‘Earl-y’ Warnings put ‘On the Watch’

The first word seized our attention some days before last weekend: A “tropical disturbance” was churning off the coast of Africa, and it could become – maybe – the first hurricane of the season. It would be known as “Earl.”

By Saturday, computer models projected a trajectory through the Caribbean, turning north and targeting the East Coast. It was then that the slow anxiety began to build: If the long-term projections bear out, Earl might mean an end to the tomato-growing season!

On TV the reports grew compelling, and we learned again the language of the big winds: Five categories of wind strength, from 75 mph winds to the strongest (Category 5) greater than 155 mph; “hurricane hunter” planes that fly into the storms to measure intensity; “well-defined” eyes in the center, and winds to the east are stronger than to the west.

The anxiety level has grown all week as the probability of a “landfall” in New England increased. By Wednesday, the reports were the storm might wobble and weaken, and strike just a “glancing blow,” not a “direct hit.” But that may be just wishful thinking. Now, 48 hours out, the rain and wind is predicted to arrive late Friday.

Longtime Bostonians have been here before, and they know how to prepare: Take in the lawn furniture, check out the candles and flashlight batteries, and prepare to hunker down.

Oh, yeah – make sure to buy an extra loaf of bread and a half-gallon of milk. Not sure why, but it’s what we always have done at word of a hurricane.

– Ed Forry

When the storms kept on coming

As my brother Skippy and I trudged up Lonsdale Street in the late wee hours of Aug. 30, 1954 on our way to serve the 6:45 Mass at St. Mark’s Church, the winds were whipping wildly around us. Suddenly, my small suitcase flew open and my altar boy vestments went flying across the street.

Hello, Hurricane Carol, born across the Atlantic and now, a few days later, a grown-up storm, its winds topping 130 miles as it crossed over Connecticut, Rhode Island, and eastern Massachusetts in the early morning hours, causing damage in the amount of $3.7 billion in today’s dollars. There was precious little warning about what was coming our way; nothing, in fact, just the day before, when “rain” was forecast.

The 1950s was the Hurricane Decade in New England and there was none of the sophisticated technology that today allows forecasters to track, second by second, every move of a storm’s wind, forward speed, and direction.

Just a year later, Connie and Diane introduced themselves to residents along the New England coast. The girls were not as windy as Carol, but much wetter. The total rainfall from the two back-to-back storms in the three states was 20 inches, still a record in these parts, with virtually every city, town, and hamlet in the region recording significant flooding.

Today we are talking about Earl, about whom we know everything there is to know – except exactly where he will be tomorrow morning. But at least we know where he is now and how big he is and we can batten down the hatches ahead of time.

– Tom Mulvoy

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