Warning to Boise State football fans heading to Jacksonville for the Florida State game: tropical storm likely.
Disclaimer: There is nothing official about this warning. The forecast doesn’t call for a storm.
But don’t rule one out.
The reason: Tropical Storm Tim will be at the game.
Regular readers of this column are well aware of my ability to run afoul of the weather gods when traveling. I’ve been run out of mountain lakes by storms that turned bone-dry creek beds into knee-deep rapids, stuck in blizzards on mountain passes, celebrated Thanksgiving on Puget Sound with gale-force winds, a power outage and a lily white turkey languishing on a hibachi.
A group of friends trusting enough to travel with the Woodwards to Boise State road games have learned the hard way about my propensity for encountering weather-related emergencies.
The games are an opportunity to spend a few days taking in local attractions in other parts of the country. That was the case a few years ago with a Boise State-Virginia game in Charlottesville, Va. Charlottesville is a few hours’ drive from Kitty Hawk, N.C. and the Outer Banks. We planned on pleasant days of exploring beaches and learning more about the place where the Wright brothers invented the airplane.
Until the storm hit. Hurricane Joaquin in the Atlantic combined with the highest tides of the year to flood much of the North Carolina coast. High tides, heavy rain and strong winds had us muttering the star-crossed travelers’ lament:
“What the #$%@! are we doing here?”
Waves battering the beaches were as high as we were tall. In a photo taken on a beach, my wife’s hair looks as if she’d been standing in the wake of Air Force One. Roads closed; normally busy resort towns were all but deserted.
Did we come home early? Did we hunker down and ride out the storm? Did we try to get out of its path?
No. We’d come to see the sights and weren’t about to let a little weather stop us. So, throwing caution (and everything else that wasn’t tied down) to the howling winds, we headed to Cape Hatteras.
Cape Hatteras is a narrow, broken strip of islands stretching into the Atlantic from the mainland and back again. So many ships have sunk in its treacherous waters that they’re known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic. The Cape Hatteras road is an alleged highway, with apologies to proper highways everywhere. Parts of it are single lane. There are bathrooms that are wider.
This was the road we drove as the storm was bearing down. Parts of it were underwater. It was a good thing our rental was a big SUV or we could have ended up doing a highly successful imitation of a sailboat.
My most vivid memory of that day is of sitting in a little cafe where we stopped to have lunch and confer over whether to turn back to our B&B or continue on and have our names added to a future plaque memorializing those swept out to sea. The sky was the color of lead. Rain was blowing sideways.
The conference was a short one, frequently punctuated by “What the #$%@! are we doing here?”
We turned back.
It was a good thing because the road closed a few hours later.
Back at the B&B, we vowed to avoid future games in hurricane country. A vow we kept – until last year’s game in Troy, Alabama. By then, memories of Cape Hatteras had lost some of their punch. And what were the odds of something like that happening twice?
Pretty good, actually.
At first we didn’t pay much attention to the red flag that went up on the beach. Clouds had replaced the blue skies of the previous days and the wind was picking up, but no big deal.
Then a second red flag went up, meaning the beach was closed to swimming because it was too dangerous.
The reason: Tropical Storm Gordon.
The storm short-circuited a story I’d wanted to write for years. A public relations officer with the Navy had arranged a tour of the base in Pensacola, Fla., where I was stationed decades earlier and to which I had never returned. (A tornado, incidentally, flattened several blocks of Pensacola during my tenure there.) The helpful P.R. guy had gone so far as to set up interviews with Idaho students at the base.
All for nothing. Gordon closed the base the day before the interview.
It also ended our vacation. After yet another storm conference, we checked out early and drove to Mobile, Ala., to catch our flight home. The next day, the storm closed the causeway to Mobile. If we hadn’t left early, we’d have missed our flight. Lodging options were limited on the rural road we took to Mobile. Think Billy Ray’s Rooming House, Dogwater, Ala.
We were fortunate to get some of the last rooms at a hotel in Mobile, where we spent the evening sheltering in the lobby comparing storm notes with other guests and Coast Guard emergency workers. Gordon wasn’t a hurricane, but it was as close as any of us had been. People were on edge. If you’ve seen “Key Largo,” the classic hurricane movie with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, you have an idea of what it was like.
Now, Tropical Storm Tim – clearly a slow learner – is heading to Florida during Hurricane Season.
Of course there might not be a hurricane, tropical storm, tornado or other weather-related disaster there. The weather might be perfect. So don’t change your travel plans, and by all means enjoy the game.
But don’t say I didn’t warn you.