Note: I’m writing this a few days after Hurricane/Tropical Storm Henri hit Rhode Island, and I’m hoping it will seem a bit dated by the time you read it. Because that would mean that we don’t have another storm on its way…
I’ve done a lot of thinking, reading, and fabricating around details of the Great Hurricane of 1938 (for Oliver’s Surprise) and 1954’s Hurricane Carol (for Cape Cod Surprise). But it wasn’t until halfway through “le Dimanche d’Henri” (the Sunday of Henri) that it occurred to me how much distinctive personality each storm has. This guy arrived almost 30 years to the day after Hurricane Bob, the last hurricane to make a direct hit on New England, but it developed well north of the usual Caribbean track. So right from the get-go, Henri challenged our pre-conceived notions about how an August storm “should” behave.
Thanks to great forecasting, we had plenty of time to pull boats and tidy up the yard. Henri couldn’t quite make up his mind exactly which coastal town to visit first, but like many Rhode Island visitors he eventually settled on a Block Island landfall. That meant our strongest breeze came out of the east—putting us on the sheltered side of Conanicut Island.
The rain began before dawn on Sunday morning, but the wind didn’t really start whistling until after breakfast. Even at the height of it we were able to sit on our front porch, tracking every wobble on our favorite radar app while simultaneously bracing for the next cracking tree limb. Just after noon, the breeze peaked at about 60 knots and Henry made his second stop in Westerly, RI. Our power went out, but the backup generator was ready to go. With both boats and ourselves well out of harm’s way (and the hurricane libations staying chilled), there was nothing more to do than track the radar and watch the wind shift right.
By early afternoon, Henry had taken his predicted jog west into Connecticut, and without the fueling warmth of Gulf Stream waters, he quickly faded away to something much less serious. Once the puffs dropped down to the 20s, we joined our neighbors in a checkup around the island. Not everyone had been able to move their boats to a safe location, so for some Henri brought the sailing season to an early close. For others, he brought overtime; chain saws, bucket trucks, and backhoes started up to clear the mess he left behind.
While I will probably incorporate some of Henri’s personality quirks into future stories, my primary takeaway is something all hurricanes have in common: the timeless power of community. No matter how different storms might be, they all give us a common focus. For four days (before, during, and after), neighbors and visitors alike paused to discuss preparations, power outages, tree damage, and when more typical summer activities like sailing and swimming could safely resume. We don’t need the big-picture view of radar to appreciate that.
By the time you read this, I’m hoping that Dimanche d’Henri and hurricanes in general are no longer our main topic of neighborhood discussions. But I also hope that our renewed sense of community and common goals remains, long after the chain saws and backhoes and bucket trucks have gone quiet again.