Monday, September 22, 2008

Mars is a Third World Country

From the beginning of this blog I've wanted to have a positive outlook in my blog posts. People write blogs all the time where all they do is whinge and complain about things, and I didn't want to do that. That isn't to say that I didn't want to say anything negative--because to look at life with rose-coloured glasses is just as bad as always whinging--but when possible I wanted to take a view that things could and would get better. In other words, always look on the bright side of life.

Unfortunately, this is something I can't just gloss over.

The whole punch line regarding this blog is the fact that Franklin is very different from the environment that I grew up in, which is odd considering I grew up in pretty small towns. As amusing as it is at times, it's also extremely frustrating. If you remember back in my Hurricane Gustav Lessons Learned post, I was pretty blunt in my criticism of the town of Franklin's communication skills regarding the post-Gustav situation. Unfortunately, they haven't been reading my blog, so they haven't learned their lesson.

Since I got back from Gustav, I've noticed the water tasted funnier than unusual. Now after my first drink of Franklin's water I went to Walmart and picked up a water filter pitcher and have enjoyed crisp and clean drinking and cooking water ever since. However this time the taste, which was quite saline in nature, was seeping through the filter. "It couldn't have been from the storm surge..." I pondered since, after all, there was no storm surge because we were on the western side of the storm when Gustav made landfall. Then came Ike, and the water was simply salty. Not quite sea water-tasting, but it was apparent that the town's water source was contaminated by salt water. Did I get any news regarding this? Of course not. I did get a letter telling me that they found chloroforms in water samples. According to the letter they were found twice. But since they didn't find it in the third test, everything was A-OK. Gee, so comforting.

At school we received several cases of drinking water to hand out to the students if they were thirsty rather than use the water fountains. I thought that was nice and all, but what about us? Was the town going to let us know what was going on? A letter? An announcement on the news? The Newspaper? As I pondered this as the days went by, I went back to my parents and gathered 50 gallons of water from their water well that was not inundated by salt water for me to use. I guess I was one of the lucky ones.

On a whim, I decided to look at the website of the local paper, the Franklin Banner-Tribune and lo and behold, a news story about the water quality issues. Apparently water is available for me to get for drinking purposes. I wonder how long it would have taken for the town to let me know? Heck, I bet there's people here in town who still don't know they can get fresh water from a distribution site. Sucks to be them is what I guess the town's opinion on the matter seems to be.

This lack of communication by the government and the resultant acceptance of mediocrity by the citizenry infuriates me to no end. Like I've stated on several occasions, I didn't grow up in a big city, but the expectations I have of my local government as well as my view on progress and success is such that this sort of behaviour is simply unacceptable. Because of the storms and buying a new car, I haven't had a chance to get out and ride about and get a feel for St. Mary Parish, so I wasn't sure if this was a Franklin thing or a St. Mary Parish thing.

Today I was at the Six Traits of Writing seminar at the School Board office (I had an absolutely stupendous time, reinforcing what I've known about the six [plus one] traits of writing as well as some fun writing exercises. Kudos to the folks who put it on!) and during lunch I started up a conversation with a teacher who was at Project STAY with me. It started with me discussing where I was from and quickly turned to the culture of St. Mary Parish, as she was born and raised here. I described to her what I stated above and she quickly let me know that my fears of the parish being mired in complacency with inefficiency if not outright ineptitude in some cases being the norm. She was quick to point out that some places they pride themselves that, according to her "their ineptness is much more efficient that other places around here." It made me laugh and whimper at once.

Great. It's not just a Franklin problem. It was reassuring to find someone who was born and raised here that's in my age bracket that lives here with the same views on how things should be done (If you're reading this Dr. Chet, typing that phrase made me think of Lenin's pamphlet "What is to be Done?" which we talked about all the time in the 20th Century Russia class. Even though you're a freakin' Commie, I still love you and your Hawai'ian shirts Dr. Chet!) but the fear is that the majority of folks here don't think this way, and since they're the majority, we're stuck with the same people running the government. Le sigh.

I didn't need to go any further for an example than the report from the monthly council meeting where an engineer scoffed about the concept of putting floodgates to shut the Franklin Canal in times of tidal flooding as not a good option because "We'll have the same protection we have now, and that is 6 feet. The levees that surround our community are about a 6-foot elevation. We had a 7-foot tidal surge." I suppose limiting the storm surge to only a foot of water coming into the town rather than allow a seven foot surge pour through a fifty-feet wide gap in the levee system right into the centre of town would be a good idea to him. No need to change if the untenable situation requires innovative solutions it seems. And based on the rest of the report, no one argued with him either. Hmpf.

This situation isn't just exclusive to here, as it's endemic across Louisiana all the way up to the State Capitol building. Governor Jindal and Co. seem to be trying their best to change things, but to expound on an idea presented by my geography professors, essentially Louisiana is stuck being a Third World Country for the most part.

Now I can hear the screams from here already. "But we're in America! We have all the perks of the Western World! There's no way we can be Third World!" But think about this; if we were to take Louisiana's location on the map out of the equation and look at the basics, the similarities are all too clear. A state with depressed per capita incomes and education levels compared to normal, a single primate city, a single major state university with a disproportionate amount of the state education budget that uses political influence to keep its financial and educational status secure, endemic political corruption veering in isolated cases to outright kleptocracy, and an economy that is centred on the extraction of natural resources and agriculture. It isn't Guinea-Bissau we're talking about, but unfortunately Louisiana.

This is rather depressing really, and I know there isn't much I by myself can do about it, especially since the best and brightest usually figure this out in a hurry and leave in equally hurried fashion, leaving us here to fight it out with the mediocre-lovers, but unlike others, I'm a teacher, and I can impact so many more than a normal person because I can show my students that the status quo isn't acceptable and it's OK to demand more than what's expected. Can I create an army of reformers? Who knows. I have the attention of four students so far, so that's a start.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Hurricane Ike LiveBlog, Part 3

Q: What happens when you stick a teacher with penchants for amateur weather forecasting and writing in his house with nothing to do as a tropical system attempts to make landfall in the area?

A: This LiveBlog, of course. *groans from the audience*

Yes, yours truly will be LiveBlogging Hurricane Ike over the course of today, giving you information, analysis, and really anything that pops up in my mind as Hurricane Ike takes aim at the Upper Texas Coast. Yours truly is sitting comfortably in Teaching on Mars HQ (Read: The back bedroom/office of my house) here in the middle of Franklin. Check back in throughout the day to see the posts updated with new information.

Important Links to keep an eye on this weekend:

Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness
National Weather Service- Lake Charles Office
National Hurricane Center

0920: I spent last night checking out the weather here and there and snatching some sleep in between. The worst of the weather is past us here in Franklin, but that doesn't mean the threat from Ike is over. Across the coast of Louisiana and Texas there's some serious storm surge flooding, with the National Weather Service reporting people across Orange and Jefferson Counties trapped in their attics and on top of roofs due to the storm surge. Here in Louisiana Lake Charles has experienced a 10 ft storm surge with larger heights down in Cameron, and in Vermilion Parish the flooding is similar to that seen during Hurricane Rita. In Iberia Parish the surge may have crept as far north as the community of Lydia if reports from KATC are correct.

As for us in Franklin, the surge backed up the freshwater in the Franklin Canal enough to have an emergency evacuation of a nursing home on the south side of town, and water spilling into the streets. I decided to take a spin to check it all out and snap some pictures. A police officer stopped me but let me pass when I told him "I'm writing for a weather report on a web site." The power of blogs, eh? My expedition unfortunately didn't succeed as much as I wanted to because there was so many people walking around in the streets, and frankly I wasn't comfortable considering the neighbourhood I was driving around. I managed to snap a couple of pictures and caught some flooding on the north side of the railroad tracks right near my house. As for Bayou Teche, it barely crested above its banks here in town. As for my snapshots, I won't win any Pulitzers, but here you go:

All of this has been cutting into my soccer watching routine, which I still haven't been able to get going since moving over here due to things almost every weekend. As I was milling about looking for flooding, I heard the end of the Liverpool-Manchester United match. Liverpool won 2-1, their first win over Manchester United in over four years and the first at Anfield in almost eight years. Impressive.

Weather Conditions: Winds from the South at 20 mph with a gust about 20 minutes ago that was almost 40 mph. No precipitation (Storm total 1.16 in), and I just saw a peek of the sun a minute ago.

1110: Apart from a couple of gusts, conditions have steadied considerably over here. I talked to my parents, who rode out the storm in their camper, strapped down and with 10,000 lbs of heavy equipment sitting on each end. My mother said they didn't sleep much because the camper still rocked a bit, but they came out alright and never lost power. It's still windy on their end, but not enough to be able to go outside and clean up. According to news reports, the surge didn't get near them as expected, stopping about 10 miles south of their home.

Houston is starting to pick up their heads from the storm and it seems Houston proper just missed the brunt of the storm. The storm surge in Galveston wasn't as bad as previously expected, but 12-14 ft is still nothing to sneeze at. Power outages are widespread with downtown Houston and the Medical Center area being the only places with power in the metro area, and
city water is not confirmed to be drinkable just yet. As for our plucky little Cypriots stuck out in the Gulf, the Houston Chronicle is reporting that they rode out the storm and are now awaiting a ship to come and tow them back in.

Enough weather watching for me for a bit.. The Battle of the Billionaires is about to begin with Chelsea taking on Manchester City on Fox Soccer Channel at noon. See you in a couple of hours.

Weather Conditions: Winds from the South at 20 mph with occasional gusts nearing 35 mph. No precipitation and cloud cover is varying in thickness.

1335: So Chelsea beat Manchester City 3-1. Very enjoyable stuff, as are the weather conditions over here, which slowly improve minute-by-minute. We've even been seeing the sun off and on, and according to the NWS radar, the feeder bands from Ike are now west of Lake Charles, though those are causing quite a large amount of mischief, based on the size of the Tornado Warnings that are being put out. Storm surge flooding is abating slightly but only because we are approaching low tide. As long as the winds continue to be high the water is going to stay onshore. I wonder how I'm going to go to my parents' house tomorrow? I guess I'll be taking the scenic route.

Weather Conditions: Winds from the South at 20 mph with occasional gusts nearing 30 mph. No precipitation and cloud cover is becoming lighter with occasional periods of sunshine.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Hurricane Ike LiveBlog, Part 2

Q: What happens when you stick a teacher with penchants for amateur weather forecasting and writing in his house with nothing to do as a tropical system attempts to make landfall in the area?

A: This LiveBlog, of course. *groans from the audience*

Yes, yours truly will be LiveBlogging Hurricane Ike over the course of today, giving you information, analysis, and really anything that pops up in my mind as Hurricane Ike takes aim at the Upper Texas Coast. Yours truly is sitting comfortably in Teaching on Mars HQ (Read: The back bedroom/office of my house) here in the middle of Franklin. Check back in throughout the day to see the posts updated with new information.

Important Links to keep an eye on this weekend:

Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness
National Weather Service- Lake Charles Office
National Hurricane Center

1725: The National Weather Service has just issued a Tornado Warning for western St. Mary, Iberia, and southeastern Lafayette Parishes. The text went as follows:





Rather than be a sensible person and go to a secure room with no windows, I went to my front door and peeked out. I didn't see anything and upon getting back to my computer I saw the squall was passing on the South end of town. Thankfully no visible tornado, but this is the beginning of a rather large rain band that stretches the length of the coastline all the way down past Point au Fer Island in southwest Terrebonne Parish and into the Gulf of Mexico. The squall is moving to the northwest at 69 mph, so if anything can be positive to come out of it, it'll be over quickly.

Weather Conditions: Winds from the southeast at around 32 mph, gusting up to 48 mph. Precipitation in the form of squally showers.

1800: I have to give it to my cable network. They break in on any channel you're watching and put it on the Weather Channel, sound an annoying siren sound effect, and announce that there's a Tornado Warning. Since I'm here at my PC, I just hop over to the National Weather Service tab that I have open in Firefox to see what's up. Half of the time the warning they're announcing for us doesn't even involve Franklin, but it's nice to know that they care. The following warning just popped up:




That was an interesting warning , putting us in Franklin at the tail end of the Warning quadrilateral when the cell was ten miles to the northeast of us. I'm not complaining though. Better safe than sorry.

Weather Conditions: Winds from the southeast at around 32 mph, gusting up to 41 mph. Precipitation in the form of squally showers varying in intensity.

1805: Another ten minute stretch, another Tornado Warning:






Weather Conditions: Winds from the southeast at around 35 mph, gusting up to 41 mph. Precipitation in the form of squally showers varying in intensity.

1925: The squall line that produced the tornado warnings during the past hour continues, but now it's shifted a bit to the north, with most of the squalls over the Atchafalaya Basin. This leaves us in Franklin in a bit of a gap between the squalls that form the body of Ike and this big rain band. The winds continue to blow, but the rain has stopped for the time being. Here's the weather situation based on the NWS radar out of Lake Charles (I'm in the southeast corner in Franklin):

Weather Conditions: Winds from the southeast at around 35 mph, gusting up to 41 mph. Precipitation in the form of squally showers, but they have slacked off in the last 15 minutes.

2020: I've been peeking around for any news on the Cypriot freighter that was stranded between Port Arthur and Galveston that was going to have to ride out Ike at sea, and I was able to find an update: According to the Houston Chronicle, the ship, the Antalina, was still afloat this afternoon, and the US Coast Guard actually attempted a rescue, but had to turn back due to deteriorating conditions, stated in the article to be 20 ft seas, 90 mph winds, and visibility down to 0.5 miles. Yikes.

This of course is a rather unfortunate situation, but the question comes up about whether these guys actually watched the weather before setting out. Nowadays getting caught at sea in a hurricane can virtually always be blamed on human error based on the amount of weather information that's at a ship captain's fingertips.

This wasn't always the case, as was evidenced by the US Navy's run in with a Typhoon in the Philippines Sea in December 1944. By all indications Typhoon Cobra had maximum sustained winds of 145 mph and tore through Admiral Bull Halsey's Carrier Task Force. Three destroyers, the USS Spence, Hull, and Monaghan were sunk, and the light aircraft carrier USS Monterey had to fight several fires caused by aircraft coming loose and crashing in the hangars due to the wave action. These fires were put our through sheer determination led by several of the junior officers, including the future President of the United States Gerald Ford.

This wasn't the US Navy's only run-in with hurricanes. In fact, the US Navy has had its ships dealing with hurricanes almost from the beginning. A great website recapping these accounts is the FAQ page at the Naval Historical Center's website. Among other works of literature worth checking out if this has piqued your interest would be The Thirteen-gun Salute, a magnificent work in the Aubrey-Maturin series written by Patrick O'Brian, Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies, the final book in the Horatio Hornblower saga by CS Forester, and if you're in the mood for some dense but engaging nonfiction, I can heartily recommend Stephen Taylor's Storm and Conquest: The Clash of Empires in the Eastern Seas, 1809 (Review of the Paperback edition released a year ago in the UK). I listened to the audiobook edition of the book, and Taylor's account of the cyclones that struck the East India Fleet were perhaps the most chillingly dramatic prose I have ever read or listened to. Fantastic stuff, but not for everyone.

Weather Conditions:
Winds from the east-southeast at around 35 mph, gusting up to 45 mph. Precipitation in the form of squally showers, which have just started back up. A cell that just raced by Franklin began to rotate, and as a result the National Weather Service released a Tornado Warning for it.

2100: The National Weather Service in Lake Charles has had a blog up and running for Hurricane Ike all day it seems, but too bad they only decided to advertise it in the past 30 minutes. Check it out by following this link. In addition, if you're in the mood to catch the reports of storm damage, storm surge, tornadoes, and all of the other fun stuff that accompanies a hurricane, the National Weather Service also has their Storm Report text reports up and running too. Just follow the link. As of this moment, the latest report is of hurricane-force wind gusts at the NOS tide station in Cameron. Yikes.

Weather Conditions: Winds from the east-southeast still around 35 mph, still gusting up to 45 mph on occasion. Precipitation in the form of squally showers, which have just slacked off.

2130: I decided to pass along some of my information about the winds to the National Weather Service. It was rather surreal to call the NWS office at 9:15PM and get the automated attendant. Even stranger was to dial the forecaster's extension and someone actually pick up the phone. A nice conversation ensued and I passed along the information about the 48 mph gust we had here in town I mentioned in the 1725 report. I asked him about the storm surge forecast for here and he said that they're expecting an 8ft storm surge at the coast, and possibly expect some backwater flooding from the Teche in portions of town because of the intrustion of the storm surge. That's what I figured, so that makes me feel a lot better.

One quick link: I was looking for contact information on the NWS Lake Charles website and I found a cool, if sombering link. Here is the radar imagery of the debris plume from the explosion of the Space Shuttle Columbia back in 2003.

Weather Conditions: Winds from the east-southeast around 35 mph, gusting up to 40 mph on occasion. Precipitation in the form of squally showers, slacked off about 20 minutes ago.

2200: Last entry for the evening. The 2200 advisory is out for Ike, and the motion and speed remains the same, but the wind speed has changed: Ike now has maximum sustained winds at 110 mph, the same speed that Gustav's winds made at landfall twelve days ago. The coordinates put Ike 54 miles southeast of Galveston Island, and if Ike continues on this path, landfall will be on Galveston Island approximately 6 miles northeast of St. Luis Pass.

As for here in Franklin, we still aren't seeing a lot of rain as compared to what Lafayette and New Iberia are seeing, but the body of Ike has passed to the west enough that we are now between two feeder bands rather than a feeder band and the storm itself. This trend from the long range radars looks like it might continue for a while, so we may be spared heavy rainfall until at least tomorrow. Unfortunately, crunch time is on the horizon for us here in Franklin as the wind is about to switch to the South, and with it the storm surge. High tide is expected just after midnight, so we'll see what happens.

Weather Conditions: Winds from the south-southeast around 40 mph, gusting up to 45 mph on occasion. Precipitation in the form of squally showers, one of which just blew through as I was typing this update.

The Hurricane Ike LiveBlog, Part 1

Q: What happens when you stick a teacher with penchants for amateur weather forecasting and writing in his house with nothing to do as a tropical system attempts to make landfall in the area?

A: This LiveBlog, of course. *groans from the audience*

Yes, yours truly will be LiveBlogging Hurricane Ike over the course of today, giving you information, analysis, and really anything that pops up in my mind as Hurricane Ike takes aim at the Upper Texas Coast. Yours truly is sitting comfortably in Teaching on Mars HQ (Read: The back bedroom/office of my house) here in the middle of Franklin. Check back in throughout the day to see the posts updated with new information.

Important Links to keep an eye on this weekend:

Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness
National Weather Service- Lake Charles Office
National Hurricane Center

0830: Like I said, I'd be starting up the LiveBlog at this time. As of the 0400 National Weather Service Advisory, Ike is still targeting a landfall on the Upper Texas Coast in an area between Port Lavaca and Galveston, Texas either very late Friday night or very early Saturday morning as possibly a minimal Category 3 storm. (Here's the area via Google Maps) The Houston metro area is in full panic getting out of the area, and rightfully so considering the last time Houston got a direct hit from a hurricane was Hurricane Alicia in 1983. they've had plenty of near misses, most recently Rita in 2005, so it seems their number is up for Hurricane Roulette.

Houston's media is also in full-blown storm reporting mode, so there isn't much of interest other than the plight of a Cyprus-flagged freighter sailing from Port Arthur, Texas to Houston that lost power 90 miles SE of Galveston and and is now stuck in the Gulf, with no one to save them because sea state conditions are too rough for a rescue. Stinks to be them and I'm hoping they're able to ride it out all right.

Other than that, everything's the same as has been since last night, so I'm not going to be like the news and repeat the same five things over and over. I'm out of milk so I'm going to run to the store to see if there's any left. If anything this will probably give me a fantastic LiveBlog entry when I get back.

Weather Conditions:
Sun is shining, winds from the east at around 15 mph. No precipitation.

1000: The 1000 CDT Advisory is out, as is the new forecast track for Ike. It's essentially the same as the previous advisory, which means Houston is under the gun for the worst of Ike's effects. Of course, this depends on when Ike begins to turn to the northwest to round the ridge of high pressure that's steering the storm. As of now Ike still has 105 mph winds and is still heading in a west-northwestward direction. Whilst the Weather Channel is patting themselves on the back about the success of their forecasting models for Ike thus far (Forgetting they were telling Miami to prepare for a direct hit last week.), the National Weather Service is as usual being much more realistic about things, as evidenced in the 1000 CDT Forecast discussion (Emphasis Mine)...


At least some folks have their feet firmly planted in reality. Anyway, I've stated more than once when discussing Ike how the large wind field is pretty abnormal when compared to your typical tropical cyclone. The graphic below displayed the forecasted wind field for Ike as it moves inland (Image courtesy NWS Houston/Galveston)

In a typical system with Ike's strength, hurricane-force winds would probably only extend to the other side of Galveston Bay, but Ike's sheer size is going to send hurricane-force winds all the way to Cameron in Louisiana. Very unusual, and bad in terms of generating a storm surge far from the centre of circulation. Now Ike may be a large storm, but it's got nothing on the largest storm in recorded history, Super Typhoon Tip.

Speaking of very bad, here's the current watches and warnings for the NWS Lake Charles area. I swear I've seen something similar very recently:

Weather Conditions: Sunny with winds from the east at 20 mph with gusts up to 30 mph as I'm typing this. Still no precipitation, but the clouds are beginning to thicken as they move with Ike.

1100: I have to say I was surprised when I went to Walmart and it wasn't just open, but people were actually there! I went in to grab some milk and wander around looking for a rain gauge. I was unsuccessful in my search. Why am I not surprised. At least I got some milk.

Weather Conditions: Party Cloudy with winds from the east at 25 mph with gusts it seems to be almost up to 35 mph. Still no rain.

1200: The wind picked up big time just now with a gust that went over 35 mph. Winds are still sustained at 25ish mph, but the number of gusts have been increasing. National Weather Service radar shows the edge of the storm is still offshore, but it's getting closer and closer.

1315: My mother spoke with me over the phone and told me that the storm surge has already coming onto the Louisiana coast, with the bridge over the Intracoastal Canal on the way to Cypremort Point is impassable because the water is covering the road at the base of both sides of the bridge, the Delcambre Canal going over the banks and into the town, and further west the Calcacieu Ship Channel is showing the water level at almost 9 feet, meaning Cameron already has three feet of water on the streets. Not good. Not good at all. KATC is breaking in at the top of every hour with Dave Baker giving the weather reports and forecasts for conditions across Acadiana. Here in St. Mary Parish the worst conditions we should see are 45-50 mph sustained winds and a storm surge of 4-6 feet, which would swamp everything south of the Intracoastal Canal. We'll be safe here in Franklin, but once again, the concept of another Rita-esque event so soon after Rita in 2005 is something I can't figure out.

Weather Conditions: Winds out of the east at 27 mph, gusting to 35 mph. Cloudy skies and sprinkles.

1455: The rain bands from Ike have finally arrive here in Franklin. About five minutes ago there was a pretty hard gust of wind (almost 40mph by my estimations) and the squally showers started. Looking at the NWS radar, conditions are about to go downhill from here.

Weather Conditions: Winds out of the east near 30 mph, gusting to 35 mph. Cloudy with squally showers becoming more numerous.

1620: I know everyone is dying to know what I've been doing the last hour, and I guess I should let everyone know: I was rearranging my bookshelf. Yup. Exciting stuff. The 1600 CDT Advisory and Forecast Discussions are now out, and it's more of the same with the major exception that Ike has finally made its move to the northwest, though at the same forward speed (10 mph) as previously. Ike's winds remain the same as the 1000 advisory, as does the expected point of landfall. Other than that, same old, same old. Here in Franklin they're closely watching Bayou Teche, which has risen significantly in the past couple of hours.

Weather Conditions: Winds sustained at 30 mph from the east with a recent gust of almost 40 mph. Occasional squalls, but we seem to be between the storm itself and an outer rain band.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Fun and Frivolity? Well, not Really

OK, so I said I was going to inject some fun and frivolity into this here blog last night, but alas, it just wasn't to be. That's not to say that I haven't been the recipient of good news. On the other hand, my long personal nightmare has ended with the purchase of a new car!

You see, once upon a time there was a young teacher named Loren who had a car that belonged to his great-grandmother. Now this wasn't any car driven by an octogenarian. No sir. It was a Ford Escort ZX2. Yeah, that's right, a compact car with a Zetec 4-cylinder dual overhead cam engine. Perfect for the kind of lady who shuffled about with a
walker and hadn't had a driver's license since Ronald Reagan's first term (Something we found out after a bit of investigation).

My first car (Well, the same make/model/color, at least)

Anywho, after the odometer hit 120,000, the engine began showing signs of its impending doom, so I went to the car salesman my family deals with at Service Chevrolet i
n Lafayette and came home with a 2004 Ford Taurus with only 27,000 miles... on my 24th birthday of all days!

My Taurus, on the afternoon that I bought it.

It was the perfectly boring car for what I considered to be a perfectly boring person. After all, I'm by most accounts a person without much of a sense of style. I eschew T-Shirts with not-very-vaguely suggestive slogans for $35 at the cookie-cutter "stylish" store at the mall for an Arsenal or Houston Dynamo T-shirt. Rico Suave I am not.

Regardless, the Taurus proved to be a pretty reliable car. It took me to work and back home, and back to work and back home, and back to wor... OK, you get the picture. It also took me on my little adventures, ranging from Houston for Dynamo matches, to New Orleans on several occasions when I did work for the Corps of Engineers, to Memphis (twice) for my brother, to southern Missouri for a conference. All this time I was piling on miles for a car that was plummeting in value since Ford decided to discontinue it. It was even hit in August 2007 by someone who drove into our yard, doing $2500 worth of body damage to the passenger side of the car. It was fixed with no problems and was back to the daily commute just like normal. Then the wheels fell off (no pun intended) one February 2008 morning.

I had just passed 80,000 miles when I was on my way to work to meet my dad at his office. I stopped at the 4-way stop where LA 343 crosses LA 342. I stopped at the stop sign, and in the middle of the intersection the RPMs shot up and the car stopped pulling. I coasted to a stop and contacted my dad. We pulled it to an empty lot and a tow truck picked it up. The car dealership gave me the bad news: The transmission simply broke. No warning. No stress. Just the drive train shearing off where it met the transmission. $3400 later I was back in business, albeit with a worthless car. It got more worthless in May when I had to plonk down $800 to replace an air conditioning system that once again died without any sort of warning. Over and over my mom reminded me how I should have never bought a Ford, despite being wowed by the Taurus when I bought it.

So by the beginning of June I was in the hunt for a new car. Despite the high gas prices I was in the market for a small SUV. If I was to get a new car it would need more payload than the Taurus, which was becoming a pain when I had to transport stuff to go camping or I need to bring stuff. Nothing really piqued my interest as far as SUVs went so I started peeking around at all-wheel drive station wagons like the Subaru Outback or even a Volvo XC
70. My weird different tastes proved to make my search for one of these cars extremely difficult, since the closest I could find a used one was in Houston, and who was going to drive 200 miles for a used station wagon, much less when the car you wanted to trade in was essentially worthless?

After much fruitless searching I decided to visit my family's car salesman at Service again in July, and fell in love with a 2007 Chevy Equinox with only 12,000 miles. Before I knew it I was talking to the loan officer at the dealership who unfortunately could only offer me a $400/month note over 72 months. Something that I couldn't afford, even on as massive of a salary as new teacher gets *chortle*. I slumped out of the dealership that afternoon wondering if I would ever be able to get rid of this car that was quickly becoming a millstone around my neck. But at least I knew if I couldn't get a station wagon, a crossover wouldn't be out of the question.

So for the next six weeks I kept my eyes open for deals and kicked plenty of tires around dealerships in the Acadiana area. The end result of all of these was the same: I walked away disgusted after either not finding anything I wanted or the blood-sucking car salesmen (and -woman, whom I met at Musson-Patout in New Iberia that was simply incapable of driving a golf cart, much less provide a hassle-free car buying experience.) would drive me away. It came to a crescendo on Wednesday when Hampton Toyota showed a commercial advertising 2007 Mitsubishi Outlanders for $179 a month. Of course, the post-Hurricane crawls hid the fine print, but it piqued my interest enough to go take another look.

Only $179 a month!

When my mom and I got there, we looked around the used car lot to no avail until a salesman came running up trying to drum up a sale. The poor fellow gave me a sad tale about how he lived across the street in the trailer park that still had no power, but the gracious boss was letting him shower in his office at the showroom. He stumbled through my questions about the Toyota Highlander and Honda Element I was looking at until I told him I wanted to see the Outlanders. I was impressed by the car's features but (once again) I was only looking for a price. As we walked into the showroom he gleefully told me how they are stretching out car loans for seven or even eight years. That flew up enough flags to grace the front of the United Nations, but I said nothing. He complied with my request of a price quote and gave me a monthly note of $439/month for a 5 year note. I pressed why I wasn't being offered the $179/month note offered on TV, and he couldn't give me an answer. In typical German style I calmly told him good day and ripped up his business card, dropping it in the wastebasket at the door in front of everyone.

I was supremely disgusted with the whole process of buying a car, but on Friday morning my mom told me that we should stop by Service Chevrolet to see if there were any SUVs that would pique my interest. I sheepishly agreed and we went back to Lafayette. When we got there there was nothing as usual, but in the back of the lot there was a Chevy Equinox sitting there. I hopped out of the car to see the price (Service Chevrolet is one of those strange dealerships that actually puts the cost of a car on the window!), but unfortunately there was no price. A salesman asked if he could help me and I told him I was interested in seeing the price of the Equinox, but before he went into the office I told him who was our salesman. Well, our salesman was standing right there and he was happy to see me again. We chatted about me teaching until I reminded him I need the price of the Equinox. He went in and came right back out with the keys to the car, telling me it was a 2005 model with 23,000 miles. The list price was $15,000 but he could get me in it for $12,500. I blinked twice when he told me that. He offered to get me a loan quote whilst I took it for a spin. My mom and I hopped in and were shocked to see how clean it was, much less the fact that it had leather seats! Leather! Seats! Leather!

I remembered how I fell in love with the Equinox back in July and decided right then and there to go home with it. I drove it around Lafayette for about 20 minutes or so before I returned to Service. The loan officer smiled when he offered m
e a pretty good rate and monthly note, along with an extremely favourable trade-in for my Taurus, now with almost 99,000 miles. He couldn't get the papers on the desk fast enough for me to sign, and two hours after I pulled onto the lot, I was driving off with a new car with ridiculously low mileage, more room to tote stuff around and leather seats!

My new car (Yes, it's raining when I took the picture)

Once again, my family's salesman and Service Chevrolet come through in the clutch with a great deal to put me in a car. I couldn't be happier.

See you tomorrow.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Hurricane Gustav: My Lessons Learned

I'm pretty sure everyone on this end of Acadiana is already way-past-tired of Hurricane Gustav coverage, much less bracing for the possibility of Hurricane Ike, but I just can't resist one last post about Gustav. Any good professional will tell you that a good professional (Hmm... circular argument!) will debrief after a major operation to find out what went right...and what went wrong. So without further ado, some points about surviving the (latest) tropical system.

(1) Communication from the government was fantastic! Well, almost...

Unlike the farce that was the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the state of Louisiana finally got themselves into some semblance of order in terms of information dissemination. Governor Bobby Jindal's daily press conferences were incredibly long-winded and seemed almost off-the-cuff on a couple of occasions, but they were rich in concrete information. Compared to the "Oh gee, I'm so bad off! Look at my sad face!" that was the typical press conference by my duck-hunting buddy, El Jefe gets kudos from me.

Who doesn't get kudos from me is St. Mary parish in general and the city of Franklin in particular. It was quite discomforting to see parish-after-parishs' OHSEPs report on their respective infrastructures on the news, only to hear nothing about where I live. I'll give the parish government and OHSEP a pass to a limited extent that the parish was smacked pretty hard by the storm, so an immediate report would be difficult to get out. It is, however, completely unacceptable to hear no news from media outlets almost 96 hours after Gustav's landfall about when I could return to my home. The sad truth is that I only found out when I could return home from my principal, who told me it had been OK since early on Wednesday. If I was waiting for an all clear from my city government to be broadcast on local media, I'd still be stuck at my parents' home. During states of emergency, communication of facts to the general population is paramount to mitigate damage and hasten recovery, and the city of Franklin did very little of that.

(2) I need to work on my evacuation skills.

I must admit that I generally don't heed mandatory evacuation orders. Part of this is because my parents generally don't heed them, and being their child meant I had to follow their lead. This all changed back in 2005 when I was volunteered by my grandmother to work for our town's OHSEP. This of course threw me into the maelstrom that was Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and gave me some experiences that I wouldn't have experienced otherwise. This of course meant that when storms were contemplating which section of the Gulf of Mexico to maraud, I had to stay put. It never got too bad (The worst we got with Rita was 90 mph+ sustained winds) and I never lost anything from a storm, so I guess it was all OK. This time I decided to bail since I was planning on spending Labor Day weekend with my parents, and Gustav was headed for southeast instead of southwest Louisiana. I thought I had packed only my essential/irreplaceable stuff, but that left my car completely full. At least I had my essential things (Identification, lease, school data, etc.), but I still brought too much fluff with me.

I think it would be a wise investment for me to get some heavy-duty storage containers (Some oilfield-surplus storage boxes would suffice) and just pack stuff in them. They're sturdy enough to withstand heavy-duty winds, watertight, and heavy enough to not float away in a worst-case scenario of a large storm surge. Though with that said I just don't have the space at my current location to store them. So I guess for the rest of this hurricane season I'll stick to tossing stuff in my car.

(3) I need to bite the bullet and get my amateur radio license.

Yeah, so my nerd quotient would hit the ionosphere, but getting my technician's license along with a good dual-band 2-meter/10 cm set has been a goal of mine for quite a while. In case you don't know, Ham Radio operators provide invaluable communication services during times of emergency through ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service). I met a couple of local ARES folks after Hurricane Katrina and I was so impressed with the work they were capable of doing I told myself I would bite the bullet and become a Ham operator myself. Hurricane Rita threw a spanner in the works for diving right in, and it's been three years and now two (possibly three by this time next week) hurricanes and I'm still not there. It'll take some cash to get going, but at least I'll be of some use in times of emergency to someone.

(4) I need to get back into the OHSEP volunteer business.

If volunteering for Gueydan's OHSEP taught me one thing, it was that being in the thick of things in a time of emergency is far better than sitting in a house with nothing to do but watch the newscasters go over the same six bits of information for days at at time. So I'm in a new town with slightly bigger ambitions than our setup (It was the mayor, the police chief, the fire chief, and myself sitting in the basement of the city hall with a couple of TVs, two office PCs and my laptop, and two telephones), but it's a chance to do something really important in times of real need. I've considered going ahead and diving in, but it seems Hurricane Ike wants me to wait until after he passes. Oh well, who am I to argue with a tropical cyclone?

One last thing, in my LiveBlog of Gustav I hinted at a quick and dirty summary of Gustav based on my experiences with riding out tropical systems in the past. Well, I was at my grandmother's old house on Wednesday washing clothes and I got tired of playing Hearts and Freecell on my laptop, so I put my laptop to good use. If you're in the mood for some boring weather talk, you can check out my
Quick and Dirty Summary of Hurricane Gustav based on my personal observations. If anything, if you're not interested in papers talking about the weather, it's dry enough to put an insomniac to sleep.

Check back in tomorrow for hopefully some fun and frivolity!

The Hurricane Gustav LiveBlog, Part 3

Yeah, it seems odd to post a LiveBlog nearly a week after the event happened, but that's what happens when you're blogging on a six-column columnar pad instead of a computer. So with that said, here's Part 3 of my Hurricane Gustav LiveBlog.

Part 3: 01 September 2008, 1605-2200 CDT

1605: Power just went out. :^( No need to fear, as Eric powered up his generator, which puts everything back to normal in the house save the central air conditioning unit. With the current conditions and the build quality of the house (No movement or air seepage at all), we should be quite fine. Now if we could get our power back early this time. (Note: We got power back at 1224 on Tuesday 2 September, 19 hours and 19 minutes later, or if you’re obtuse like me, 1159 minutes.) My times without power for the past couple of major storms was seven days for Rita (2005), seven days for Lili (2002), and twenty days for Andrew (1992), though Andrew was a special case as Andrew decided to drop a tree on my room, destroying everythi
ng I had, and more importantly for what I’m discussing, the electrical panel for the house.

Though Eric just got the generator up and running, I’m taking no chances with my information flow, so I fired up the dynamo-powered radio again
. On the radio, I found KATC simulcasting and Rob Perillo says the 1600 advisory puts Gustav 10 miles to the north of the KATC studios. The worst rainfall seems to be currently in St. Landry parish with an area north of Krotz Springs with eight inches of rain and climbing fast. Winds still in the 60 mph range from the West (270°).

Some strange cell phone number is calling my mom. Despite Eric’s protestations, it isn’t me, since I’m still in the 337 area code down in Franklin! The number is a 985 number (Southeastern Louisiana outside of the New Orleans immediate metro area), so I went to work Google-ing the number and at the end of my free searches,
I found it to be a cell number from the Thibodaux area. No clue who it is. (Edit: We actually decided to call it and found out it’s a friend of the family that actually just moved from Thibodaux to Abbeville. Thankfully God keeps His eye on His own, eh?)

1715: From the “From Your Lips to God’s Ears” Depa
rtment: Eric was complaining how it’s generally useless to call SLEMCO to report power outages since the local office in Kaplan doesn’t answer their phones. Immediately after he said this KATC reports that SLEMCO’s power outage report hotline is down. Winds seem to be beginning to abate slightly, as well as change directions. The wind is about 55 mph from the west-southwest (248ish°), and yes, it’s still raining.

First local fatality to pass along. A 27 year-old man is killed when a tree fell on his house. Accordin
g to KATC’s on-site reporter, the tree was “ten feet wide” and fell directly where the man was sitting, killing him instantly. His home seems to be off the Evangeline Thruway near the I-10/I-49 interchange near Sts. Leo-Seton School.

Levee breach! According to a simulcast on KATC of New Orleans’ WGNO TV 26, the Plaquemines Parish-owned Braithwaite levee has had a partial breach. The footage shows crews working to stop the leak with sandbags by the backhoe-full.

1735: Rob Perillo estimates that 14+ inches of rain has fallen in an area north of Port Barre and east of Washington in St. Landry parish, with the total only to climb from there. Other interesting facts about Gustav, other than the hurricane taking its name from one of my favourite monarchs of all time: Gustav Adolf II (Better known by his Latinized name, Gustavus Adolphus) of Sweden; The Lion of the North and smasher of Spanish Tercios across Central Europe during the Thirty Years War! *ahem* Sorry about the History Rampage™ there.

Back to interesting facts about Gustav, the hurricane: Zero tornadoes have been spawned by the core of the storm, which is somewhat rare for a storm of its strength this far inland. As far as the rest of the storm is concerned, only a couple of possible F-0s (on the Enhanced Fujita scale) in extreme eastern Louisiana seem to have been spawned. Rob also notes what I pointed out to everyone earlier that Gustav seems to be moving now in more of a north-northwest (340ish°) direction as opposed to the northwest direction listed in the last
advisory. Winds now definitely west-southwest (248ish°) in direction, and the wind speed seems to be in the 40-45 mph range. It’s still raining, but not as intensely as it had been.

1800: Supper! Chilidogs and/or BBQ beef sandwiches are on the menu. Of course, I’d have nothing less than the finest dining to hear Governor Jindal give a briefing on the status of the state as the storm begins the long process of winding itself down. Kudos as usual to the Jindalnator for his professionalism (A tiny complaint on my part would be that he needs to sound a little more prepared for these briefings. But I understand the sheer amount of data he has to be aware of and pass along, but that’ll come from experience) as well as showing the world how a hurricane should be handled, unlike my duck blind mate on more than once occasion Kathleen Blanco. Jindal reports Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes are the hardest hit areas, and begins to go through a laundry list of utility and infrastructure sites hit.

The most unique damage report? The ferry at White Castle that crosses the Mississippi River was sunk. The naval historian side of me conjured up an image like the photos seen in the aftermath of the invasion of Norway by Germany in 1940 for some reason: No clue why it came to my mind, but chances are it wasn’t that dramatic, or involved as much flying lead.

1815: Louisiana State Police are reporting on KATC as well as the radio scanner they are having a devil of a time dealing with people leaving their houses and driving around to survey the damage. I really can’t blame these people, despite the complete stupidity involved in driving around areas with tree limbs and live power lines lying about in the streets. After all, I’m dying to escape this house after putting up with these people and the same four tapes of file footage the TV stations have been showing for the past eleven hours!

1900: The winds continue to blow, now from the southwest (225ish°) at around 30 mph, but the rain seems almost done. I guess the storm is officially over. I mean, KATC has changed its intro pieces from GUSTAV: THE STORM to GUSTAV: THE RECOVERY. Apparently, trees are down everywhere… except in our neck of the woods (Bad pun.). Why you ask? Because we have no trees, of course!

1930: Rob Perillo points out how Acadiana has dodged yet another bullet in terms of a major hurricane blowing through the area with Gustav. According to KATC Weather Blog posts by Rob Perillo; National Weather Service discussions; and my two cents (most important of them all), Acadiana’s Worst Case Scenario would have been what would have happened had Hurricane Lili made landfall as a Category 4 storm like it was expected to back in October 2002. Lili was forecasted to lumber ashore with 140 mph winds near Pecan Island in Vermilion Parish. This would have put the most populated areas of Acadiana square in the northeastern quadrant of the storm as it made landfall, exposing them to the worst of the winds. In addition, a landing in Pecan Island would have essentially tossed all of the water in Vermilion Bay onshore. Imagine the flooding in Erath and Delcambre in Youngsville or downtown New Iberia under ten feet of water. And for the folks most interested in this blog, all of St. Mary Parish would have been under at least four feet of water save Morgan City, whose sea wall would have been about the only thing able to save it.
Speaking of St. Mary Parish, everything seems too quiet for our own good on the news front. The only news I was able to gather on either the TV or the radio scanner is that the parish has zero electrical service. That little news coming out can’t be good.

2020: Kari Hall takes over for a bleary-eyed Rob Perillo and in Kari’s easygoing style points out the obvious: conditions are beginning to improve from south to north. KATC interviews St. Landry Parish Sheriff Bobby Guidroz, who makes sure to tell everyone his parish is still taking a pounding. He also extended the parish-wide curfew until daylight tomorrow due to the conditions.

2030: Five Six Seven Public Service Announcements in a row on KATC during a commercial break. What, no sleazy lawyers wanted to pony up the cash to fill in the airtime? Oh wait an election commercial. I guess it took a sleazy politician to break the monotony instead.

2035: It’s been over twelve hours on this hurricane blog, and since things seems to be winding down on this end. But first, an important turn of events! A press conference starring Ray Nagin! Way to stay classy Ray by starting your press conference by making a snide remark about Gustav raining on the Republican National Convention. And you wonder why people think about you the way they do outside of Orleans Parish?

2045: Finally! Concrete news from St. Mary Parish! Too bad (for me) it’s about Morgan City. According to news reports Morgan City got hammered pretty hard, and has zero utility service, as a tornado (Guys, you do realize that hurricane with 100 mph winds at the eye wall is essentially a giant F-1 tornado, right?) damaging the town’s water and sewer plants. As a result, the city won’t be open for a while. That isn’t the kind of news anyone, much less my Instructional Facilitator will want to hear. I hate to be selfish and paraphrase Darth Vader at the same time, but I find the lack of news regarding Franklin disturbing. One last thing: Winds are down to 25 mph and steady from the southwest (225ish°).

2120: Finally! An end to the local Gustav coverage! Crap, it’s been replaced with national coverage of Gustav. Isn’t there a football game on this evening or something?

2200: Last blog of the day, so here we go: The 2200 advisory from the National Weather Service was just released. It downgraded Gustav to a Tropical Storm with 60 mph sustained winds with the centre southeast of Alexandria. I felt like concluding this blog post with a quick and dirty summary of the storm here at Carla and Eric’s house northeast of Gueydan, but I can’t be buggered to do so as the air mattress is calling my name. If I can quickly put Gustav in context of other hurricanes I’ve ridden out down here in South Louisiana, it wasn’t as bad as Rita back in 2005 or Andrew in 1992 (At least weather- wise. Who knows about the condition of my house?), but seems initially on par with Lili in 2002 and Danny and Juan in 1985, but hopefully without the long power outages those three storms inflicted on us.

The Hurricane Gustav LiveBlog, Part 2

Yeah, it seems odd to post a LiveBlog nearly a week after the event happened, but that's what happens when you're blogging on a six-column columnar pad instead of a computer. So with that said, here's Part 2 of my Hurricane Gustav LiveBlog.

Part 2: 01 September 2008, 1200-1549 CDT

1200: Wind gusts up to 45 mph just a couple of minutes ago with a nasty squall. I’m sucking bandwidth through a straw looking up the soccer news from Europe and here. Arsenal won impressively, Arminia Bielefeld coughed up a two-goal lead to Hamburg SV, and Houston won impressively. My fantasy soccer team probably lost their two matches this weekend thanks to me keeping a guy on the bench that scored two goals. <_<> 1235: Bad rain/wind gusts as I write this. Surfing the Internet looking for the weather reports from the National Weather Service, but struggling because of little bandwidth. I did manage to get a wonderful screenshot of the watches/warnings out currently in the NWS Lake Charles region.

I’m currently getting much enjoyment out of listening to my radio scanner. Law Enforcement folks are hard to find, but the SLEMCO (the local electrical utilities provider) folks are quite chatty. Apparently, they’re still on the road in the storm, as two guys were talking about seeing kids in Kaplan making donuts in the local Piggly Wiggly parking lot. Classy.

1300: Rain/Wind steadily getting worse, with winds sustained at over 40 mph now from west- northwest with steady rain that’s becoming heavy at times. My parents’ dogs are out on the front porch out of the wind sleeping quietly, unlike my dad and Eric, who are performing the Chainsaw Duet March in the two recliners in the living room, oblivious to yet another poor pulp western on TV.

1307: Ministry of Unintentional British Humour sighting: On KATC’s website, the summary for today’s forecast? Windy.

1330: KATC radar shows Franklin catching the western edge of the eye wall with wind gusts estimated up to 90 mph. The Weather Channel’s crawl says the winds in Gueydan are from the North at 30 mph. Huh?

1343: The Weather Channel announces proudly, “Many folks evacuated from Louisiana to the Northeast, and these folks are enjoying the fantastic weather!” Rub it in why don’t you? In radio scanner news, I found someone talking on one of the local law enforcement frequencies, 852.512 MHz, but the chatter was decidedly amateurish, as one person was claiming to be talking from their front porch. Regardless, they confirmed KATC and The Weather Channel’s announcements that the eye was passing in the vicinity of Jeanerette.

1400: I’m still online reading the Guardian’s Transfer Deadline Ticker. What a day for Manchester City. Embattled former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra sells the club to Abu Dhabi's governmental front company headed by billionaire
Sulaiman Al-Fahim for $400 million this morning and immediately upon taking over the fellow cracks open his wallet and launches simultaneous bids of over $65 million each for Real Madrid’s Robinho, Valencia’s David Villa, and Tottenham Hotspur’s Dimitar Berbatov? Man, that makes Roman Abramovich’s $300 million spending spree in the summer of 2003 seem almost frugal.

In other news, my parents and Carla and Eric are discussing the qualities of eating parts of cattle that frankly should never be eaten. Online streaming is impossible with this connection and my portable Sirius satellite radio doesn’t work without an antenna with an open view of the northern sky, so I’ve got my radio scanner locked onto the Louisiana State Police’s main radio frequency (853.587 MHz), which in times of emergency is shared with the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD). Hilarity ensues as a DOTD supervisor tries to initiate an hourly radio check with drawbridge operators hunkered down in their control houses, only to be cut off by a State Trooper trying to keep the channel open for emergency communications only. His point is proven when a State Trooper calls in with a car pulled over north of Lafayette containing a sightseer wanting a peek at the conditions. Winds now almost due west (270°) at over 40 mph with rainsqualls coming through more frequently.

1430: A little bit of web searching brings up a couple of new frequencies, but they are all empty at the moment. Lights have dimmed a couple of times but our electricity remains nonetheless. Fun continues on the PC as my continued search for weather information lets me know that this computer has no Java, Flash, or Shockwave applets. Sweet! I’m Internet-ing like it’s 1995! This means NOAA’s looping of the local radar in Lake Charles is out of the question, so I’m forced to download the several-hundred Kb animated .gif of the radar loop of the Southern Mississippi Valley. Let’s see how long this will take to get.

1436: Success! The .gif of the radar loop is downloading, and from a distance, the centre of Gustav seems to be just north of New Iberia/Loreauville. What’s also interesting is that the eye seems to be beginning a turn to the north-northwest. Perhaps a near miss for Lafayette? Wir werden sehen as my grandfather would say. I forgot how bad dial-up was for general web surfing, so out of a state of boredom I logged off the connection and shut the computer down. Winds are above 45 mph and remain almost due west (270°) and rain continues to fall.

1501: Nastiest squall yet rolls through with sustained winds suddenly jumping up to 55 mph in a short span of time with continued driving rain. Lights continue to flicker and dim intermittently but surprisingly we still have electricity. News, radio, and radio scanner report widespread trees down across the Acadiana area, and even more so in the Baton Rouge area, where Rob Perillo reports a wind gust at 91 mph at Baton Rouge International Airport. Winds are definitely due west now (270°), which makes me believe we are about as close as we’re going to get to the eye of Gustav. Radar reports from KATC put the centre of Gustav between Broussard and St. Martinville. In addition, preliminary rainfall estimates from the radar put the most rainfall in the area over the Atchafalaya Basin and in the Henderson Lake area in particular with over 12 inches of rain.

1515: Ace & Buddy (My parents’ dogs) look like brave soldiers sitting on the west side of the house on the leeward side of the storm. In completely unrelated news, KATC must really owe the local law offices some airtime. There’s so many commercials for them that the next time I’m in a fender-bender, I won’t know which shyster to call first!

1549: Another nasty squall rolls through and the winds are now about as fast as we’re probably going to get. Winds are currently sustained at 60ish mph from due west (270°). Rob Perillo breaks out the 1600 advisory and puts the centre of Gustav at 30.4° North (30° 24’ 00” for those of us who prefer the degrees-minutes-seconds convention) and 92.0° West (92° 0’ 0”), which offhand sounds like north of Carencro. KATC just went off the air as I was writing this, which forced us to put the TV back on the Weather Channel (Watch KLFY you say? I’d be better off asking the columnar pad I’m writing this blog on for weather information). At least they’re good for a laugh, as they’re still talking about 15 ft storm surges in Vermilion Bay and the announcer suddenly sounded like she was bobbing for apples as she was telling us how important it was to keep our TVs tuned to them. If you say so.

The Hurricane Gustav LiveBlog, Part 1

Yeah, it seems odd to post a LiveBlog nearly a week after the event happened, but that's what happens when you're blogging on a six-column columnar pad instead of a computer.

The following three blog posts are the summary of what I did during Hurricane Gustav. I hope it is as entertaining of a read for you as it was for me to write it.

Part 1: 01 September 2008, 0615-1130 CDT

0615: My father does his usual walking-alarm clock routine by turning on the television and making sure that the volume is high enough to scare me out of my skin when he turns it on. I get the cobwebs shaken out of my head fast enough to catch Dave Baker from KATC, a fellow with whom I once had a running conversation about hurricane prediction models up and down ten aisles of a Super Walmart (Note the new spelling convention for the Big Box Store of Doom™), repeats the 0400 CDT advisory that Gustav’s maximum sustained wind speed is down to 115 mph. Looking at the forecast track, I’m betting on an official landfall within 8 miles of Cocodrie.

0702: KATC broadcasts the 0700 CDT advisory, which drops Gustav down to 110 mph, the maximum sustained wind speed for a Category 2 hurricane. Its movement remains approximately NE (320°) with a forward speed at 16 mph. I just finished tossing my stuff into the truck to head over to Carla and Eric’s house (My parents’ neighbours). Winds ≤ 20 mph almost due north (350ish°). No precipitation.

0745: Eye of Gustav passes over Port Fourchon/Grand Isle area, but centre of circulation remains over Terrebonne Bay. Official landfall looks almost to be a cinch within 5 miles of Cocodrie. I wonder who said that? Oh yeah, I did. Eat your heart out Jim Cantore.

0800: We walked next door to my parents’ neighbours to ride out the storm. Why you ask? Because my parents live in a camper trailer (not a FEMA Trailer. Long story.). On the walk over winds seem to have shifted to north-northwest (340ish°) but are definitely in the sustained 20 mph range. Precipitation in the form of mist increasing to sprinkles.

0830: Eric changes the channel from KATC to The Hysterical Weather Channel. They’re up to the usual histrionics with their chief meteorologist estimating storm surge for St. Mary Parish and Vermilion bay to be in the 9 ft-16 ft range. Look, I know you have a Ph.D. in meteorology and all, but how can Vermilion Bay get a 9 ft-16 ft storm surge after landfall when the wind is blowing the water out of the bay? And by the time the storm passes enough to the northwest to allow for a southerly wind to pile the water onshore, the winds will have lessened enough to Category 1 or even Tropical Storm force, making a storm surge that high a bit difficult to say the least. Perhaps Charlton Heston will be on the job?

0900: The Weather Channel is already on my last nerve with its “live report from the impending disaster here in New Orleans!” said oddly enough by their reporter in Morgan City. Luckily Eric saves my sanity…or so I thought by changing the channel. Instead of hysterics and poor geography, we’re stuck with a pseudo-Spaghetti Western written, produced by, and starring Jack Nicholson. Yeah, it seems as nonsensical as you assumed it would be when you read that last sentence. My mom and Carla jumped into Carla’s truck to run to Marceaux’s, Gueydan’s local grocery store that’s open for all disasters, but never on Sunday afternoons, for some more junk food. Winds sound about 25 mph remaining from the north-northwest (340ish°)

0938: Enough of Jack Nicholson already. I’m bored out of my mind, so there’s only one thing left to do: pull out my dynamo-powered shortwave radio! Unfortunately it’s a cheap model, so I’m only able to catch the SW1 and SW2 bands, so my chances of catching anything really interesting are slim to none. But offhand I think I can catch a BBC World Service snippet, which would let me in on what’s happening on the transfer market in European soccer, since today is the deadline. Let’s see what I can find.

0945: Snap. Nothing on shortwave. Here’s the result of my shortwave search:

(1) Spanish Language station, probably Voice of Habana in Cuba. I can guess this not so much because I know Spanish (And I don’t. Just enough German to [successfully] pretend I’m fluent to strangers and enough Dutch to read de Telegraaf.), but because I don’t think after over forty years, The Beard has managed to find a good enough translation for “Marxist-Leninist Dialectic.”

(2) Chinese-language station, probably Voice of Taiwan. I’m not positive of its identity but based on previous jaunts with this radio, I seem to remember the Voice of Taiwan in that vicinity.

(3) Random Christian Televangelist. Hmm, no low-power FM station to hitch a ride onto?

(4) Conspiracy Theory Talk Show. Whoa Nelly! I couldn’t figure out what this was initially since the host was talking about calling in the hotline early to get their introductory offer, but the nature of the show became evident when the special guest, a “world-renown expert on high-altitude poisoning, shadow governments, and UFOs (A Tinfoil-hat Brigade Yahtzee?),” came on an said how he was happy to be on to spread the word in the fight against the New World Order. Apparently, the airlines are poisoning us with Chemtrails sprayed by airliners at high altitude. Thankfully, we know when the International Conspiracy is harming us by the trails in the sky! Er, they do understand the concept of condensation don’t they? Perhaps this fellow was in the same science program when they were discussing storm surge values on the western side of a tropical system in the Northern Hemisphere? Oh, I almost forgot. Winds up to 25 mph and continuing north-northwest (340ish°), but it doesn’t seem long until I can say it’s coming from the northwest. Precipitation in the form of tropical showers coming down constantly now.

1000: New National Weather Service advisory and forecast track: centre of Gustav is just SW of Houma (between Houma and Waterproof) and eye wall approaching Morgan City, possibly already affecting Amelia. Gustav is moving to the northwest (340°) at 16 mph. Winds sustained at 110 mph. KATC states winds in Franklin will probably just miss 100 mph in sustained wind speed, but I disagree considering the current track will put Franklin in the southwest quadrant of the eye wall. I say sustained winds of 80-85 mph with gusts probably 95-100 mph. Don’t believe me? Well you should. Dave Baker just confirmed that Gustav made landfall 4 miles southeast of Cocodrie. Perhaps I should moonlight as a meteorologist? Winds here approaching 30 mph, now from the northwest (315°). Rain continues.

1024: For some inexplicable reason the TV goes back onto The Weather Channel. Storm Magnet Extraordinaire Jim Cantore is in Houma outside a Catholic church in the eye of the storm. Damage is everywhere including the new copper roof on one of the buildings sitting on a police car. After much hand wringing, they admit that the storm surge won’t be as high as they were saying in Vermilion Bay and St. Mary parish. Duh.

1030: TV goes back onto KATC (Why did it leave in the first place?). Canned news report interviews a family that evacuated from New Orleans in a U-Haul. When interview, the guy, who had 10 dogs; 2 ferrets; 3 adults; and a lawn tractor in the back of the U-Haul, said “I’m not going back! It can sink or drown or whatever for all I care!” You’re probably not the only person that’s thinking that, mate.

1100: I finally asked and got permission to go online (Yippee!). First thing I did was went to check my e-mail. Server down. No go. Gmail? Yes! Any mail? No. :^(

1115: Lunch. Good old-fashioned German food: Sausage and Potato Stew. Carla made some fig cake that was rather tasty. The TV remains on KATC but I’m not listening. More of the same things I’ve heard for the last 48 hours really.

1130: KATC reports the centre of Gustav is over Lake Palourde and eye wall is approaching Franklin with winds > 90 mph. Nicht so gut. Rather than sit through a wretched remake of the Magnificent Seven, I sit hidden in Carla and Eric’s office in the northwest corner of the house on the magnificent (sic) 24.0Kbps dial-up connection, as opposed to the 6.0Mbps I get in Franklin. Hey, I’m not complaining. It’s better than nothing! Winds near 35 mph from the northwest (315°) with rain continuing.