Stormy weather

Hard to trust a hurricane whose name seems to be plural, but as I write, Isaias has accounted for: an ominously green general ambiance in southwest New Paltz; a scattering of downed branches and limbs; some fine, scattershot, and prickly rain — sand-like, a Saharan ghibli — that I hear is of West African provenance, which is cool; and not too much else.

The trees are not bending, the berms are not breached, and the flats are, I believe, open. “Time,” as Fairport Convention sang, “Will Show the Wiser.” (RIP, Emitt Rhodes, who wrote that great song). You who read this on Wednesday know more than I do.

Jinx, for it is only 4 p.m. as I write, and the projected storm path still allows the duplicitous Isaias some latitude for self-expression and personal growth.


For many in New York, Irene and Sandy were startling awakenings to the fact that, yes, we get real weather here, too, weather that can destroy, disrupt, reposition large structures, and burn permanent and surreal images in our minds, like Avenue C turning into a river along which taxicabs merrily floated by toward New York harbor and the light of Liberty.

Not me. I was already hip. Hurricane Agnes is a pivotal event in my family’s history. The 1972 category 1 hurricane was, at the time, the costliest storm in U.S. history, tallying over $2 billion in damages, back when $2 billion could really get you something. Accounting for 128 deaths along its arcing path, Agnes’ effects were especially and unusually devastating in Pennsylvania and New York‘s Southern Tier, from where all of my family comes.

Like Sandy many years later, Agnes didn’t do the ripping-off-tin-roofs thing. Not much bending of stout trees into howling hoops and God-hates-Florida histrionics. What Agnes did best was simple flood. Breaching the Susquehanna, it took out bridges, collapsed part of a hospital. Floodwaters in Corning reached three meters in the downtown area, where my grandmother, Agnes Witherall Burdick, had lived since the death of her husband Sidney the inventor the year before.

Agnes was the cataclysm that sent our Agnes out to Coronado, CA, to live with my aunt and uncle for 22 more years until her death — on her 94th birthday, Christmas Day–in 1994. That’s some Cat 4 numerology, isn’t it?

In California, my livewire grandma liked to get drunk on martinis and cause scandals at upscale Navy officer’s parties. Agnes was a storm, and so was Agnes.

Read more installments of Village Voices by John Burdick.