Hurricane-force memories

Tammy Gilbert brought back a hilarious memory from Arabi Park Middle tonight on Facebook. One which I had totally forgotten until she jogged my memory, and it came right back.

In September 1988, Hurricane Gilbert ravaged Jamaica with winds of 125 miles per hour, two and a half feet of rain, and a 19-foot storm surge. There were a lot of deaths, 45, but it could have been a heck of a lot worse.

When the storm emerged into the Caribbean Sea off the west coast of Jamaica, the storm underwent a rapid intensification, growing into a Category 5 monster with winds of 185 miles per hour. Gilbert also made history when its minimum central pressure dropped to 888 millibars, or 26.23 inches of mercury, shattering the record of 892 millibars (26.34 inches) which was set during the Labor Day hurricane of 1935. By comparison, Camille’s lowest pressure in 1969 was 900 millibars (26.58 inches), but the winds were more intense, 190 miles per hour, when it slammed into the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

The Friday before Gilbert slammed into Jamaica, Hurricane Florence, a Category 1 storm with winds of 80 miles per hour, crossed the Mississippi River delta in lower Plaquemines Parish–not too far from where Camille crossed in 1969–but this time, the storm began to weaken as it neared the city of New Orleans. My house in Arabi lost power for an hour or so, but other than that, there were really no effects. There were a few leaves and twigs down from the tree in our backyard, but the sun came out that Saturday and I was watching college football as normal.

School was not called off for Florence, and I was in a panicky mode all day long at school. My classmates got a big kick out of it, and as I was leaving, I picked up my trumpet from the band room. I told Ms. Crow that I was worried about the storm, and she told me jokingly to go home and play Taps.

Gilbert was no joke. This storm was the 1988 version of Camille, and if a storm of that magnitude hit the United States, it would be beyond catastrophic. There was no doubt Gilbert

Wednesday, September 14, 1988, was all about Gilbert in the halls of Arabi Park Middle. I wasn’t interested in talking about the Saints, I wasn’t interested in the baseball pennant races, I wasn’t interested with LSU’s game that weekend at Tennessee. I was all worried about Gilbert, and I told anyone who would listen this storm was scary.

I found a way to get under the skin of our class valedictorian. I began calling Tammy “Hurricane” Gilbert, and every time, she told me to shut up. I would not let it go for quite some time; in fact, I think it wasn’t until January or February when it finally died down. Rosemarie, Tammy’s neighbor and best friend, was unhappy with me for one of the few times.

I thought with Gilbert coming into the Gulf of Mexico the St. Bernard Parish School Board would call off classes for Thursday and Friday, and we would get a four-day weekend.

Didn’t get a four-day weekend. Didn’t get a three-day weekend. Gilbert passed well south of Louisiana and Texas and came ashore in Mexico, where it killed 200.

I recall three hurricane vacations during my school years.

The first was in fourth grade at St. Robert Bellarmine, when we had the Friday before Labor Day due to the threat of Hurricane Elena, which at first was making a beeline towards New Orleans. That storm turned sharply east, and then back to the west before coming ashore in Pascagoula, Mississippi, east of where Camille and Katrina roared ashore.

The second was in August 1992. On the first day of my junior year at Brother Martin, Hurricane Andrew came ashore south of Miami with Category 5 winds of 165 miles per hour. The storm entered the Gulf of Mexico shortly after noon that day, and it appeared New Orleans was the bullseye. We had the next two days off, and it appeared we may not have a school to come back to, but that was the least of my worries. I was REALLY scared I was going to die.

Luckily, Andrew veered west and made landfall in Louisiana near Morgan City, at the mouth of the Atchafalya River.

In September 1998, i had a day off from LSU due to Hurricane Georges. The storm passed well east of Baton Rouge, but it was very windy that Monday at LSU football practice. I had to go out to practice to police the media as part of my duties with LSU’s sports information office.

In landlocked Kansas, there are snow days, but I’ve never seen school called off, at least in Russell, due to the threat of tornadoes. Now if the National Severe Storms Center issued a high risk severe outlook, I”m sure superintendents would seriously consider keeping students home in order to keep them off of buses and off the streets traveling to and from school.

About David

I am a sportswriter for a group of weekly newspapers in small towns across northern Kansas. I grew up in New Orleans, went to college at LSU and wandered in the wilderness until Hurricane Katrina finally put me on the path to my current job.

Posted on August 28, 2014, in Personal, School and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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