ALONG THE EAST COAST (WLOX) - The train left Penn Station on Thursday morning and precisely 8:30. I took the Amtrak 170 Regional from New York City to Boston to meet up with college friends for our annual summer trip.
This year, an unwanted guest was expected to make an appearance. Earl was spinning up trouble in the Atlantic Ocean. And forecasters said it would reach New England by late Friday night.
Can you believe it? I deal with hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico six months a year. My new role at WLOX puts me in charge of how we cover storms. As News Director, I put the newsroom's hurricane plan into action.
So far, 2010 has been rather tranquil for the WLOX news team and our community (and we hope and pray it stays that way). So, I figured I could get out of town in late August and early September without worrying that my trip would be cut short by a storm threatening South Mississippi.
But now, as this train cuts through Connecticut, my mind begins to focus on those questions that so many of us hate. Where is Earl? What's the storm's current path? Will it ruin my weekend get away? Do Bostonians even know how to handle a hurricane? Are there shelters? Will there by air service on Sunday when I'm scheduled to get back to Gulfport?
Out my window are bays that link these quaint east coast towns to the Atlantic. A collection of beautiful boats remain moored to their docks. And sunbathers frolic on the beach, either unaware or unphased by the monster hurricane just a few hundred miles south of here. These towns in Connecticut and Rhode Island often get pelted by Noreasters, snow storms that pack a powerful winter punch. Maybe the people here are unaware that in the summer, Mother Nature can be just as wicked. And when she wallops you with a hurricane, her fury can be even more lethal.
The train conductor walks by. "Providence is next," he barks.
Providence, Rhode Island. We're just a handful of stops away from the south Boston train station. How weird is it that I'm writing this piece about vacationing in a city that could be a hurricane target as we approach Providence?
I immediately look up the definition of providence on my Blackberry. One definition says providence is "the foreseeing care and guidance of God or nature over the creatures of the earth." I guess that's what I'll need the next couple of days, care and guidance.
My wife thinks I'm stupid for heading to Boston. "Why risk it?" she asked. If anyone knows the power of a storm, she told me, it should be the WLOX News Director. She was hoping I'd do the smart thing, tell the Mizzou guys to reschedule this trip for another weekend. Instead, they're on planes from Kansas City and St. Louis, and I'm on this train. And by 1:00 on Thursday, we'll be together, probably taking a cruise around Boston.
Our itinerary this weekend includes a walk along the Freedom Trail, a visit to the JFK Library, a tour of Harvard, and a Red Sox game at Fenway Park. We take trips like this every summer. We became best friends in college, and almost 30 years later, we still enjoy spending time together.
The conductor just walked by again. "Three stops to go," he bellowed. In 45 minutes, Amtrak's 170 Regional pulls into Boston's South Station.
It's a steamy day outside. The sun has been shining the entire train ride. There are no clouds, just a sticky looking haze. As I found out when I arrived in New York on Monday for a conference, this part of the country has been locked in a heat wave. The New York meteorologist explained that three straight days in the 90s is considered a heat wave up here. This is day number four. If this is a heat wave, what can South Mississippi's summer weather be called – a sauna?
By Saturday, the high temperatures along the East Coast won't make it out of the 70s. A cold front is racing east. If it gets here in time, it will steer Earl out to sea, away from the New England states. Come on cold front!
Believe me, I'm not going to let Hurricane Earl destroy me, or this trip. We'll enjoy tonight and as much of tomorrow as we can. And when the time comes, I promise that the Mizzou guys will take the necessary precautions.
I guess I should remind my wife that the last time I vacationed in a storm was we went to Cancun, Mexico. Somehow, we survived that minimal tropical mess without leaving, and without letting it put a damper on our adventure. I realize that Earl could be a lot more powerful than the tropical storm that washed through the Yucatan several years ago. But I also know that because I take all storms seriously, I'll be safe, and I'll make it through this one as well.
I keep asking Bostonians if they're worried. They all say, "About what?" At last check, Earl is passing North Carolina as a category two hurricane. It's supposed to become a category one storm as it reaches the New England states. Yet nobody is evacuating. Nobody is boarding up windows. Nobody seems concerned. I hope they're right. I really hope they're right.