Thursday, October 30, 2014

Our Winter Storms

Here in our north coastal clime, the winters are an especial favorite time of the year. The glut of doofus-driving tourists is gone. The weather turns and the rains and storms begin. Even the locals largely go inside. This is the time of year that I enjoy going outdoors. The jetty is an especial favorite – the six mile long rock projection into the ocean that makes navigation more manageable. Or the beach in the remote spots that can only be approached by hiking where there is nobody present for miles on either side. The conditions are always different. Wind. Height of the swells in the ocean. The frequency of the swells. I have stood on the car sized rocks of the jetty when the winds were sixty mph or more but the waves were not that intense. But I have also stood forty meters behind these rocks – by necessity – when the thirty+ foot high ocean swells and infrequency of the wave sets (less frequent usually means more intensity) made the ocean slam over this rock wall like it was scarcely present.

One time I walked several hundred yards of the jetty when the winds were calm but the waves were terrible. You heard them coming well in advance that day; the sound reminded of when me and my grade school buddies lay next to railroad tracks when trains were passing. The deep roar increasing in intensity. Then the slam and roar of the impact. I have read many ancient writings about hiding in clefts of rocks for various reasons. But that day I learned what value a cleft has: protection against raw force. Sometimes the water would erupt on top of you; sometimes not. But the clefts gave protection.

Recently, I inspected a tidy beach house that had been built in the 1990s. It was in a chessboard row of mostly rental houses along the seawall in a tourist town along our coast. There was the ocean, the beach, the twelve foot high seawall made of fairly big rocks, forty meters of flat dune grass, and then the house. As I inspected in a rainy day, the tide came in and the beach disappeared. The ocean was right up to the base of the seawall, only forty-fifty meters from me. Some would have looked out the huge picture windows and thought about beauty and peace and tranquility. Knowing how high and hard the waves get, I didn’t at all feel these things. In a storm, fifty meters is no distance at all. Unease crept in quickly. I thought about all of the news reports I have heard about global warming and more intense storms and water levels rising. Katrina. Sandy. Etc. In a very high tide, high swells, and a storm, the water has certainly reached that house in the past. I did see evidence of this in the inspection, but it was not obvious.

The client looking at the house who had purchased my services asked me if I would buy the house. I am asked this question frequently, and cannot answer it. I can only relay what the current physical state of the property is at the time of the inspection. Clients need to make up their own minds on such matters.

I did tell the client, “if the ocean even hiccups, it is going to reach this structure.” Weird visions of the gray-black ocean swelling to halfway or higher up the picture windows were running through my head. Windows shattering; doors crunching inward from the force of the water. The agent quickly ameliorated, “well now the structure has been here for over twenty years; it has stood the test of time.”

I shake my head in amazement. The placement of this structure is a ticking time bomb. (Placement is a very different thing than quality of the structure, mind you!) Fairweather developers and fuzzy-minded local code municipalities who allowed building to occur here. Who will be holding this bomb when it detonates?  

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the waters rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the waters rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash. – c. 30 AD.

The reader is invited to “google” the following phrase: [build a house on the sand] – and view the images that this search generates. And to know visually the fears of which I relate.