Labor Day weekend is approaching and here we are with Hurricane Earl poised to charge northward just off the East Coast of the U.S. While the Southeast would appear to be immune from Earl’s fury, the same can’t be said for coastal locations from North Carolina to Massachusetts.
While none of the models currently suggests a landfalling hurricane along the Eastern Seaboard, I wouldn’t want to bet the house–or in this case, the beach house–on it. Earl is a fellow, media hype or not, you really should pay attention to if you live, or plan on visiting over the next several days, anywhere from Cape Hatteras to Cape Cod.
Which all brings me to EYEWALL and my fictional category 5 hurricane, Janet, that on a Labor Day weekend sets her sights on St. Simons Island, Georgia. So, of all the possibilities for time and place, why then? Why there?
There’s a couple of reasons I chose Labor Day weekend. (1) It’s near the statistical peak of the hurricane season, so it’s not unexpected that there would be a hurricane someplace in the Atlantic Basin. Case in point: just look at what’s going on right now. Not only is Earl lurking and Danielle departing, but there’s a disturbance in Earl’s wake that’s given a high probability of buffing up, and there’s yet another cluster of thunderstorms churning westward in the far eastern Atlantic just south of the Cape Verde Islands.
And (2), since Labor Day weekend marks the swan song of summer, it’s a time when folks flock to the beaches to enjoy their last hurrahs of the season. That, in turn, means shorelines are packed–an emergency manager’s nightmare if a rapid evacuation is required. Nightmares are good for novels.
And St. Simons Island? Well, it fits nicely into the nightmare aborning scenario. First, since St. Simons isn’t a statistically likely target, people there are a little blasé when it comes to hurricane threats. Second, there’s only one way off the island if you’re driving (and most people are): over the Torras Causeway. Talk about an evacuation bottleneck. Third, and here’s what most people aren’t aware of, St. Simons Island, because of its near-shore topography, is extremely prone to storm surge, more so than most coastal locations.
That means for any given hurricane category, the storm surge would be much greater for St. Simons than for, say, Miami Beach or Long Island. In other words, the stakes could be astronomical for St. Simons. Good thing hurricanes don’t hit there often or there wouldn’t be anybody living there.
And finally, since I’ve visited St. Simons a lot, I’m familiar with the island and feel comfortable writing about it. I love the place. And certainly wouldn’t want to see it leveled by a cat 5 hurricane.
It’s just that, as I said, the stakes could be enormous for the island and that, in turn, makes for high drama.