August 13th, 2020

Storm Chaser Shorts

Derecho Isn't Just a City in Texas

 I woke up late and had a fire department meeting in an hour, and it was a horrible day for a drive, so we went for a drive.

In our defense, it was a time-sensitive errand ... and we didn't know it would be a bad day for a drive. As I dragged myself out of bed Emily told me about a line of thunderstorms to the west, but we were headed east. Surely we could get things done and be back before it hit.

We didn't know it was a derecho, which is meteorological term meaning "big honking storm like a hurricane except in the middle of the country", which wouldn't have fit as easily in a headline. We also didn't take into consideration that the system was moving at 60 mph. By the time we got back it was, as the old timers say, all over but the shouting.

Just after we turned back I crested a hill on a country road and almost ran down a group of wild turkeys. Um, flock. Herd? Wait, let me look it up ...

Huh. Rafter. A group of turkeys is called a rafter. Who'da thunk it? Anyway, that was my first clue that this wouldn't be an ordinary trip.

Your rafter may vary.

 

There would be a lot of shouting. And wind. And those big huge drops of rain that look like there's a bucket full in each drop, and yeah, a little hail mixed in with that. We hit some of that, then about five miles out of town Emily told me the clouds were rotating, which I could believed because by then the western third of Noble County was under a tornado warning. (We were under a thunderstorm warning, which in retrospect seems underwhelming. It occurs to me there should be a derecho warning, or possibly they could call it a land hurricane, which sounds cooler.)

We pulled over at a good spot to watch. (In other words, safe.) I got out to see, yes indeed, there was a small rotating wall cloud going over our heads. I never thought to get some video, which is odd, because I'm usually all about grabbing the camera; but I stayed standing outside the car long enough to see it wasn't just a random cross wind--it was, indeed, rotating. I didn't see a funnel, and so far as I know all the damage around Noble County came from straight line winds ... which did just fine by themselves, thank you.

Emily, who's much smarter than me, and the dog, who's also no dummy, had stayed in the car. So I was the only one who got clobbered when another wall of those bucket-sized raindrops reached us.

We tried to drive on, but have you ever tried to drive while inside an automatic car wash?

You have? What the heck's the matter with you?!?

So we didn't drive, for a while, having found another place to get completely off the roadway. Eventually we went on, once all the foliage around us was no longer leaning at a 90 degree angle. Or 75 degree. Or ... oh, who am I fooling? I hated math. They were blowing sideways, okay?

Now, people can sometimes cause problems by trying to do the right thing. As we inched down the highway, an oncoming car flashed its high beams to get out attention. It was probably the driver who did it, not the car, but never mind.

They were trying to warn me, but it had the opposite effect, because I was looking at that passing car when Emily said "TREE!"

My wife doesn't yell about trees unless they suddenly appear in front of us, in the twilight haze of sideways rain. It had blocked about half of State Road 8, and it wasn't something I was going to move, so I called the Sheriff Department business number.

It was busy.

Different storm, same action.
 

 

You gotta understand, that just doesn't happen often. My first impulse was just to leave them alone, but the tree was across a state highway, after all. I got through by portable radio, and after we determined we'd do more harm than good if we stayed where we were, we headed back toward Albion.

That's when we came across a tree branch, halfway across the road from the other side, but this one was something we thought we could do something about. It was obviously just a large, dead branch, so we hopped out, dodging cats and dogs (still raining, you see), ran over to it, and realized it was way bigger than we'd thought from inside the dry car, where the dog was laughing at us.

Okay, it was a tree.

But it was a dead tree, so by hauling on it together, we were able to break the worst of it off. then we threw the larger broken branches off the roadway, and then we got the heck out of dodge, because dodge was a highway and visibility wasn't exactly 100%. Especially since the pavement was starting to flood, and who knew which way other drivers were looking?

 Yeah, I missed the fire meeting.

But we made it home safely, and we had dry clothes, and even electricity, which is more than a lot of other people could stay. The moral of the story is, I suppose, the same as it's been all year:

Stay home.

(Just the same, after we were safely home I looked at Emily and said, "But now that it's over, it was kinda fun, wasn't it?" She agreed. The dog was a dissenting vote. And this attitude is how people get into trouble.)

I suppose I should advertise my novel Storm Chaser here, but the weather was a windbag enough for all of us.