Friday, September 23, 2005

Houston: The Calm Before the Storm, part deux

The Front Page of today’s Houston Chronicle shows a man with his head in his hands, sitting on the hood of his car in a sea of cars snarled in traffic in the Great Gulf Coast Exodus away from Hurricane Rita. The national networks are focused on only the negative side of this story, based on the angles I’ve seen in the mainstream media, and the questions I’ve overheard reporters asking officials.

The tragic bus fire in Ennis is a story that you cannot ignore. There is no positive take on this, save for the heroics of the driver and rescuers who tried in vain to save the passengers.

I want to publicly say how proud I am of Texas’ preparations and execution of the various county and city emergency plans that have been set into motion. What a stark contrast in terms of managerial style, confidence, and accountability we’ve seen in the governors of Louisiana and Texas, the county officials in those states, and the mayors of New Orleans and Houston.

That’s not meant to rub anyone’s nose in the dirt, but I believe Gov. Rick Perry, County Judge Bob Eckels, and Mayor Bill White have conducted an effective evacuation of most of 2.5-million Houstonians from the surrounding areas. You can’t help but compare the New Orleans debacle with the Houston example of preparedness, and the reinforcement of Texas’ tradition self reliance and independence.

That being said, it’s time to hunker down.
It’s hazily sunny this morning…still time to get out and mow the lawn before the storm hits.

Houston: Thursday's Calm Before the Storm

I must share with you what is going on in Houston, Texas this morning (9/22) in anticipation of the arrival of the third-worst, third-biggest, third-most-monstrous hurricane to hit the US in history.

Remember the scenes from the movie last year, “The Day After Tomorrow?” The streams of traffic, bumper to bumper, with everyone headed out of town to anywhere that’s away from here.

That’s the scene that greeted me this morning at 3:30 when I left the house for work.
Otherworldly—there’s no other way to describe it. This is not the reality-show or Week nightly made for TV movie. This is in-your-face life on the cutting edge, because most of you have never lived through what we hope we are all going to live through.According to the National Weather Service guys, if Rita has not peaked in looks like it is pretty close to doing so.

The central pressure estimated from reconnaissance aircraft data on Thursday was 897 mb...The maximum flight-level winds so far were 165 kt in the NE eyewall...which is only slightly higher than the 161 kt observed Wednesday afternoon. The aircraft data showed an increasingly strong outer wind maximum that was likely the start of a concentric eyewall cycle...and satellite imagery showed warming of the convection near the center.

And the storm was wobbling in it's track, but mostly veering to the right...away from Houston, but still generating enough high-velocity winds and rain to cause some significant damage.

So that’s the reality Houston is facing…or in most cases, running away from at this hour. And fleeing the storm is the most prudent thing to do.

May I pass along a few tips?

First, calm down.

Everyone’s nerves are on edge, and you don’t have a corner on the storm-hyped emotional market. We’re all a little hyper right now. Focus that energy on thinking clearly and not wasting time or resources.

Second, kindness counts for a lot at a time like this.

I was trying to get to work this morning, stuck in a line of traffic on the approach to an exit ramp, clogged by cars heading out of town at 3:30am. On my right, an emergency break-down lane beckoned, a clear expanse of concrete with no obstructions between me and my exit ramp, less than a quarter-mile in front of me… all clear except for the bone-head in the car in front of me, who had been self-deputized to keep that lane clear.

Wouldn’t want people traveling in a clear lane.
Wouldn’t want someone needing to get in to work—and not out of town—to slip past on that empty lane.

Or, heaven forbid, someone get one car length ahead of someone else in the mad-dash, stop and go, 3mph creep towards yet another freeway, similarly clogged.

If you’re in a packed lane going almost no where at this hour—use a little common sense…and a little courtesy. Someone needs by—let them by. Someone needs in, let them in.

This is not a race, and there is no prize for first place; there is a booby award, though, for being rude, and you may wind up sharing shelter with the driver you cut off three hours ago, one mile back. How comfortable is that going to be?

Third, safety first.

So we’re all trying to get out of town. Common sense should still apply. Like not blocking an intersection when the light changes. At 3:30 in the morning, the highway feeder near my home was absolutely clogged with outbound traffic, and the intersections were jammed. Where’s a traffic cop when you need one?

So I don’t look so official in my soccer mom-esque SUV. There will be many people with essential functions to perform in the next few days, driving the personal vehicles, borrowed cars or trucks, maybe even a rickshaw. Remember to keep things flowing for those who aren’t being afforded the luxury or opportunity to get out of town yet.
Let them…let us…get to those jobs that are calling.

By the way…don’t you hate getting stuck behind those big, nasty tanker trucks? Give them way today. They could be delivering your next tank of gasoline.