The Perils of Irene

For days I’ve been watching the coverage of Hurricane Irene.

Right now I’m looking at a NASA image taken yesterday, clearly showing the storm snuggled up to the east coast of the U.S.

I think you have to make a conscious effort to step outside yourself occasionally, so you’ll know how lucky you are. In this case, I’m stepping outside by looking at this picture taken from 22,300 miles above the earth and transmitted to us by the NOAA GOES-13 satellite.

For those of you on other continents (or other coasts) who have been missing the breathless coverage of this incoming storm, we’re all in panic mode on the East Coast, with those of us in New York expecting to have the storm smash into us on Sunday. We’ve been buying plywood and tarps, collecting together survival supplies like water and food and flashlights, filling our tanks so we can flee westward, and staying glued to the TV from whence the breathless reporting springs.

Irene became a tropical cyclone east of the Lesser Antilles on August 20, but originally formed as a distinct weather pattern 5 days before – 12 days ago as I write this – off the coast of Africa.

(To my surprise, there was another Hurricane Irene in 2005. In fact, there have been TEN tropical storms called Irene since 1947. The names are chosen from a list selected by the World Meteorological Organization, and there are six rotating lists of names for Atlantic Ocean storms. The remaining names for this year are: Jose, Katia, Lee, Maria, Nate, Ophelia, Philippe, Rina, Sean, Tammy, Vince and Whitney.)

As it intensified, the storm did serious damage to several Caribbean nations, after which it picked up its skirts and headed for the U.S. Sidling past Florida, it took aim at the East Coast. Several east coast cities encouraged evacuations, and massive damage was predicted.

But by this morning, the eye of the storm had collapsed, and it’s been downgraded to a Category 1, with 94 mph winds hitting the coast of North Carolina. We’ll still get some windage where I live on Sunday, but it will be down into the 40 mph range, which we can handle easily.

The power may still go out — where I live near Schenectady, NY, the power goes out when hummingbirds fart  — but it will probably be out for hours rather than days, as originally speculated/predicted.

All of this is really to make this one point: That here in this era of science (which I maintain is really only about 300 years old), we get to see the storm coming. Days, even weeks in advance, and from thousands of miles away. We can prepare, depart, or just sit tight and amuse ourselves with the approaching spectacle.

By contrast, in the era of religion, the previous tens of thousands of years, you got to see a storm when it hit your horizon, mere hours ahead of time, and you could flee at the speed of a human walk or — if you were rich enough — a horse’s trot.

Religion: Impotent. Lame. Late. Worse, as far as understanding the real world, religion not only fails to deliver the light for seeing things clearly, and at a distance, it blinds its followers from seeing what really is there. (Evangelist Pat Robertson said the recent Virginia earthquake is a sign of the end times, and Glenn Beck sees both the earthquake and the hurricane as a message from God.)

Science: As fertile as a thoroughbred stallion, it spawns stunning technology, useful information, world-spanning power to make change (admittedly not always a fantastically good thing), and, in this case, time to take shelter from the storm.

THIS is how lucky we are: We have science in our lives now. Instead of just religion.