Although I’m a physics student getting a master’s degree from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, I must confess that I don’t know much about meteorology. The focus of my thesis is building particle detectors for investigations in high energy particle physics. The detectors would be used for studying the nature and existence of the smallest elements of matter—building blocks of all physical matter in the universe.
So as Hurricane Sandy sped northward in the Atlantic, a storm that would later be reckoned the biggest storm and surge of water in history to slam Long Island, I was as clueless as everybody else about how severe the storm would be and how it might affect me.
Because of the overblown hype we had received for a previous hurricane in 2011, I discounted the early warnings. And the media giving it the spooky name “Frankenstorm,” since it was going to hit just before Halloween, took away from the seriousness of the matter. By the time it struck New Jersey and New York on Oct. 29, 2012, reports about the hurricane had morphed it into “superstorm” Sandy.
The forecasted severity of the hurricane started to sink in on Saturday evening when I heard about mandatory evacuations in flood zones and the scheduled shutdown of the subway and rail systems in New York City and on Long Island.
Earlier that Sabbath day during church services, our pastor told us we should take this storm seriously and gave a sermon about how God can use the weather to punish the sins of a nation and a city, as well as individuals. He said New York City had committed some major sins, and eventually God would judge the city and this nation unless its people repent. Not that this storm was necessarily that, but it could certainly serve to get our attention, and its impact was definitely something we needed to be praying about.
Waiting for the storm
On Sunday morning, I went grocery shopping, put all the lawn furniture in the garage and did other odd jobs in preparation for the storm. I and a few other housemates parked our cars at the nearby middle school where there were fewer trees.
The university announced that all classes and activities were shut down for Monday, so I awoke that morning knowing I would be sitting out the storm with my housemates at home. The wind was already blowing continuously, and I could see the trees around the house swaying. It would only be a few hours before the worst of the storm would reach us.
We sat around the house that day reading books and flipping through TV channels that were already reporting flooding and destruction. I worried as the storm outside grew stronger. The trees swayed, with their large branches swirling as the howling winds whipped through them. Small branches hit the house. As the minutes and hours passed, I prayed again and again for protection on the house, the lives of my friends, and that we would all get through this stressful time. We were getting nervous.
God’s protection and many more prayers
Conditions worsened throughout the afternoon. At 4 p.m. I ventured outside to see and feel how bad it was. The continuous howling of the wind and bending of the trees was fascinating and awesome—in a very intimidating way. It sounded like standing next to a freight train or a busy freeway. I walked about a block to experience whatever was happening and discovered that our property was protected and shielded somewhat from the gusts that were noticeably stronger only a little distance up the street. I thought about how God’s protection is very, very real.
Walking back toward the house, I heard the foreboding creaking and cracking sounds of tree branches about to break, and, sensing my vulnerability, quickly went inside.
It was a good decision.
Within a minute a very large branch fell on one of the cars still parked in the driveway next to the house, smashing the windshield. As I went to the window to view the damage, the power suddenly went out. A look through a different window confirmed that a large tree on our neighbor’s property had fallen across the power lines. The proximity of the destruction immediately made my prayers more urgent!
More than half a million homes lost power during the storm, and it would be a full nine days before the power would be restored on our street. During the two remaining hours of daylight, we searched for flashlights and candles, preparing for the dark night ahead—and knowing that the worst of the storm was still on its way. God heard from me often that evening.
The intensity continued to increase as night fell, and the greatest tidal surges came between 8 and 10 p.m. Miles south of us, high tides inundated whole portions of the southern shore of Long Island and sent more water flooding into Lower Manhattan than at any time since New York City was founded by the Dutch in 1625!
A faith-building experience
While the superstorm was very real, God’s presence and protection became especially real to me. Not that I ever doubted His existence, but we all seem so trivial. The powers of nature and the universe are so awesome, and the accomplishments of man so minute and vulnerable. Yet in His greatness God gives us personal care and attention.
Superstorm Sandy was a faith builder. Though huge events swirl around us, be they storms, wars, personal tragedies or trials, God is always with us as we endure them.