Hurricane Harvey

Harvey was still a tropical storm when it went over the eastern Caribbean. That was a little over a week ago.

Folks in Barbados were without power for a while. At least one house was destroyed, and more folks had to evacuate their homes.

Pretty much the same thing happened in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Suriname and Guyana had wind and rain: enough to kill at least one person, a woman whose house collapsed with her inside.

Harvey was a category 4 hurricane when it reached the Texas coast, between Port Aransas and Port O’Connor. That was around 10:00 p.m. Friday.

By noon Saturday, about 230,000 utility customers in Texas had no power.1

Harvey’s a tropical storm now, shedding water on Texas.

Folks between Corpus Christi, San Antonio, and Houston will probably get over 20 inches of rain in the next few days.

“…While Harvey’s winds are decreasing, life-threatening hazards will continue from heavy rainfall over much of southeastern Texas and from storm surge along portions of the Texas coast….”
(“Tropical Storm Harvey Forecast Discussion” National Hurricane Center, NOAA (4:00 p.m. CDT Saturday, August 26, 2017))

My guess is that most Texans are better able to deal with Harvey than many folks in the smaller Caribbean nations.

This storm won’t be easy on anyone who gets in its way.

Texas authorities confirmed that one person is dead. A man in Rockport, Texas, was not able to leave his house. It burned during the storm.

Other deaths may be confirmed, as teams sift through debris. Many folks survived, but have no place to live.

‘Lost everything’ is serious, no matter how much or how little someone has.

No pressure, but some will need help.

That’s true even in nice weather, and even in America.

There are a great many outfits working with folks who need help. And a few, sadly, out to make a quick buck from folks who feel charitable but aren’t careful.

CRS, Catholic Relief Services, isn’t the only legitimate philanthropic operation. But I think they’re worth mentioning:

CRS, by the way, helps anyone who needs it. As their mission statement says, their job is “to assist people on the basis of need, not creed, race or nationality.”

There’s more to charity than charitable giving, and that’s another topic. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 18221829)

Storm News and Views

(From Hurricane Center, NOAA, used w/o permission.)
(Five-day wind speed forecast; Friday morning, August 25, 2017)

Most of American ‘storm’ news focuses on the Texas coast. That’s understandable. Texas is closer to home than Barbados or Suriname for most Americans. It’s home for a fair number of us.

Editorial styles vary, of course, since news outlets cater to a broad range of tastes. So does what they cover.

Some of storm-related entertainment news was remarkably trivial: for folks who aren’t “Game of Thrones” fans.

But I realize that life goes on, trivia and all. So, I think, does possibly-unintentional humor:

Atkin’s op-ed had another headline in New Republic. The N.R. headline Harvey “Scary and Unprecedented.” The Mother Jones headline is not entirely hyperbole.

Each tropical storm in the Atlantic has a unique history: just like Harvey. Atkin discusses some of Harvey’s highlights before approaching Texas.

A few tropical storms form in the southern Atlantic. Strong wind shear almost always keeps them from developing into hurricanes. There’s been one exception since we started keeping records of that area: Catrina in 2004.

Texas Disaster Declaration

(From Texas State Government, used w/o permission.)
(Texas counties declared disaster areas; August 25, 2017)

The United States is a big country, with quite a few states bordering the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic. Hurricanes affect at least a few Americans every year. What’s unusual about Harvey is that it’s among the stronger hurricanes we’ve dealt with.

That’s probably one reason that Texas Governor Gregg Abbott sent a letter to the U.S. President and FEMA on Friday. I gather that it’s a formal request for help. He said that what’s coming “is beyond the capabilities of the state and affected local governments.”

This isn’t a ‘political’ blog, so I won’t say that he shouldn’t have asked for help. Or shouldn’t have sent the letter yet. Or didn’t send it soon enough. Or that he did the right thing, and anyone who says otherwise is stupid. Or worse.

I figure maybe he’s right. It’s a hard decision.

I’m also quite sure that local, state, and national governments should help folks recover from natural disasters. One of the reasons we have governments is to help folks who need it. It’s one way we can all work for the common good. (Catechism, 1899, 1903, 19051912)

Ideally, every state would have funds and equipment ready for every possible disaster. We don’t live in an ideal world. That, I think, is why the Texan governor asked for help.

I’m glad that America is big enough so that if a disaster hits one area, the rest will probably be able to pitch in. Very ideally, we’d have a system like that in place globally.

Meanwhile, like I said, there are outfits like Catholic Relief Services.

BBC News says the last hurricane this big and affecting a mainland state was Wilma in 2005. They have a point, although Katrina, the same year, was one of the five deadliest.2

Katrina wasn’t the worse in terms of death and destruction, though. That was the 1900 Galveston hurricane.

Learning, Sometimes the Hard Way

(From Library of Congress, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(What was left of St. Lucas Terrace, left; and St. Patrick’s church, right; Galveston, 1900.)

We don’t know how many Americans died because of the September, 1900, hurricane.

Estimates range from 6,000 to 12,000. It’s still the worst natural disaster we’ve had since 1776, in terms of lives lost. The 1811-1812 New Madrid earthquakes were remarkable for other reasons.3

What we call the Great Galveston Hurricane was a tropical storm when the National Weather Service heard that a tropical storm was over Cuba and heading north. That was September 4, 1900.

The Washington, D.C., office told their Galveston office. The Galveston office didn’t issue a hurricane warning.

That’s partly because the Weather Bureau didn’t like using words like “tornado” or “hurricane” back then. They didn’t want to panic the public. The policy changed after we found out why so many folks died during the June 7-9, 1953, storms. (August 11, 2017)

Forecasters in Washington didn’t know which way the storm would go next. Weather forecasting was an emerging science in 1900. (August 11, 2017)

Washington officials figured it’d probably do what many storms do: head northeast, along the east coast. Cuban forecasters emphatically said their predictions showed the storm heading west.

A few folks in Galveston headed inland. Maybe they’d learned about the Cuban forecast, or had noticed growing swells. Or maybe they’d talked to sailors whose ships had weathered the storm. Rain clouds reached Galveston mid-morning, September 5.

Galveston’s weather office raised their Hurricane Flag on the morning of September 7.

The storm hit about 24 hours later.

The storm’s surge reached 15 feet, 4.6 meters. Galveston was built on an island that was at most 8 feet, 2.4 meters, tall.

Buildings collapsed, people died.

We don’t know what the maximum wind speed was. The Weather Bureau’s anemometer in Galveston recorded 100 mile an hour winds just before it was destroyed.

Survivors rebuilt Galveston: raising the island by 17 feet, 5.2 meters. With a seawall.

One reason I’m cautiously hopeful about humanity’s future is that we learn. Sometimes the hard way, and slowly. But we do learn. (July 21, 2017; July 14, 2017; October 16, 2016)

‘Let the Smiting Begin?!’

I see Non Sequitur’s ‘Church of Danae’ strips as occasionally-grim humor. I might be offended if I thought they were attacking my faith. (August 23, 2017)

But I’m a Christian, a Catholic. I recognize Danae’s theology as a facet of American culture, viewed in a fun house mirror.

It lampoons a sort of religious belief that many still cherish.

I like to think the ‘angry God’ folks are less influential these days. (August 25, 2017; March 5, 2017)

My guess is that someone who feels that sinners should be smited regularly — or is that smitten? Never mind.

Anyway, someone will likely claim that Harvey is a judgement of God upon sinful folks who aren’t like the speaker.

That happened back in 2005. “Katrina: God’s Judgment on America” was an anonymous bit of preaching on beliefnet.

The 2005 writer had a point, sort of. Gulf Coast America wasn’t what it had been in 1955.

Quite a few folks were probably offended by “the burgeoning Gulf Coast gambling industry.” They’d probably also disapprove of “the 34th Annual gay, lesbian and transgender Southern Decadence Labor Day gala.”

The notion that disaster and disease happen because God is upset with someone else works for some propaganda.

That doesn’t make it a good idea.

The notion that God is upset at something the audience likes probably lacks appeal, and that’s yet another topic.

Maybe the anonymous writer was right. Maybe “…Katrina was an act of God upon a sin-loving and rebellious nation….”

I don’t know. I don’t have inside information from God.

The ‘angry God’ scenario seems dubious, though.

Getting back to Hurricane Harvey, I don’t think folks living between Port Aransas and Port O’Connor were particularly wicked sinners.

On the other hand, pirates used the Port Aransas area in the early 1800s. I suppose someone could claim that God is finally getting around to punishing them — by hurting folks living in the same area, nearly two centuries later.

Or maybe they’re being whacked for something the Karankawa Indians did, before the pirates came.

No, I do not think so. The notion that God hold grudges, but procrastinates, is — silly, putting it mildly.

Maybe I shouldn’t joke about this. A fellow who’s been famous for being a particular sort of Christian made a similar claim about Haiti a few years back.

That sort of thing leaves an impression. Not a peasant one, I think.

I see Katrina, and Harvey, as natural disasters. I think folks affected by them need help. Or at least respectful sympathy. Not ‘judgment of God’ preaching.

One more thing, a bit of good sense I read on Twitter:

God bless Texas. #HurricaneHarvey
— Judy Bowman (@tiberjudy) August 25, 2017

The Siloam Lesson

Don’t misunderstand me. I take God quite seriously. Folks who seem convinced that God promotes their personal views, not so much.

I see Jonathan Edwards wannabes and disciples of Ussher as embarrassing relics. I think they are sincere. But I can’t take their beliefs seriously, apart from the influence they still hold. (June 30, 2017; May 5, 2017; March 31, 2017; March 5, 2017)

I think sin exists, which does not mean that I think folks who do things I don’t enjoy are dreadful sinners.

When I deliberately do something that makes no sense, hurting myself or someone else, I offend reason and truth; and God. That’s a sin. (Catechism, 18491850)

I don’t consistently do what I know is good for me and avoid what’s bad, so I’m a sinner. (Catechism, 1706, 1776, 1955)

Sin is what happens whenever I don’t love God and my neighbor, and act as if everyone is my neighbor. (Matthew 5:4344, 22:3640; Mark 12:2831; Luke 6:31 10:2527, 2937; Catechism, 1825)

I think sin is a bad idea, and that I should keep learning to avoid it.

Events like Hurricane Harvey can be useful reminders that I’ve got limited time to work out my salvation, as Philippians 2:12 says. Not that I can work or pray my way into Heaven. (April 9, 2017; December 4, 2016)

That doesn’t mean I think I’m a particularly wicked sinner, any more than I think folks in Texas irked an irritable God. I figure it’s like Jesus said:

“‘Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem?'”
(Luke 13:4)

More, mostly about cautious optimism; and acting as if people aren’t perfect — but matter, anyway:

1 Harvey and a weather resource:

2 Hurricanes and America:

3 Assorted American disasters:

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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