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Telling Hurricane Stories

A guest post by Hurricane Season author Lauren K. Denton. 

In the South, everyone is a part-time meteorologist. Whether it’s the nervousness surrounding spring tornadoes, the heat and sticky humidity of summer, the bright blue skies of autumn, or our relatively mild winters (with occasional random snowstorms), we Southerners love to talk about the weather and follow it as closely as our beloved football teams. But while day-to-day weather fluctuations are one thing, hurricanes are a different beast. Regardless of where you live, most people are aware of them once the season kicks off in early June, but for those who live near the coast, it can be a three- to four-month stretch of anxiety.

As a native of Mobile, Alabama, I can look back and track many summers of my life by the hurricanes that swept through south Alabama. Storms like Opal—which jumped from Category 2 to a high 4 overnight—and Danny, the storm that sat still over Mobile Bay and dumped around 40 inches of rain in less than 24 hours. In 1998, about a month after my parents bought a condo in Perdido Key, Hurricane Georges swept through. I remember watching The Weather Channel’s broadcasts in Birmingham, wondering if we’d actually get a chance to enjoy our place at the beach or if Georges would demolish it with the storm surge.

Ivan and Katrina were one-two punches in 2004 and 2005. Even though Katrina was the bigger headliner, Ivan did more damage to the Alabama coast, barreling into Gulf Shores and devastating Orange Beach all the way through Pensacola. Our little spot at the beach just barely made it through. When my husband proposed to me the next spring on that stretch of white sand, mounds of storm debris still littered the roads, which had only recently been repaired and reopened.

Alabama has been affected by plenty of hurricanes since Ivan, though none that rivaled the intensity of that storm. But considering we dug deep into the alphabet for Ivan, the entire season was eerie and unpredictable, with three tropical storms and five hurricanes before Ivan had even gathered enough strength to become a named storm.

When I sat down to write the story that became Hurricane Season, the first image I put down on paper was that of a storm forming off the coast of Africa, then rolling and swirling across the Atlantic toward the U.S. I thought about how it moves and changes as it charges forward, the damage it causes at the point of landfall, and what it leaves behind when it moves on. As the story of Betsy, Jenna and Ty solidified in my mind, I knew the unpredictable nature of the 2004 hurricane season would play a part in the story. Specifically, a similarly formidable season would add an extra layer of tension to an already stressful family situation.

The novel is set on a dairy farm in a fictional Baldwin County town, near the actual towns of Summerdale, Robertsdale and Loxley, Alabama. Having no dairy farming experience myself, I spent a fair amount of time researching and asking questions. Two farmers in particular were abundantly helpful in my quest to get the details right. If I thought getting a residential home ready for a hurricane was a big job, they assured me that readying a 500-plus-acre farm and several hundred cows is quite different.

As I was putting the finishing touches on Hurricane Season last summer, our own hurricane season was another eventful one. Harvey, Irma and Maria, among many others, bolted through the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, adding layer upon layer of destruction. Though Franklin Dairy Farm stands firmly in the fictional world, I couldn’t help but think of all Ty and Betsy would have to do to prepare the farm for the looming threat of losing all they hold dear.

Hurricane Season is one of our 2018 summer reads. View the full Summer Reading List here

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