Word of the week: derecho

So, we had an unexpected diversion from our lives last week in the form of a very powerful storm, known as a derecho, that moved through the Midwest on Monday morning. Here is an excerpt from the National Weather Service report:

“During the morning hours of July 11, 2011, a line of severe thunderstorms moved very quickly across northern Illinois and southern Lake Michigan, producing widespread wind damage.  The storms responsible for this event developed late Sunday into early Monday across Nebraska and western Iowa.  Overnight they produced extensive wind damage across much of Iowa.  By 6:00 AM CDT as they moved into Illinois, a very moist unstable airmass (MLCAPE of 2000-4000 J/Kg) with considerable deep layer wind shear (40-50 kts) was in place ahead of the storms.  While the wind shear was sufficient to support organized severe storms, the westerly unidirectional nature of the winds was more conducive to the development of strong straight line wind damage versus tornadoes.  Despite the lack of directional shear, or actually because of it, the strong mid and upper-level winds were able to mix down to the surface and produce a wide swath of 60-80 mph measurements — plus the associated damage. This thunderstorm complex fit the description of a bow echo “derecho” which is a widespread, long-lived windstorm that is associated with a band of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms.  The same thunderstorm complex that produced widespread wind damage in the Central Plains and Midwest actually was able to persist all the way to nearly the Delmarva Peninsula in the Mid Atlantic, producing a swath of nearly continuous swath of wind damage along its path.”

The sky over our house went from bright and blue to black in a matter of minutes. Huge bolts of lightning filled the sky as the rain poured down so hard and fast sheets of water overflowed the rain gutters. The view out the front window looked as though we were standing behind a waterfall. Then the wind came roaring through, bringing with it tree branches, kiddie pools, lawn furniture, and trash cans. We heard loud beeps and clicks as the power went out, then it was over just as soon as it had begun.

The rain slowed and Scott went out to collect our garbage bins from the ditch they had toppled into. The rain had entirely disappeared a few minutes later as we got a call from Scott’s dad asking if we could stop over and check on his mom who was home alone. Scott left to visit her while I got Kaylee down for her morning nap. Once she was asleep I went outside to check on damage. Debris was everywhere and the damp air was filled with the sounds of sirens. Broken branches littered the ground in wet, crumpled piles. The arch from our wedding lay in a twisted mass near the shed and Kaylee’s climber had been blown across our yard into our next-door neighbor’s. A limb from a tree in another neighbor’s backyard had blown across the street to our house, deposited and on the ground outside of Kaylee’s room. As I made my way to the front of the house i was stopped in my tracks as I looked out across the street to see a huge tree had been split in half, the fallen branches taking the power lines with them on their way down, which now lay strewn across the driveway like a snapped rubber band.

Luckily Jane, an 82 year old woman who just lost her husband, Warren, this past winter, had already left for work. We wouldn’t see her agin until 5 days later when she stopped by to ask scott to take a look at her sump pump because it wouldn’t stop beeping and she didn’t know what to do.

I lost reception on my cell right after the storm passed. Being home without power and a means to communicate or look up information made me feel isolated. Scott got back from his parents’ house as Kaylee was finishing up second breakfast. He brought a few bags of ice with him, which we packed into the fridge and both freezers.

Scott took Kaylee back to his mom’s while I headed out to pick up more formula, diapers, and lunch. The local Panera was packed; every table filled with laptop users taking advantage of the power and free wifi. It was clear from the drive over that the damage was extensive. Fallen branches and entire trees littered the roads. Downed power lines and poles snapped in half were a common sight. My heart sank as I realized it would be a while before things were back to normal again. Luckily both Toys R Us and Panera had power so I didn’t have to tap into our cash reserves. All the traffic lights were out though, and several businesses had signs that read they were open but did not have power and could only accept cash.

Generators, flashlights, and batteries were sold out across the county. After unsuccessfully attempting to get Kaylee to sleep in the heat we decided to pack it up and head over to a family friend of Scott’s parents who generously offered to share her home with a few wayward souls. On the way over to her house we came across a woman throwing out a perfectly good power-wheels Jeep…score!

The next day the power had returned at Scott’s parents’ house so we packed everything up again and headed over there for the duration of our powerlessness – 3 more days. We stopped in at home every day we were away so that we could check on the cats and the power status. We were able to move some of our food over to the in-laws freezer but we ended up losing about 2/3 of everything, mostly things we bought from Trader Joe’s just days before.

We were attempting to replace our failing water heater the evening before the storm so we had dishes and laundry piling up already. The water heater install didn’t go very well so we ended up calling a plumber in, an endeavor that took three days because all of the plumbers in the area were busy with storm emergencies. At that point it was nice to have one thing back in order, even if it would still be another day before the power was back on.

Work shut down on Monday when the buildings lost power and the generators couldn’t keep up.  Scott and I took extra time off to look after Kaylee and take care of clean up at our house and his parents’ house. I stopped in for a meeting on Wednesday to find that several other people were in the same boat as us, a few had already had their power back, some never lost it at all. By the time I returned on Friday morning almost everyone had power back, except us…

I drove home for lunch to check on the cats and as I pulled down my street I noticed all the new power poles that had been installed. The streets were, and are, still lined with tree branches though. I also noticed the absence of generator engine roars. Silence, the happiest noise ever. I did a little dance and hugged the cat when I opened the door and saw the ceiling fan was on in the living room. We moved back in that evening.

And, it was so nice to be home and spend the first night in our own bed in what felt like ages.


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