It all started when my boss informed me that the U.S. hadn’t sampled our cyclonic wrath in three years. Indeed, the last of our brethren to strike the Big 48 was Ike, who pushed Texas around in 2008. But since then, nada.
“Irene,” he uttered in hushed tones, “the world’s most powerful country has all but forgotten about us. We can’t have this. Would you consider becoming a major hurricane?”
I considered the tall task. Did I really want to drag myself through the little Caribbean islands and the always-risky voyage through the Bermuda Triangle? I’d heard of so many brothers and sisters who got sheared to bits there or were otherwise destined to “merely affect shipping lanes,” a euphemistic death sentence that no hurricane worthy of its salt ever wants to hear. And besides, were I to choose a path of widespread destruction, I’d bring dishonor to my pacific name.
As I began to mull things over, calls came in to the corporate office in our secret location on the coast of West Africa (where we also do much of our manufacturing). A CNN media relations rep pleaded with our CEO. “Bachman’s gaffes get us a little attention and the “Libya thing” helped, but we really need a megastorm to get us back on the cable radar.” Evidently, he was desperate. “Look, we’ll even give you the foreboding death march music to lead in and out of the story – the music we usually leave for deaths and wars.”
I was tempted, but I was still on the fence. Who really wanted to endure the suffocating detailed analysis and examination that would go with the territory? After all, I wasn’t about to run for president.
Then came Jim Cantore, the Jim Cantore from The Weather Channel, who could make a sprinkle sound torrential. He asked to speak with me personally. He told me in no uncertain terms that as long as I could show a little potential – “just give us a little purple convection south of the Carolinas” were his words – he’d make me a star.
And so I took the dive. I signed the papers in a humid conference room on August 14, and by the next day, I was kicked off into the Atlantic in the dark of night and into the great unknown, a lonely tropical wave set on making something of myself. I played Joe Jackson’s “Steppin Out” over and over in my head to psych myself up.
Early on, I established a singular goal: Gain the glory for myself (and the cable stations) but spare the good people of any real, extensive damage. To accomplish this I’d need to exhibit both atmospheric prowess and a magician’s deception.
Initially, the trek westward was uneventful. After cruising past the Cape Verde Islands, I was slow to develop thunderstorms and showers in my proximity. At that juncture, the weather geeks called me unorganized and “broad in appearance” – to which I always wanted to say, “Well, I am a broad!” All kidding aside, however, broadness was a distinguishing quality of mine that would stay with me to my dying days.
By August 19, I started exhibiting what meteorologists call a convective structure, which basically meant I was ready to rock and roll as a tropical force. The next day, they flew an aircraft into my inner core and found I had a circulation. I had arrived, and I was getting some serious attention. Soon after, they started calling me by my official first name.
Initially, the experts had me slated to take my talents to South Beach. But while passing the island of Saint Croix, I decided a curve northward might allow me – with the help of CNN and TWC – to terrorize the millions in the big megalopolis.
Now that I was on the big stage, I had to get dolled up. To this point, I’d been chastised for having a “ragged eye” and so I improved my appearance. For a short time at least, I wore the classic look of a well-defined eye with “good outflow on all sides.” I even caused a little havoc on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, but that was mainly for show.
I’d accomplished the goal of looking menacing, which, in so many ways, was all I ever really wanted.
The pressures and trappings that go with being a major hurricane can be overwhelming. Once you begin to ascend the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale, there’s really only one place to go. The media pressure to become a Cat 4 or Cat 5 can be immense. Katrina, while good for our industry, raised the bar impossibly high.
I followed orders to a tee, maintaining a dead-on track to New York and forcing the city to take extreme and unprecedented precautionary measures. This kept the doomsday scenario alive – and television ratings high. I’d already achieved a modicum of success, and regardless of what happened from this point forward, the boss would be thrilled.
Sadly, I began to lose interest and commenced a slow limp to the finish line. I was praised for my impressive wingspan, even compared in size to the state of Arizona. But my girth not withstanding, there was little gas left in the tank. For all intents and purposes, my own batteries died, ironically enough, as I approached New York’s Battery Park.
In all, I’d made three landfalls and caused considerable inland flooding, a rather estimable accomplishment. However, the media trashed me, saying I never delivered on my forecasted wallop. That’s what happens when you’re unfairly compared to truly legendary hurricanes.
Still, it’s amazing how quickly they forget about you. By Sunday afternoon, mere hours after I’d arrived in New York, Cantore called headquarters, asking, “Who else can you send us?”
But I’ll always hold on to one thing: If you can scare them in New York, you can scare them anywhere.