Today’s Flyover People column as seen in The Emporia Gazette:


Here in the Midwest, hurricanes don’t enter into our forecasts very often, but occasionally the remnants of one will pass over Kansas and drop some rain.

Not Isaac. At a time when our land is so thirsty for precipitation, Isaac slighted us. The far eastern edge of Kansas received a day’s worth of rain on August 31, but in Emporia, we missed out. Still, we got to see some unusual clouds that day. While the monstrous gray vortex swirled over Missouri, we noticed curved streaks of clouds to our east, the outer bands of the storm.

That day, a gusty wind swirled and shifted its angles of attack. The cloud formations were a variety of cirrus, altocumulus and cumulus that didn’t seem to fit together well. The cloud shapes clashed; it was as if the sky was wearing plaid and stripes at the same time.

With Isaac nearby, I was reminded of a previous hurricane encounter.

In September 1989, my Aunt Norma and I headed to Georgia to visit my mother and step-father, who at the time lived in the country near Savannah, about 40 miles inland. Unfortunately, Hurricane Hugo also planned to visit Savannah that week.

Hurricanes are fickle. They get stronger, they weaken, they swerve, they don’t swerve; you just can’t trust them. But Norma and I counted on luck and started our two-day 1,200 mile trek to visit my mom.

Our drive to Georgia was colored with anxiety. Hugo was headed straight for Savannah. I was a little nervous, and my aunt was a lot nervous. In 1969, Norma and Jay and their three young kids had lived on Santa Rosa Island near Pensacola, Fla., where Jay was doing his medical internship.

“The terrible part of Camille hit down the way, of course, but for a long time, even into the final night, it seemed headed straight for us,” Norma recalled later. “Hurricane flags had flown for several days, radio and TV broadcast dire warnings every 15 minutes.” They were evacuated.

“Water did sweep the island, two or three houses were destroyed,” Norma said. “Entry onto the island was prohibited for three or four days. The damage done further west was horrible.”

As we headed for the coast and Hugo, Norma shared those Camille memories, making hurricanes sound very real and very frightening.

Driving southeast from Atlanta on I-75, the scene was haunting. Cars moved slowly, bumper-to-bumper, headed away from the coast. Vehicles were filled with moms, dads, kids, pets and belongings.

By comparison, the southbound lanes were eerily empty. Except for us, the only other vehicles were caravans of Georgia Power trucks, the sight of which was both comforting and disconcerting.

In Kansas, tornadoes are our main threat and our evacuation route is simply down the staircase, so this trip offered me images of the fleeing-from-the-storm process.

Rather than head into the unknown, Norma and I stopped that afternoon.

“We were able to find a motel available only because Jay had a priority card with Holiday Inn,” Norma recalled of that trip. “They had no openings in any of their places, but because of the priority club membership, they went to the trouble of searching out an opening for us in another motel in another town.”

I called my mom and told her we’d be staying in Forsyth, Ga., that night and that we would be hoping for the best for them. The storm threatened to cause serious wind damage inland, so my mom and step-dad decided that maybe they didn’t want to be in the way of Hugo either. They headed inland and shared our room at the motel.

The four of us sat on the edge of the beds late that night, watching the news as Hugo approached the coast. We worried about their house and about everyone in the path of the storm. The hurricane took an 11th hour curve to the north, making landfall near Charleston, S.C., as a category 4 storm.

There is no happy ending with a hurricane. More than two dozen people were killed in South Carolina and the area suffered incredible devastation. Although Hugo also caused damage in Georgia, Mom’s house was fine. A can of wasp killer left on her porch railing was still standing, undisturbed. But with hurricanes, you just never know.

Copyright 2012 ~ Cheryl Unruh


  1. Written with a novelist’s eye–another wonderful read. I feel like I’m looking into a clear mountain stream, going on the adventure without even realizing it.

  2. So you still have your aunt Norma? How great to have an aunt to take a road trip with. I think I would have enjoyed a road trip with my aunt. And I guarantee you if she and I had taken a trip together, we’d have run into a storm or earthquake too. Did you and Norma have a leaning toward that sort of thing together? HA!

  3. Enjoyed this good story about storms, Cheryl. I grew up in Savannah, but had left by that time. Good friends in Charleston suffered devastating damage to their home though. I remember my brother & his family speaking about the chaos of that evacuation from Savannah & then no storm! We grew up with hurricanes & thought they were exciting then. Now we know better! What an exciting trip… glad you & your family were safe!

  4. At least southeastern Kansas got a good drenching on Friday, September 7. From Olathe to Fort Scott the skies were placid. We stopped to visit a friend in Fort Scott, and in the twenty minutes we were inside, and quite unaware, the skies turned turbulent. Heading south, we thought we could outrun it, but more just kept moving in. Lucky to have a truck we were able to follow to Pittsburg.

  5. Great story—-( as usual) We received wonderful rains here in Branson, from Isaac— BUT we had planned a trip to the gulf coast this summer about this week– to see if we wanted to spend our winter months there– Isaac changed our plans!!!

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