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I plead guilty to having been a hurricane chaser -- on Long Island, NY in 
the 1950's and 1960's. If that makes me scum, so be it.

Hurricanes coming up the coast in August and September were a relatively 
common occurrence in the 1950's and 1960's. My parents had moved to 
Connecticut, but I still had lots of relatives living in Quogue, on the 
south shore of Long Island, where we summered when we lived in New York 
City. Whenever a hurricane was reported heading our way, I headed over the 
Throgs Neck Bridge to get as close to it as I could. I'd stay with an uncle 
in Quogue when the day was over.

Most of the hurricanes I chased veered off or came ashore somewhere else, 
but I actually got into the eye of hurricane Donna in 1960. I met my birding 
friend, P.A. Buckley, at Jones Beach as the storm began to come in. Paul was 
the son of an NYPD lieutenant, and he used his connections to arrange for us 
to put our cars into a sturdy brick enclosure in which State Police cars 
were kept. They were safe from the strongest winds there. As Donna came on, 
the gusts got so strong we could no longer drive Paul's jeep safely, so we 
put both cars in the State Police enclosure and walked to the nearby beach 
on foot. We planned to watch the storm from one of the large brick beach 
house buildings there.

We did not make it to the beach house building until the eye came ashore. 
Hurricane Donna made a direct hit on Jones Beach. The resultant storm surge 
filled the parking lot behind the beach house with water, threatening cars 
parked there, and Paul and I wound up rescuing cars instead of watching the 
storm for birds. Salt water can ruin a car's engine, so, with several other 
men, we waded in and pushed cars to higher ground for perhaps half an hour.

Then the eye came ashore; the air suddenly became still, and the fallout of 
birds began. We were still wading in the parking lot when a Red-necked 
Phalarope landed in the water only a few feet away and swam around. Then two 
immature Pomaraine Jaegers flew right over us 30-40 feet above our heads. I 
ran back to  my car to get my binoculars. While was getting them, Paul made 
his way to the beach house building and saw an imm. Sooty Tern fly by. We 
later found a Sabine's Gull -- my first -- among hundreds of Royal and 
Forster's Terns and Black Skimmers, which alighted on another, unflooded 
parking lot when the eye passed over land. Other birders, who followed up 
the storm during the next few days, found other zooties along the South 
Shore of Long Island, including Leach's Storm Petrels, a Bridled Tern, 
several Sooty Terns, a Gray Kingbird and several Sandwich Terns.

The stillness of the eye lasted 15-20 minutes. After it passed over, winds 
began again, this time from the other direction. At one point, the gusts 
were blowing from shore out to sea, and I saw a beautiful sight. Large waves 
created by the storm were still coming in. The strong winds blowing out 
ripped the tops off those waves and turned them into plumes of spray that 
rose  hundreds of feet into the air.

In addition to Donna, I have been through two other hurricanes in Quogue, 
L.I.  Although I was only four years old at the time, I distinctly remember 
being rescued by police during the September 21,  1938 hurricane. Our house 
was not on the barrier beach, but it was surrounded by water when the police 
came for us. Unlike Donna, which did not cause any major damage that I saw, 
the 1938 hurricane did immense damage in Quogue and adjoining Westhampton 
Beach. It made landfall precisely at the highest point of an equinoctial 
"spring" tide, creating an immense storm surge, which washed over the 
barrier beach and flooded homes inland. More than 100 of about 150 houses on 
the barrier beach were completely destroyed. 29 people were killed, perhaps 
10% of the people still present in those two small resort villages in late 
September. The dead included the couple who lived directly across the street 
from us in Quogue, although they were visiting in Westhampton Beach when 
they drowned. I remember driving down the Dune Road with my grandmother 
after the storm and seeing only the chimneys of houses that had once been 
there. I also remember that our basement was full of water, in which minnows 
were swimming around. I got spanked when I threw a box turtle into the water 
in our basement after being told not to do it. I also remember that we had 
to go to the store to get fresh water and that a fire engine eventually 
pumped the water out of our basement.

The other hurricane I went through occurred at night in the mid-1940's. All 
I remember of it was a lot of noise made by gusts of wind as we sat together 
inside our house. The next morning,  a lot of trees were down, and there was 
a cabin cruiser on the back portion of our lawn. The water came close, but 
it never reached our house.

A lot has changed since the three hurricanes I went through in 1938, in the 
mid-1940's and in 1960. The warning system is a lot better, and the police 
make sure people get off the barrier beach when a storm gets close.  I would 
not be allowed to chase a hurricane any more, as we did Donna in 1960. (We 
had no warning of the 1938 hurricane). Nor would I want to violate an 
evacuation order.

After all, scum though I may be, I'm older and wiser now.

Bob Fisher
Independence, Missouri
[log in to unmask] 

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