Friday, October 26, 2012

The big blow

As Hurricane Sandy crawls up the eastern seaboard, menacing the Northeast like Irene of a year ago, I’m reminded less of that statewide disaster than of the microburst that karate-chopped my neighbors just a few weeks back.

That event came from a line of thunderstorms which rolled in late afternoon, perfectly normal for the season. Here at our end of the mile-long, dead-end road, the cell arrived with a big whoosh! that rattled the deck furniture then subsided into a steady rain.

The following morning, my friend at the other end of the road called and said, “You haven’t driven out today, have you.”

Her ominous pause clued me in. “No . . . what happened?”

Out came the story, of coming home not only to the road blocked by downed trees but also an exploded environment.

Her house, unlike the rest of the neighborhood, sits close to the place next door. We all have good-sized parcels, but the rest of us are spread apart by our land, out of sight of each other, whereas these two houses stand cheek by jowl and their barnyards share a fenceline.

My friend’s spread is semi-open, overlooking fields and hilly vistas, and framed around the back by trees. Her neighbor’s place hunkers down under a large stand of pines. Both properties comprise home, barn, and outbuilding(s) clustered in sight of each other, and both families have livestock: my friend, two horses; her neighbor, multiple rescue llamas, donkeys, goats, pigs, and ponies, all out all day.

Far as we can tell, they got walloped by a microburst. Per Wikipedia: “A microburst is a very localized column of sinking air, producing damaging divergent and straight-line winds at the surface that are similar to, but distinguishable from, tornadoes . . . A microburst often has high winds that can knock over fully grown trees. They usually last for a duration of a couple of seconds to several minutes.”

Yep, that about describes it. In a few seconds, my friend lost 7 trees and her neighbor lost 32!

What’s really impressive is that this wind shear threaded the needle, completely missing every structure. Okay, one limb bounced off a roof, and others crunched some fencing. But somehow the wind found the only unimpeded path available through a compact maze. It peeled the maple in my friend’s front yard like a banana upon landfall, then split or dropped the rest in a line.

Nobody was home when it happened—except a few dozen terrified animals. Even they were spared what must have been a blizzard of flying branches and splintering trees. One donkey, I’m told, sproinged over a fence taller than he was. All the critters were mincing around with saucer-size eyes when the astounded homeowners returned.

Some investigation shows that the wind sliced down the wooded hill behind the properties but pretty much petered out by the time it reached the main road. It appears that only these two neighbors got attacked by the sky.

What a difference a few thousand feet makes! We carried on as normal, clueless; they were suddenly up to their armpits in cleanup and insurance claims and rearranging their operations. What caused that burst to zero in on their homesteads? Only the gods know.

But it’s proof positive that you can’t take life for granted as long as Mother Nature is running the show.

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