A Butler’s Manor: 1. Hurricane Irene: 0.

“Storm? What storm?”

Remember the old song? “What a difference a day makes / twenty-four little hours…”

A week ago we were battening down the hatches in preparation for Hurricane Irene, the first hurricane in twenty years to seriously threaten Long Island. (The last one was Hurricane Bob which struck in August 1991, twenty years almost to the day.) While there is never a good time for a hurricane, the end of August is particularly problematic, because so many people are trying to get their final vacation time in before Labor Day signals school and the beginning of fall. Hence we had a full house to cancel in anticipation of the lady’s wrath.

This, of course, was a Big News Event, with All Hurricane All The Time coverage on the local networks. Call me cynical, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the fact that Irene looked likely to wallop New York City increased the news value. In any case, we all watched her progress with dread.

Even with the most advanced meteorological equipment, everyone knows that in the end storms are never 100% predictable, so making decisions in anticipation of them is a crapshoot. Chris and I had never experienced a hurricane — we moved to the South Fork in early 1992, and the two storms that have made it up the East Coast in our memory both fizzled out. But Irene was a hefty lady, with shoulders some 500 miles wide. So Chris arranged help to make shutters for all the windows, and got our trusty tree guy over to thin out our massive Sycamore Maple and trim any other likely large trees in order to lessen their drag in a heavy windstorm. Out came the generator, fired up and tested, out came the extension cords, the flashlights, the candles, the radios…

We bid adieu to all our guests midday Saturday, and started packing everything away and shuttering up the first floor of the house. My sister Lisa, visiting from California, rebooked her flight home, started packing up bags of ice and filling the bathtubs and prepared to experience a weather event that can at least be watched and prepared for (unlike an earthquake).

Southampton Town officials ordered evacuation of waterfront and low-lying properties, and closed the beach to the public at 2 PM…which did not stop hundreds of us from going down to watch the waves, which were angry and quickening. For us, the rain began late afternoon Saturday and worsened overnight, just as predicted. Winds picked up speed after midnight and there were bursts of heavy rain, sounding like hail, in the wee hours. We lost power, telephone and cable about 8 AM on Sunday. Fortunately, the stove runs on propane gas, and with the refrigerator plugged into the generator, food wasn’t an issue. With the windows boarded up, it was a weird feeling!!!. About 11 AM, unable to stand it, Chris took down the shutters blocking the kitchen, so we could at least see out.

We heard on the emergency radio that Irene had weakened to a tropical storm and made landfall in NYC around 9 AM. Outside, the wind was blowing, but there was little to no rain. Up and down the street we could see tree damage on most properties, but Chris’s pre-emptive strike seemed to save us from the same fate. Early afternoon, with the storm now north of us, we drove around town to assess the damage, which seemed to be limited to tree loss and power line damages. We joined the crowd of lookie-loos at the beach. Winds there were much more intense than at A Butler’s Manor. It was nearly impossible to gaze northwestward, into the wind, and all exposed skin got a sandblasting. Beaches were considerably shallower than they had been 36 hours previously, but still there. While our block had no power, friends a mile to the west of us did, as did areas in the village and all around it. Several restaurants were even open, including Fellingham’s, so we ordered take out burgers and settled in for an evening of games.

In cleaning up the yard the following day, we didn’t have a branch down any bigger around than a finger, no more than the effects of a good nor’easter. The biggest task was cleaning the pool of the fallen leaves, and resetting the outdoor furniture. And of course, post-Irene, the weather was picture perfect, not a cloud in the sky or speck of humidity in the air. By the time power was restored on Monday evening, the house and garden looked better than it had looked before the storm, and guests who arrived on Tuesday couldn’t believe a storm had actually passed over the property.

In fact, the garden seemed to love Irene’s kiss: clean up the following day allowed for some late-season pruning and raking, and all the roses went into bloom again!

My poor sister went home on Tuesday afternoon. Some vacation!

A Butler’s Manor, Southampton, and all of the villages of the Hamptons are open for business this sunny, lovely Labor Day weekend…and we feel very blessed that Irene only backhanded us!

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