Four Ways of Seeing a Hurricane

Photograph courtesy LANCE MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC

We’ve often seen the meteorologist’s view of impending storms, but none of us (with the exception of a few astronauts) have ever actually seen this view of a storm with our own eyes. We think, “doom and destruction,” but it is still only a pattern of light clouds and darker land taken from outside our atmosphere.


Photograph by Randall Chase/AP Photo

Fenwick Island, Delaware

Then we see the disaster sites from above, and there’s a calm and strange beauty to the image–the contradiction of homes in water, like an everyday Atlantis. The aim here is documentation, not beauty, but the calm and absence of people defy the horror, and the vanishing perspective suggests eternity. There’s not much to humanize this image for us, as there is no one here to give us a perspective of the victims.


Photograph by Mike Groll/AP Photo

Central Jersey Shore, New Jersey

Now we see the truth, and as we move closer to the destruction in the images, we feel closer to the tragedy. Details appear that we can identify with–a washing machine, lawn furniture, and a child’s bike. Around the house are the footprints of what must be the inhabitants, left after the storm, which eerily says, “We have returned here, and left again. There is no possibility to stay.”


Photograph by Mario Tama/Getty Images

Atlantic City, New Jersey

When the victims appear, the tragedy becomes emotionally tangible. Because her face is hidden, she is a stand-in for me or you or someone you know, looking at the wreckage of our lives. We know that this time we are not in the photo, but we understand the person in the photo is not far from being us.

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