march arrived a couple days early yesterday afternoon. the dogs heard it first of course, and then the trees on the other side of the pond began to dance as the wind came roaring out of the west. it's blowing now, ferocious as a freight train, even more unstoppable. sticks and leaves scatter across the frozen surfaces of the ponds.
the sun is getting stronger. a storm's predicted for tomorrow - a piddling 1-3 inches. but there's the possiblity of another on monday, and this one sounds like a real nor'easter, with 1 or 2 feet of snow attached to it.
it reminds me of the Great March Storm of 1962.*
the Great March Storm of 1962 is seared indelibly into my memory. i was not quite 3 years old, my brother just turned 1. a series of coincidences - spring high tides, the full moon, the winds - all conspired to spawn if not a perfect storm, one that was capable of swamping the entire eastern seaboard with many feet of water. in today's dollars, im sure the damage it wreaked would stand in the billions.
i remember crouching in the dining room, on the living room sofa which had inexplicably been pulled up to the big plate glass window. a hoard of adults had invaded our house, adults who spoke in lowered tones and walked in quick pattering bursts, who came and went abruptly. i remember watching the ocean swirl up the street, cover the lawn, rippling in eddies around the hedge. i remember watching night fall and the water lapping at the edge of our porch, occasionally washing foam toward our front door.
on the couch next to me, i remember a little boy nicknamed ashey. ashey was a little bit older than i was, maybe a year or so. i remember kneeling side by side, hands cupped around our faces, peering into the dark night. our house was next to my grandmother's house, a comforting bulwark that rose like a battle ship above the flooded streets.
there was a gas station on the corner diagnoally across from it.
"it's on fire," said ashey, turning to his father, his mother, "the gas station is on fire."
"it is not," i said, because i couldn't see from my angle what ashey could. and then, in the moment the words left my lips, a fountain of yellow flame exploded out of tiny window near the roof, high enough for me to see. it arced above the street, towering above the houses, a billowing blowtorch fueled by a howling march wind. the sky turned orange.
the adults leaped into action. my father grabbed me. my mother ran for my brother. an enormous truck from the civil defense arrived as if by magic, and we were swept aboard, my great-grandfather heaved in last because he'd had to be physically hauled down the steps, protesting all the way he was staying with the house.
i remember being taken to a big room with a lot of desks. i remember my mother spreading blankets on a desk.
i remember waking up in my own bed.
i ran to my mother's room to see, if by some chance, this had all been some very vivid dream. my father wasn't there. he was still working with the civil defense, she said, with the army corps of engineers. my father came home early in the mornings for many weeks after that, exhausted, wet and dirty.
outside, the flood waters had receded to less than a foot. the gas station across the street smoldered in a black heap of rubble, but my great-grandfather's house stood untouched. because it was cold, there was a coating of ice on the neighborhood roofs, enough to save them all. and because the floodwater was so high, the fire only burned down to the water line, which prevented it from reaching the underground gas tanks.
and furthermore, the war WILL end. blessed be.
*The Great March Storm of 1962 did indeed go down in the record books. according to wikipedia: "It was considered by the U.S. Geological Survey to be one of the most destructive storms ever to impact the mid-Atlantic states. One of the ten worst storms in the United States in the 20th century, it lingered through five high tides over a three day period, killing 40 people, injuring over 1,000 and causing hundreds of millions in property damage in six states.
New Jersey shoreline took a beating. The high tides pulled homes off their foundations, ripped through roads and created new inlets along Long Beach Island. Portions of the Atlantic City boardwalk were shredded by the pounding surf.
Estimated damage to the state was $130 million, almost half of the total of all six states hit. A newspaper later reported on the scene in the town of Harvey Cedars, "The houses are everywhere, in no order, sometimes piled two or three together. Around them crushed and mangled cars and trucks lie half buried."
The Red Cross put the death toll for the East Coast at 40, with a quarter of those killed in New Jersey. While the storm was neither a hurricane, nor a classic nor'easter, its impact was so powerful, the U.S. Weather Bureau gave it a name – "The Great Atlantic Storm."
where i grew up, we talked about it as the Great March Storm.