I have an affection for natural disasters. They tend to bring out the best in people. They expose the power-law nature of natural systems and in doing so remind people that their models based on more regular distributions are wrong. They make people more careful and they reenforce the value of community, goverment, and the social network. They don’t fit into the media’s prefered pattern of finding somebody to blame and so the media then shifts into it’s more health alternate pattern of telling stories about how people help each other.

Of course it’s a strange affection since they are, well, a disaster. I suspect there is some wonderful german word for this affection of mine, probably a shelf of books in the library about it.

I think about this each fall during huricane season. It may well be that my affection really arises from the excitement of the huricanes that rolled thru New England in the 1950s when I was very very young. Those were very exciting memories; and the black and white photos of the period are extremely facinating and nostolgic.

The shoreline of eastern Rhode Island was, before the hurricane of ’38 hurricanes a line of vast beautiful victorian castles. As the storm approached that swept those beaches clean the rich loaded up their cars and drove away. The servants stood on the porchs and waved good by. In Watch Hill the only survivors of one long stretch of beach that was along with it’s houses swept away retreated progressively up into the attic of the house. The roof and attic where then torn from the building and like a raft the they were driven inland, 10 miles up the river and into the tidal mashes.

The last catagory 5 hurricane in the Atlantic basin was in 1998. Isabel, now category 5, has winds gusts 190 miles an hour at her core. I find that impossible to imagine. The wave heights are only 20 feet at this point which is much less than the last hurricane Fabian had.

At this point it’s too early to tell what may become of Isabel. Let’s hope it turns north soon and dissapates in the North Atlantic rather than someplace on the East Coast. picture, more pictures.

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