Riders on the Storm
Flying|October 2020
Two views of Hurricane Isaias
SAM WEIGEL

It is 9 a.m. on a gray Tuesday. I am standing on our dock at City Island in the Bronx, New York, surveying my handiwork, sipping hot coffee to assuage the gnawing tension. I have just finished preparing my sturdy boat and home, Windbird, to ride out a hurricane on a 40-year old dock in an exposed marina. The storm is not to arrive for a few hours yet, but a freshening salty breeze and foreboding smudge on the southern horizon foretell its coming. I check and double-check the braided dock lines, which are fitted with rubber snubbers and anti-chafe gear, spiderwebbed between strong points on the boat and various dock cleats of admittedly questionable integrity. Fenders are arrayed on the leeward side of the hull. I’ve removed our dodger and Bimini canvas and lashed the framework in place. I cut short a family vacation and flew into LaGuardia Airport yesterday afternoon to storm prep the boat. With Dawn absent and me working singlehanded, I decided to leave the headsails in place on their furlers. I hope that wasn’t a mistake.

When we sailed Windbird from Florida to New York City this spring, it was partly so that I could fly out of my new base’s airports of Kennedy (KJFK), LaGuardia (KLGA) and Newark (KEWR) without commuting—but also to get out of the way of tropical cyclones like this one. Yet this is the second named storm to hit New York this year, and it’s only the beginning of August. Isaias is also the ninth Atlantic cyclone of the season, which in a typical year would not arrive until October. The times— they are a-changin’.

Isaias is technically a strong tropical storm, though it was a hurricane when it came ashore in the Carolinas last night. It remained surprisingly robust post-landfall thanks to an unusually strong-for-summer southwesterly jet stream, which also accelerated the slow-moving storm to nearly 30 knots of forward speed. The eye is forecast to pass about 50 miles west of here, placing us squarely in the feared right-front quadrant, where circulation around the low combines with the system’s forward motion to produce a cyclone’s most destructive winds. The newest forecast models call for gusts well above hurricane strength. This doesn’t surprise me because this isn’t my first encounter with Isaias, and the storm has already been punching above its weight.

Six days ago, I was assigned a two-day trip on my last days of reserve duty for the month, with a 24-hour layover in San Juan, Puerto Rico. In the summer, I check the National Hurricane Center’s website several times a day, so I was aware of what was then known as Potential Tropical Cyclone Nine bearing down on the island, but I wasn’t terribly concerned. Airlines fly into tropical storms and incipient hurricanes almost as a matter of course; my employer attracted some media notoriety for being the last airline to operate an evacuation flight in and out of San Juan only hours before the Category 5 monster Hurricane Maria smashed into Puerto Rico in 2017.

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