I'm writing a segment where the characters experience a hurricane. Living in the Pacific Northwest means I can speak authoritatively about volcanic eruptions, but I've never gone through a hurricane. Heck, even the occasional rare tornado is a miniscule event that usually has no worse result than knocking over a fence or maybe a swing set.
I'm interested only in description of the approaching storm and as it hits. The scene will not include the aftermath. Unfortunately, all the blogs and info I'm finding on the internet are descriptions of the aftermath.
I've seen the pictures of hurricanes on TV, and know that strong winds and rain are part of the description. What I'm trying to figure out are details I'm being unable to locate online:
1) What sorts of colors do you see in hurricane storm clouds? Are they just black, or does the sky tend to get green and yellow, similar to a tornado? 2) What sort of smell is there? Lightning generates the familiar ozone smell; is there some smell typical of a hurricane? 3) Can you see the funnel cloud from the ground or is the hurricane too big? Pictures I've seen just show a heavy bank of fog. 4) Do hurricanes spawn tornados within the hurricane itself? Or are the tornados on the far outlying reach of the hurricane?
Any details that can help me paint a realistic picture would be appreciated.
Going out to look at the clouds is a good way to not live survive. Hurricanes usually smell like the ocean on a stormy day. There isn't any "funnel", it's called an eyewall and it's miles across, and you don't go out to look at it. It is nearly impossible for tornados to form anywhere in the hurricane.
If you do happen to be outside during a hurricane, you won't see anything special other than really strong winds. The storm is simply too big to see any distinctive features from ground level. If the eye of the storm passes directly overhead, the only way you'll know it's the eye is because the drop in wind velocity was too sudden for it to be the storm passing. Or you might consult a barometer, but the pressure differential is too subtle to register with normal senses.
I lived in Columbia, SC back in the time of Hugo. A hurricane from a spectator's viwe is just a really, REALLY bad storm. Lots of rain, lots and LOTS of wind. It goes on and on and on. And then it stops for about 10 minutes...and then it goes on and on and on again.
The most damage done by hurricanes (if I remember correctly) is flooding and debris. Trees will fall and crush cars and power lines, they will crash through windows and roofs of houses. After Hugo, the power in the neighborhood was out for about 2 days. All the families who lived on our court went to a neighbor's house that had a gas stove so they could have coffee.
Tornadoes do not form WITHIN hurricanes, but hurricanes can spin off tornadoes around them. It doesn't happen often, but it can.
Now that I live in Tennessee--the new tornado alley--I can tell you that I preferred hurricanes. Tornadoes make you deathly afraid of any bad storm in the months of April and May. There is no warning--if you're seeing hail it's too late. You better be in a closet hiding and praying.
Hurricanes are something the weather folks can see coming DAYS in advance. Anyone's choice to sit through a hurricane is up to them. (Barring extreme circumstances.)
Oh -- and the force of hurricanes is enough to change the coastal landscape. One or two of the barrier islands after Hugo were cut in half and made two islands. One might have even been wiped away all together--it was a long time ago.
The story I'm writing is a fantasy, so the characters do not have access to modern hurricane prediction technology. The setting is an island, and they don't have the choice of mass evacuation. I will be cutting away from the scene right as the hurricane hits full on, and don't plan to include a scene of the aftermath. (Other events happen during this scene, beyond the hurricane, that I focus on.)
I'm trying to paint a sensory picture of the character's experience of seeing the hurricane bear down on him. What does it look like? How does it feel? How does it smell? What behavior do you notice from the storm, at ground level?
Interesting you went through Hurricane Hugo, Althea. I worked with a woman who had been saving for over a year to take the dream vacation of a lifetime to Puerto Rico. Her tickets were purchased, she'd dropped 50 pounds, and she was raring to go. Then Hugo hit Puerto Rico a week before her trip. The airline refused to refund her money, so she went anyhow. It ended up being a very different experience than she had hoped for, and she brought back a lot of pictures of the aftermath. I remember seeing a picture of a giant yacht that had been lifted out of the water dropped quite a way away from the shoreline.
My sister was living in Florida during Hurricane Andrew, but fortunately Ft. Lauderdale only got the outer edge of the storm. She drove thru parts of Dade County and brought pictures and books to Oregon for us to look at.
I live roughly 100 miles east of Mt. St. Helens, and remember the massive eruption that killed 57 people, among them a good friend's parents. We got hit with ash fallout a couple of times; an eerie exerience, that. Ash fell like snow, only a fine grit of sand that was razor sharp, like broken glass. It would knock a car engine out in no time flat and we had to wear kerchiefs over our noses if we planned to be outside for any length of time. Some places got over a foot of ash dumped on the streets. It's been 26 years, and the area around St. Helens is still devastated, trees in many places still laying end to end in parallel rows like matchsticks.
But given a choice between hurricanes and tornados, or volcanos... I choose to live among the volcanos. They stay PUT and don't move around. You can avoid them if you like. Killer storms that wander aimlessly, destroying things at random? That thought gives me the heebie jeebies.
I was in Charleston, SC just before hurricane Fran caused an evacuation - making it the first and only time I was ever thrown out of town by the governor. While Fran didn't land in Charleston, I still remember how ominous the weather felt. I attributed it to the barometric pressure. It made us feel edgy, but we also knew it was coming, which could have added to that feeling. We helped a friend evacuate and she said her animals, a cat and a rabbit, had been trying to hide all morning. The sky was dark, as if before a bad thunderstorm, and the wind had began to pick up, but as I said we left before it hit, and it didn't center in Charleston, so we missed the brunt of it, unless you want to count the traffic on I-26.
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Been there done that...Charley in 2004, Wilma last year. I was probably about twenty miles from the center of Charley, and about forty from Wilma...but Charley did over ten thousand in damages, mostly to a roof I was going to replace anyway.
I can't say I noticed much in the way of smell...like has been said, it seemed like a really bad thunderstorm, with incredibly powerful winds that gradually shifted direction. Think of the wind, and rain, and blowing stuff, traveling along very fast and nearly parallel with the ground.
I'm afraid my major preoccupation during both storms was whether the aforesaid roof would stay on, plus whether anything would come crashing through my glass doors and windows.
I had a bad time when I saw a lot of tile lying in my yard during the storm. Imagine my happiness when I found out it was mostly my neighbor's roof tiles...then imagine how I felt when I had to pick up all that tile in ninety-degree heat.
The aftermath of Charley was nearly as hard to bear as the storm...went on a lot longer, too...lots of brush to clear, my brother breaking his arm trying to clear brush off his property. (Wilma's aftermath here wasn't so bad...the power never went off, and most everything that would blow down had blown down the year before).
Any permanent population of a tropical island will know about hurricanes, though you might want to call it a typhoon for the sake of flavor (both words mean exactly the same thing except that typhoon is specific to the West Pacific). The bad part is the aftermath, a typhoon will destroy most of the food supply along with fishing boats, and it can obstruct or contaminate many freshwater supplies on an island.
Surviving the storm itself isn't difficult as long as you have some place to hide for a few hours and are willing to do so...the wind blowing in one direction while a storm front approaches at right angles will be a dead giveaway to a typhoon.
I recommend that you read Isaac's Storm by Erik Larson about the hurricane that hit Galveston, Texas early in the 20th century, before there were ways to predict hurricanes. It's very descriptive and should be quite helpful to you.
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A lot depends on the time of day the storm arrives, the direction it is coming, and the condition of the storm. I live in South Florida. I have had only one direct hit from a storm and that was Wilma. I also live on the fourth floor, the tallest building in my area and could see what was happening with the storm. If a storm arrives at night, you see nothing. I have seen storms that were concise, where you see the classic swirl of clouds up in the sky before the actual storm arrives. Wilma moved fast and I could see the edge of the cloud shield follow the storm away. What is bad is when you get caught in the feeder bands. These are thunderstorms that follow in line, leading right into the storm itself. It is exactly like the fronts that you see in the continental united states. There is always a low at one end and the storms within the front lead right into it. Most of the time, what happens is that you get hit by successive thunderstorms with pauses between them.One feels strong gusts. Each rain band gets worse. There is a constant wind that gets stronger too, but not as strong as those involved with the the thunderstorms. When the eye gets near, the wind just gets stronger and stronger, the general wind merges with the gusts. There are gusts even within the eye, but the wind becomes constant. I don't remember any smell in the storm, but I did see that the moment the power went out, the humidty went up inside my place. The green lightning are visible at night, but not noticeable during the day. You don't hear thunder because the wind is too loud unless the lightning hits nearby. Some trees don't look like they are doing anything until the storm tears them down, while other trees will appear to lean over with each blast of wind. I remember watching a bunch of stringy trees bowing wildly before the wind. Nite time storms are worse, as you hear things and have no idea what is happening. During the day, you will see the tiles coming off your roof, and metal sheeting on facias tearing off other homes. I will come up with more later.
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I've gotta say I could see Wilma happening outside my windows---but probably because power never went off here and I could see it in the glow of my lights and my neighbors' lights.
I'll give a downcheck to Isaac's Storm---the information was excellent, but I just didn't like Erik Larson's writing style, enough to keep me from picking up other books of his. But this isn't a "literary criticism" thread. Stick with the info in it, and you'll do all right. I wish I could recommend a better book with similar subject matter. (I think there's a recent book about the Labor Day Hurricane in the 1930s, but I haven't read it or even seen it.)
I've been through about 6 hurricanes as an adult at this point and probably 10 or so total in my life, and for only one of those, Andrew, was I on the coast. Most of the time I've been 30-60 miles inland. They're are just really big storms. You can watch the line of storms getting closer. Generally it's a black smudge moving towards you just like watching a thunderstorm roll in. You know, even without the weather reports, that it's going to be bad. The first thing that hits is the wind. Depending on when it hits and how much rain there has been in the days before, the first worry is a tree coming down. Then the rain hits.
Assuming you are silly enough to be anywhere near a window (la la la - not for the ocean storm (I don't have a death wish) but when its down graded to a 2 and well on its way to coming apart) you can't see because of the rain. What you can see is black even at midday. The storm eats light.
In a 3, you can't hear to speak because the rain is so heavy that it drowns out most other noises. Rain comes down in sheets. It's just a wall of water.
I've never been in a 5 although I think I was in a 4 as a kid.
The video of Katrina is pretty good to review because there were nuts (generally reporters and a few tourist) standing near a door and shooting pictures.
The eye of the storm is freaky. Suddenly everything is still. Amazingly still. The animals are smart enough to stay inside. The people are silly enough to walk around outside and look at the damage. As a kid, the entire neighborhood would come out during the eye and walk around and make sure everyone was still fine. The moms would be yelling at the Dads and kids to have better sense and get back in the house. We'd all stare at the trees now lying in the road while someone was appointed to watch the sky. Generally, the quiet lasted only 5 or 10 minutes before everyone went back into the house and waited for the other side of the storm to hit.
After the storm, you go out and mill around in the street again but this time there is sound. Generally a lot of it as the birds complain that the tree the nest was in is gone. People figure out who has stuff/ power and food that needs to get eaten or go bad before the power comes back on.
During Isabel in VA, we spent the next few days grilling everything. The first night after the storm, the three houses near me gathered at our house and grilled what we could. We ate in the glow of the citronal candles. Everyone took water from our pool so they could still flush the toilets in the houses.
Isabel spawned tornados on its outer edges. We were hit or really nearly missed by two of them. One took out a 100 year old barn and a few sheds along the way. It passed less than 1/10 mile from us. The barn looked like someone took a wrecking ball to it. The side where the tornado hit was smashed in, the tin roof peeled back, and the top of the grain silo was about 60 feet away but the rest of the barn was intact. A smaller tornado "walked" down the main road (so about 1000 feet from the front door). Very weird to watch.
Down here, south of the equator, we call them cyclones. I believe the only difference is that they spin in the opposite direction down here. I have been through many tropical cyclones. So answer the best I can and this is from my experience.
1) What sorts of colors do you see in hurricane storm clouds? Are they just black, or does the sky tend to get green and yellow, similar to a tornado?
Blue, steely grey. The light is often yellowish behind the clouds. If the cyclone is coming in the afternoon the clouds look purple and all the street lights look buttery-yellow by comparison.
2) What sort of smell is there? Lightning generates the familiar ozone smell; is there some smell typical of a hurricane?
No smell. Not really, but the air is warm and heavy and there is a feeling that 'something' is about to happen. Flies stop flying and cling to your sweaty skin or the walls or curtains. Even though the wind is picking up is still feels damp and thick.
3) Can you see the funnel cloud from the ground or is the hurricane too big? Pictures I've seen just show a heavy bank of fog.
No funnel, boiling banks of thunderclouds out over the sea though.
4) Do hurricanes spawn tornados within the hurricane itself?
No. We sometimes get little water spouts but not usually during a cyclone.
Or are the tornados on the far outlying reach of the hurricane?
Don't know. We don't get them. I *really*really*really* doubt that you will get tornadoes on a small tropical island.
In my experience, the cyclone always looks darker as it approaches than when it hits.
It's not so much the noises that frighten you but the vibrations in the building . My parents-in-law are from Western Samoa. I will call and ask them these questions.
[This message has been edited by hoptoad (edited November 27, 2006).]
BTW: The effect on the sea is spectacular. Wave surges scour-out the shore and turn the water into a gritty liquor. It's like a washing machine. I've seen a sandy beach wiped clean to the underlying rocks by waves like that.
[This message has been edited by hoptoad (edited November 28, 2006).]
On hurricanes spawning tornadoes: I am informed they do, but have not personally witnessed any. The main winds are powerful enough to rip a roof off, of course.
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I know of a tornado that ripped the front off a grocery store near us during a hurricane when I was a child. But we lived far enough north that the hurricanes tended to be much weaker. You get tornadoes in weakening hurricanes, or in the periphery. If it is a tropical island, then the weakening is less likely to be the case because it will be warm, and not enough land to slow it down.
You may want to have animals sensing the impending storm. There is atomospheric pressure change involved.
My impressions of hurricanes is everything moving diagonally at a high rate of speed. Leaves and brances are blowing past at freeway speeds. The ground is littered with stuff afterward and it is not a surprise.
If you're playing up the pressure-change card, one of your characters could have a pretty serious migraine. Lord knows I get some violent ones when there's a storm a'comin'...
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