Getting up close and personal with Hurricane Sandy

As I sit here a few weeks after one of the most damaging and relentless hurricanes hit the northeastern United States, it is more apparent than ever that although men and women have the power to build countries and personal empires, Mother Nature still has the power to strike them down.

I witnessed firsthand some of the power of hurricane Sandy as my wife and I returned from a Caribbean vacation. The 394 foot, 12 story high ship we rode was clearly no match for the 30 to 40 foot waves generated by hurricane Sandy's tailwinds.

My wife sustained a minor injury during the storm, and getting her from our 11th floor cabin to the first-floor infirmary in the predawn darkness was challenging at best. At the time our plight seemed serious, but after watching the terror of hurricane Sandy unfold on television the next few days, I recognize that our storm related travails were minor indeed.

At the time, it seemed incredible to me we could be 300- 400 miles away from the center of the storm and still our huge ship could be tossed around like a child's toy in a bathtub. Little did we know at the time this huge storm had a 1,000 mile wing span.

I remember looking out the double doors leading to the balcony of our cabin as we mercifully entered the calmer waters of Miami harbor just as the day was breaking. An old story my grandfather used to tell me as we would head out to one fishing trip or another kept playing in my head: Red sky at morning, sailor take warning. In all of my years of watching the sunrise in various places around our world, I've never seen a dawn break with a more ominous magenta hue.

I have a son-in-law who is a registered nurse, and he volunteered to go to New York City to work with the American Red Cross. Three days after Sandy struck the New York metropolitan area, he said the damage was still unbelievable and the human suffering if anything was being under-reported in the news coverage.

After I returned home and began watching news coverage of hurricane Sandy, my thoughts turned to the many farmers and agribusiness leaders along the East Coast of North Carolina and Virginia. Having witnessed the very backside of Sandy, I hoped by some miracle they could escape the big storm’s wrath.

On Monday morning as hurricane Sandy began unleashing its fury on the East Coast, I began making calls to gather information for a hurricane update for our daily electronic newsletter of Southeast Farm Press.

Bill Peele, a longtime friend and longer time crop consultant in Washington, N.C., says farmers along the Carolina coast truly dodged a major catastrophe. He says that had Mother Nature turned left, or west, a few hours earlier about half of the cotton crop and much of the soybean crop would have likely been destroyed in one of North Carolina’s most productive regions.

While working at Auburn more than 20 years ago, I saw firsthand what a hurricane can do to a cotton field heavily laden with open cotton bolls. In this case hurricane Frederick took a 40 acre field of cotton near Robertsdale, Ala., stripped the field bare, leaving the cotton plants neatly windrowed against the tree line on the northern edge of the field.

I also talked with my friend and longtime crop consultant Wendell Cooper in Suffolk, Va. He says an even higher percentage of the Virginia cotton crop was exposed to the hurricane. As in North Carolina, most of the crops were spared significant damage from the storm.

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