By Betty Thomason Owens
Here in the Louisville, Kentucky area, we see a lot of weather-related natural disasters. We are smack in the middle of the Eastern United States, 660+ miles from the Atlantic, 610+ miles from the Gulf. The mighty Ohio River is our northern boundary. Kentucky’s western boundary is the Mississippi River. We’re in the area of the New Madrid fault where 200 years ago, a powerful earthquake left a lasting imprint.
Most of our weather related disasters involve tornadoes and floods. This year, we note the passage of forty years since the outbreak of a “super storm” when a huge number of tornadoes swept across the nation’s midsection and decimated some of our city’s most beautiful homes.
The Ohio is prone to flooding, especially after a winter of heavy snow, such as the one we’ve had this year. And then there’s the other extreme–droughts that a few years back killed off the famous Bluegrass so many of us used for our lawns. But the event I remember most as I write this, was Hurricane Ike. We don’t often have a hurricane this far inland. But Ike was determined and full of pep.
I was sitting in church on a Sunday morning when Ike blew through, hard and fast with sustained winds of seventy-five miles per hour. Not just a quick pass-through you might expect with straight-winds, but high winds for an extended time. I watched out the window of our sanctuary as the shingles on the building next door flapped like flags in the wind.
By the time the service ended, the damage was done. Trees blocked our progress on the way home and the power was off. Other than roof damage, our home was safe. Over 300,000 in Louisville were without power. Over 600,000 statewide. Utility workers traveled to Kentucky from as far away as Mississippi to help us get the power back on. We were among the more fortunate. We were only without power for three days.
We were in a state of emergency. The Louisville International Airport closed, as well as Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport. I remember how quiet it was as we lived through those days with our house opened up. No refrigerator humming. No washer or dryer or dishwasher drumming. You could hear the neighbors as they talked and laughed. We visited with one another over the fence or on our porches. There was no television, no music blaring. Just people interacting, kind of like they used to, before we became so dependent on the media.
Some residents were without power for nearly a month. For the next few months, the area was filled with the sounds of the hammer as many of us received new shingles on our homes. We lost many of our beautiful trees, suffered flood and wind damage. In the aftermath, insurance rates sky-rocketed. But we had lived through something a little bit amazing. If you live near the coast, you expect storms off the sea. You have a warning and usually have time to prepare for them. In Kentucky, we often get the remnants of a big storm as it begins to break up. But this time, we got a full-on frontal attack and it was not expected.
So, think about it:
- What natural disasters occur where you live?
- What type of natural disaster would be most unusual in your area of the country?
Life-changing events in the form of natural disasters make good fodder for writing. You can use personal experience for your writing, or research a more exotic disaster. There is plenty of information out there. Just be sure you stay true to your setting and choose an event that would actually occur in that region. But don’t overlook the occasional hurricane in Kentucky.