So, That’s A Derecho

July 3, 2012

I headed out soon after the storm passed Friday night. Driving was tricky but not too bad that first night due to a lack of traffic. A mile or so down the road I happened past this location just as EMS was finishing up. It was pretty clear no one had survived from the looks of the car.

But as long as you kept your eyes on the road for debris, or the occasional tree, and were careful due to the complete lack of traffic lights, you could get around. It began as any thunderstorm might. I opened and looked out the window when I noticed the wind sounded particularly strong; that's when I heard the proverbial freight train sound often associated with a tornado and I began to hear debris bouncing off the roof of the house. I realized at that point, this was not your usual weather event.

There were from 6 – 8 large poles down in a row along this stretch of road.

Story link - two died locally, though I'm only now learning the details: A 27-year-old Burke man, Khiet Hguyen, died when a tree fell directly on top of his car …. He was declared dead at the scene of the accident. A 90-year-old West Springfield woman who was lying in bed died when a tree fell on her home….


It was here that a 27-year-old man died Friday night when the tree fell on his car. Credit: Susan Larson

A major highway was closed and barricaded a half-mile from here. The gas stations and convenience stores were dark and closed; yet, across the street, a strip mall was spared and I was the only customer in a CVS, scoring gold – a bag of ice for the mini-fridge you wouldn't be able to get anywhere by 10 AM the next day. One bag keeps things chilled in there for close to two days.

A combination 7/11 and gas station were open just up the road. I got what I needed and, again, by morning, there were cars and people lined up for both. If you take a high intensity pen-light flashlight (2 double A batteries), stand it in a cup and point it at the ceiling, it'll keep a good sized room lit for 2-3 nights. Mine never ran down.

All in all, we managed pretty well here, though we didn't really sleep for two days after the first night due to the heat. The house retained some cool air the first night. It was gone by the second night. Outside, there was a dead calm and the air wouldn't turn over inside the house, even though it was 10 – 15 degrees cooler out there.

The worst part was a sick dog that had been at the Vet's early Friday and I couldn't get her antibiotics, though I did have pet pain killers and doggie valium they had given me to calm her down before test results came back. I kept her drugged, otherwise, she whimpered in discomfort, not pain, the whole time. She was driving me nuts! 

Pugs are notoriously intolerant of heat and will pant incessantly until you think they might explode. I packed them in the car and drove around for an hour or so with the air conditioning on to cool them down during the day. That second night I sat in the driveway with the air on for them for two hours from 3 – 5 am, during which they finally slept and I listened to news and music on the radio.

I would have packed up the car and headed for a motel but based on news reports, I had no idea which direction to drive in and, from the sound of it, could have driven all the way to NJ before I found some place not filled up. Except for dealing with them, I was fine – just splashed cool water on my head, shoulders and back whenever the heat got to be too much.

Three days was enough, though. I had pretty much what I needed to get by, or you could get it by then. This was not a catastrophic event, as some homes, public buildings and stores of all stripes within driving distance were spared. Had this been truly catastrophic, say like an EMP attack? I'm fairly convinced the whole thing would have started to come apart pretty fast. You could tell by how many people reacted.

Finally, as I emailed to Glenn aka Instapundit when I got back online, without even knowing at the time he's been on something of an air conditioning kick – the country may survive Barack Obama, but the republic will never survive without air conditioning as it stands today. I'm absolutely convinced of that. As bad as the storm was, it was the heat that would have emerged as the real killer had this thing gone on, or been much worse.

As for this Derecho thing I never heard of before, I could do without another one anytime, soon. I learned that much over the last few days, as well. There was also something else but I'm not quite sure what that is at this point, or even if it'll amount to much. It may. An event like this does focus you, somehow – gives you a certain perspective it's easy to lose sight of day-to-day. It also reinforced an old Clint Eastwood line from Magnum Force, believe it, or not: "a man's got to know his limitations." 

Strange, perhaps. But I guess it was a teachable moment, or held a few of them, in some ways. I'm simply not altogether sure what else, if anything, I learned for now. I guess over time, maybe I'll find out. It was an interesting three days.

Maybe gratitude has something to do with it. It almost sounds silly, now. But if you're sitting there suffering somehow, large or small – and trust me, people were and still are from this …. The minute it all came back on, when you heard and felt that air conditioning kick on and you knew you could take a hot shower, again – or just go to the refrigerator for a cold drink, or something you wanted to eat? Strange as it may sound to you, there's a gratitude, a beauty in that moment you can only hope to never forget. Imagine that? Hmm. What can I say? It was an experience. Leave it at that. 


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  1. Ragspierre says:

    Interesting, innit, how thin the veneer of our normal, comfortable existence is.
    And how we enjoy so much of what we do because of reliable power…reality energy, as I call it, versus that delusional energy of the Collective.
    Glad you’re OK, Dan. Hope the pup is better.

  2. y81 says:

    It was hot? And your dog panted? And a few more days of that would have led to social breakdown? That’s pathetic.

  3. MDr says:

    So where the hell is Bush? Er Obama. And the Feds?

  4. DSmith says:

    And yet the electric utility is one of the most-hated businesses. Proof? Any comment thread on any media website on any story involving an electric utility. The vitriol expressed is just beyond belief. People seem to think they should get their electricity for free, immediately, and without any failure, ever, at any time. Oh, and by the way, the people who work for the company, and the shareholders, shouldn’t get one red cent, the greedy sobs.
    I exaggerate, but only slightly.

  5. clarenancy says:

    I admit that, at least with hurricanes, us Gulf Coasters have warning. But seriously, every hurricane that even breezes by my house leaves me without electricity for 7 to 14 days. Katrina was 11. My neighborhood has no schools or major facilities on our grid so we are always the last to get back up and running. The morning after a hurricane the neighbors start pulling out chain saws and clearing the roads. By day 2 people pull out their gas generators, which I loathe due to the noise.
    You learn to deal with it. It may get hot, but it’s peaceful. There are no electronic gadgets inferring in your personal relationships. The stars, masked by industrial light, shine so brightly. And until the generators consume the space with their horrid din, its nice and quiet and easy going. Most folks here start to pull out their grills and cook up stuff from the freezer that will likely go bad, help each other out with debris clearing, etc…
    Of course that warning allows us to pile up on ice and beer. You’d be amazed how long you can keep milk and stuff in a coleman chest if you just manage your ice and don’t stand at the deep freezer with the lid open too long.

  6. DSmith … they also expect to get their electricity from “green” sources, without ANY interruption … not realizing that solar, wind, tidal power and even hydroelectric are inherently interruptable power sources.
    Dan, your quote from Magnum Force applies to a lot of situations; in particular, it addresses why so many of our government’s attempts to solve highly-individualized socio-economic dysfunctions from the top down, fail … because those at the top don’t know the limitations of their own perceptions and judgment when it comes to discerning the condition of each and every one of 300 million Americans. I refer to it as Callahan’s Principle of Leadership.

  7. john b says:

    A branch from my neighbor’s tree fell on my deck and although there was no real damage I was mildly annoyed that I had to spend part of my day off dealing with it. Then I left my neighborhood and saw people dealing with large trees down,roads closed and power outages measured in days not hours and I felt a little foolish.
    I think most setbacks are like that. When you see what others have to deal with you’ll rarely want to trade problems with them.

  8. Dan Riehl says:

    “That’s pathetic.”
    Not heart-rending enough for you, Y81? I got by, no need to share every fear, or grievance, large and small, I could have shared. People were losing it in store lines and fighting over parking spaces – just because things were … open. Imagine if that weren’t the case? You’re damned right it would have started to unravel.
    Sorry, I’m conservative. I got by, took care of what I had to, which was the dogs, first and foremost, because they couldn’t manage for themselves.

  9. koblog says:

    “Under my plan, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.”
    “$5 gas is fine by me.”
    “Putting more air in your tires will keep your gas costs down.”
    “I will bankrupt any new coal powerplants.”
    “We will build no new hydro powerplants and destroy as many existing dams as possible.”
    “Solar will supply all our needs and create millions of jobs too!”
    “I will lower the sea level.”
    — B. H. Obama
    Remember this as you sweat while watching your food rot in the non-functioning refrigerator or freezer.
    Remember this when you fill your tank for a mere $50 when just four years ago it was $22.
    Remember this as BHO flies around in a 747 collecting donations from George Clooney in his Italian villa, Barbra Streisand in her Malibu mansion and Al Gore in his multi-million dollar, energy-sucking cliftside Santa Barbara compound.

  10. Jeff S. says:

    I read that the storm had widespread sustained winds of 70-80 mph. That’s serious stuff, and the fatalities are tragic. Down here on the Texas gulf coast, we grow up hearing about cat 4 and 5 hurricanes, wondering what “the big one” would be like with 140 mph winds or more. Well, hurricane Ike was the first hurricane I experienced as a homeowner and father, and it had winds of “only” 80 mph here–but they lasted for a good four or five hours. That was a terrifying night I won’t forget. Three days without power seems like a lot, but it could have been worse: ours was out for ten.

  11. jasond says:

    Having lived on the Texas gulf coast for 50+ years I know what you’ve been going through. All you can do is deal with it and try to be prepared for the next time mother nature kicks you in the pants. A good backup system is a natural gas powered generator to power the house the next time something like this pops up. Good luck, hope your area has a speedy recovery.

  12. Ragspierre says:

    Lately, every time the wind blows, we suffer power outages. Lots of dead trees from last year’s drought, and lots of trees generally.
    Makes you appreciate the almost totally reliable power we enjoy. Increasingly a rarity in the “green bullshit” world.

  13. Dustin says:

    Great post.
    I’m sorry your dog suffered.

  14. George B says:

    Dan, is the main problem whole trees falling on power lines or branches breaking off otherwise intact trees? Just wondering if there is anything like an aggressive tree trimming program that would greatly reduce the power outage problem. I live in a home built in the 70s and my neighborhood has underground power lines within the neighborhood with a small number of above ground power lines at the edge.

  15. Alien says:

    My sympathies, sort of. I – and several hundred thousand of my neighbors – went through 3 hurricanes in 7 weeks in 2004 in Central Florida.
    Some of us (precious few for Charlie, many more by Jean) were well prepared with correctly sized generators, adequate fuel for them (the moment one hears the “H” word used one fills all four gas cans, and one always keeps the car tank(s) well more than half full), a spare propane cylinder for the grill, a couple of fans, a hot water shower (search “Zodi”), a window air conditioner for one room, etc. Hurricane Charlie knocked out my power for 5 days (some went without for over 2 weeks), Francis and Jean each a little over 1 day.
    If one was prepared it was little more than a no-TV camp out (actually, with an antenna I was receiving on-air stations, but had better things to do). For those unprepared, it was a bit more stressful.
    Plan, prepare, repeat. Yes, the D.C. area went quite some years without experiencing a storm like your recent one, so the generator gathers dust in the garage, one omits refilling the spare propane tank, and “I’ll get a window AC when they go on sale in the fall.”
    Plan, prepare, repeat.
    Or, alternatively, hope and suffer.

  16. Zilla says:

    I’m gad you and the dogs got through it, Dan, and your story was great read. I hope your sick dog is completely recovered now.

  17. RebeccaH says:

    I completely understand what you mean about the gratitude for having power and water. Back when Hurricane Ike did all that damage, parts of Ohio were out of power for more than a week. We ourselves were lucky, as our power was restored after three days, but it was a lesson in coping, and a huge lesson in gratitude for the benefits of civilization. Which is why I find present-day “environmentalism” so infuriating.

  18. Harold says:

    Derechos are pretty bad news. Not fast winds by tornado standards, but they’re wide and can travel for very long lengths. Joplin of last year’s EF-5 tornado fame got hit by one a few years back; it started in a state west to us, and swept 90 mph across Missouri and into Illinois. As I recall they cause about half the nation’s wind damage, because they cover such a wide area.

  19. Ernie G says:

    I hadn’t heard the word until today, but I’m sure that Florida’s No-Name Storm of 1993 was a derecho. It was a line squall that came in from the Gulf and hammered the St. Petersburg-Clearwater area. From the St. Petersburg Times:
    In the early morning hours of Saturday, March 13, 1993, the “Storm of the Century” hit Florida’s West Coast with awesome fury. Hurricane-strength winds and a tidal surge as high as 12 feet in some places swamped houses, smashed cars, scooped up furniture, appliances and boats.
    Along Florida’s Gulf Coast, the no-name storm damaged or destroyed 18,000 homes and caused more than $500-million in property damage, more than double that of Hurricane Elena in 1985. Statewide, it killed at least 26 people, more than Hurricane Andrew. Among the dead: six members of one family, washed away as they attended a reunion.