedented storm. While reaching out to make sure friends and family are safe, I have also searched for ways to contribute to the recovery - to feel less helpless. A friend is sending Home Depot gift cards to those he knows will distribute them wisely. On a larger scale, here's a valuable list of reputable agencies that are able to effectively deploy resources, and it's organized by what kind of help is offered, from medical assistance, food banks, diapers and pet rescue, to help for the elderly and disabled.
I will search for a similar guide and post it once the extent of Irma's rath is known.
While we organize relief and contribute to recovery, Hurricane Harvey should remind those of us in Buffalo that 50 inches of water is far more damaging than 50 inches of snow. And while we pray for the safety of all those in hurricane Irma's horrendous path, have you ever heard of anyone saying that they would never live in Florida or vacation in the Virgin Islands because of the weather?
Buffalo has been excoriated for its weather for decades. Snow is still the first thing that comes to mind for many when the Queen City comes up in conversation. Even locals begin to feel a frission of dread as winter looms.
But rarely does Lake Effect snow make us feel helpless. Some roofs caved in during Snowvember, and the cracking of tree limbs during the October storm made things feel a bit out of control. But as we contemplate the armaggedon caused by severe weather elsewhere on the planet, I'll take a Buffalo snow storm any old day.
As we savor the last of our stellar summer weather, let's do all we can to help those in less fortunate climes. And stop dissing Buffalo for its weather.