Saturday, October 27, 2012

Still Life With Robin: Waiting for Sandy

Satellite photo by MODIS Team, Jacques Descloitres
by Peggy Robin

There's nothing I find quite so unnerving as waiting for a hurricane. We're all anxiously watching the "spaghetti strands" shown on the computers models that the weather forecasters display for us pretty much any time you turn on the TV, whatever the channel. Which strand will Hurricane Sandy take? Several of these strands lead right to DC. What would it take for Sandy to veer off toward the sea (best case scenario) or spin off to some less populated piece of ground?

I have a weird sense of something we all can do to influence the hurricane's course. We all need to over-prepare. Here's how it works: Every one of us must go out today and massively overstock our households with flashlights, batteries, bottled water, bread, toilet paper, and whatever else you think you could conceivably want to have on hand when the storm shuts the city down for a week or more. And then it won't come. It works on the same principle as switching lines at the grocery store checkout -- a phenomenon I'm sure you've experienced. You are on one course toward completing your purchases, but it's not going well, meaning, you are not moving at all. So you make a decision to switch lines, rationally and coolly calculating the one of most benefit to you, the one with the fewest number of items to be moved on the conveyer belt before you. You make your move. And as soon as you do, that line grinds to a halt, while the line you just left suddenly clears up, and everyone is able to check out speedily and efficiently. You know sure as you're standing there, helpless, that somehow your own movement affected the course of both lines.

We can do this with the hurricane, but with something of this magnitude, it requires all of us to move as one. We all must overprepare, overspend, over-batten down the hatches. And not just us as individuals. Pepco, and Metro, and DPW, and all the various public and private agencies must do their part.

And then, if this hurricane mercifully responds, and passes us by or hits us with but a glancing blow, once it's all over and done with, we must all complain at the top of our lungs that Washingtonians panic at any sound of alarm, and clear out store shelves like a bunch of loony survivalists, and that we're all a bunch of wusses.

On the other hand, if Sandy does hit us hard and square on --as sounds more and more likely with each new and more ominously-toned report in every media outlet available-- and my plan for karmic strand-shifting should just happen not to work, then perhaps the region will actually be reasonably well prepared for the worst that Sandy has to dish out.

Stay safe, everyone!


Still Life With Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv,, and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays. Follow us on Twitter at @clevelandpark.

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