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The hurricane paradox

September 3, 2010

New I and the Bird #133 at the DC Birding Blog


As I write this post, the entire state of North Carolina sits braced for the glancing blow the Category 3 Hurricane Earl is likely to deal us.  When it posts, what damage Earl does to the Outer Banks will mostly be done, as the storm churns northward up the coast, finding that little gap in the weather systems that prevents it from either coming ashore near Wilmington or spinning back out into the Atlantic like so many storms have before.  This likely means Earl will end up being maximally destructive, affecting millions all the way north to New England.  It goes without saying that big storms like this are bad news.  The governor has instituted a state of emergency and even an area as storm-worn as the Outer Banks is tying down and preparing for the worst.

But even with the wind, waves, and rain coming our way, I can’t help but be a little attracted to the storm, though I’m no doubt wracked with guilt because of it.  Part of it has to do with the fact that as a midwesterner born and raised, the epic weather that comes from the ocean is kind of exciting.  As an armchair ecologist, I appreciate a hurricane’s ability to shape the barrier islands in the state I now call home into a dynamic ecosystem, even if the human infrastructure that relies on constancy suffers because of it.  But mostly I’m excited about the possibility for birds.

Storm waifs, as the birds that get knocked around during storms are generally called, are one of the most fun parts about birding the coast.  Birders in the triangle of North Carolina still tell stories about Hurricane Fran, a massive storm that pushed such pelagics like Black-capped Petrels and Sooty Shearwaters to local lakes.  Many birders saw them, at least those that weren’t digging out from under broken tree limbs or draining over-flowing basements.  Most storms don’t bring so much, but most storms aren’t as big as Fran, either. More recent incidents include 2006’s Hurricane Ernesto which brought a dozen Wilson’s Storm-Petrels to Jordan Lake and the Sooty and Bridled Terns that accompanied Hurricane Hannah in 2008.  I don’t think anyone in the area is expecting anything like that, Earl’s trajectory is less than ideal for waifs around here, but I’ll still make the obligatory run out to Jordan Lake this weekend to scope for the odd Laughing Gull or Least Tern.

It’s impossible, though, to think about the fun of turning up something cool while friends living on the Outer Banks are having a rough go of it, but we might as well make the best of it.  Maybe I’m a little more excited that I should be, but just be safe, let’s just hope this sort of thing doesn’t happen all that often.

  1. September 3, 2010 8:59 am

    Yeah, I always have that feeling of excitement with a hurricane – although, of course, I don’t wish damage on anyone! Sitting here in the middle of Manhattan, wishing I could walk by the ocean this afternoon to check out the big surf before the storm. Good luck to everyone in Earl’s path, and good luck to the birders gleaning unusual sightings after the storm.

  2. September 3, 2010 11:56 am

    Birders in New England and coastal Canada probably have the best chance of storm waifs from Earl. The eye is apparently too far east to push much into the Mid-Atlantic even though Earl is a really big storm. I might go out and look later anyway, just to check whether the winds pushed anything up the river.

  3. Nate permalink*
    September 3, 2010 3:23 pm

    @Out walking- I’m glad I’m not alone! From what I heard, Earl weakened quite a bit before hitting Hatteras, and the strongest winds stayed well offshore so damage was minimal.

    @John- I think you’re right. All the best goodies will probably be spread up the coast. New England birders will probably reap the windfall for this one.

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