As I write this, many of my friends and neighbors, co-workers and family remain without electric service following the massive storm six days ago, a type of storm called a derecho (pronounced “deh-RAY-cho”).
Until this past week most of us have never heard of a derecho; I certainly know that I had never heard the term before. Now many of us will never forget it, or at least we will remember this particular weather event as the “Summer Storm of 2012” or some such monicker.
Technically a derecho is described as “a widespread, long-lived, straight-line windstorm that is associated with a fast-moving band of severe thunderstorms.” It has also been described as a “land hurricane.” Time-lapse weather radar images and thunderstorm warnings show the storm starting near the Iowa/Illinois border west of Chicago, becoming a derecho over Indiana, and growing in size and speed as it raced eastward before eventually disappearing out over the Atlantic Ocean.
Most of us experienced the sped and fury of the storm firsthand and have our own experiences and recollections, but one of the things I found most amazing was how quickly the temperature dropped (about 35 degrees within the space of 45 minutes) and then the speed with which the storm struck.
Afterwards, like everyone else, we wandered around the yard and driveway, surveying the damage and moving some limbs and branches and putting things back into some semblance of order. The sky had a definite yellow cast, similar to what one would experience wearing a pair of amber-colored glasses.
Another difference between this particular storm and a bad summer thunderstorm was the extent of the damage; while the damage covered by a thunderstorm may cover a swath of only a few miles, this storm wiped out utilities and services over thousands of square miles. In that respect the storm was more like a hurricane than a tornado; damage has been estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Thankfully, here locally at least, the storm appears to have spared lives and most homes, although there is plenty of damage to go around, some areas worse than others.
Not to make light of the human suffering, but I wondered what it must have been like for birds and other animals living in the woods and fields as the storm passed through. A short walk through the woods behind our house revealed phenomenal wind damage while, by comparison, the Meigs SWCD Conservation Area was relatively unscathed with only one tree found lying across the 1.5-mile-long Pauline Atkins Trail.
One thing this storm definitely did was illustrate our over-reliance on modern conveniences and technology, namely air conditioning, refrigeration and gasoline-powered generators. Ice, gasoline and generators were in short supply throughout the region leading to short tempers, lines, rationing, and empty store shelves. To the best of my knowledge, proprietors were resisting the urge to gouge people for necessities.
In some ways the timing of the storm, early Friday evening, gave people time over the weekend to recover, in other ways it slowed the delivery of gasoline, ice and other essential material. The few gas stations that had power weren’t just being hit up by locals, but by motorists passing through who were unable to get gas elsewhere.
I think we here in the Ohio River Valley are accustomed to the occasional winter power outage or ice storm, but this long-term summer power outage caught a lot of people, including myself, by surprise. We were fortunate enough to have a generator available to use, but it hadn’t been used for a while and any gasoline I may have had on hand had gone into the mower or the tractor.
The plan was to come up with just enough gasoline to ride out the first couple of days, just enough to keep food refrigerated, so I took the gas back out of the tractor and was prepared to raid the mower and other vehicles as well… anything to avoid the lines forming at those few gas stations that had electricity and gas.
Rumors that the water was going to be shut off were just that, but in any event I kept a few jugs filled up - again just enough to make it a few days until supplies were available again. Water, at least in my neck of the woods, turned out to be a non-issue.
In my mind, the heroes of this event are all of the utility workers, tree trimmers, etc. who worked long, hard hours in record-setting heat to get electricity, phone and other vital services restored. My hat is off to all of you.
Jim Freeman is wildlife specialist for the Meigs Soil and Water Conservation District. His column generally appears every other weekend. He can be contacted weekdays at 740-992-4282 or at email@example.com