Saturday, April 20, 2013

The big blow, redux

Six months ago (October 26, 2012) I reported on the microburst that sliced through our neighbors’ parcels at the end of the road. Last night it was our turn, only instead of a straight-line chop, we had our own private tornado!

It had been windy all day—unusually and unnervingly so—but lessened as usual toward dusk. We checked the radar map before retiring, noting a bright green line running straight north-south, with yellow and red boxes well below us. This suggested that we would have a short, intense hammering of rain pass through overnight from the west but would not feel the main action.

Fine. Nighty-night!

But then, around ten o’clock . . . a dull, steady roar arose, which got louder and louder, closer and closer, inspiring neck hair to lift in instinctive alarm. Hubby was still up, trying to reboot our computerized weather station that was beeping after a split-second power drop a few moments before.

Since the juice had come right back on, I attended to the blinking bedside clock, trying to ignore the oncoming crescendo—until it broke against the house with a thunderous whoosh! that rocked the whole building! Then got louder, and stronger, and things outside started to crash and bang and rend in the dark.

We thought it might be a derecho, having heard a few of those roll in over the landscape in our lives. But this wind had an encompassing pressure that made me throw back the covers and start scrambling to get away from the windows.

Don’t know how long it lasted: long seconds or short minutes, followed by a pause, then lightning and thunder, then just rain, to which we fell asleep. In the morning we went outside at first light to inspect the aftermath. And found a strange combination of things.

Heavy items—like four metal extension ladders stacked horizontally atop each other across beams, which have never so much as rattled in a blow—had been lifted as a unit then dropped to the ground. Light things, like empty five-gallon fuel cans, drain basins, and pail lids, which had been left outside the shop door, were strung in a perfect diagonal line across the backyard to the treeline.

Yet very light items, such as the plastic-dome squirrel guard suspended from an S-hook in an apple tree, were still there (I bring in feeders at night and leave out this dome because it’s too hard to reach); and plastic sheeting enclosing an addition in process, already split and frayed and flapping from winter and UV damage, didn’t tear another inch. But a framed-in vinyl window in the same addition had been blown out of its track.

On the opposite side of the house, the trash can and loose things nearby were strewn across a diagonal line like the fuel cans but along an opposite axis. On both sides of the house, shingles on a particular roof face that had been shedding in onesies and twosies for years had been peeled en masse and, on one side, dropped to the deck, and on the other side, hurled up and over the house to scatter on the lawn. A metal panel on the same roof face, underneath our solar hot-water array, was folded upward, and glass bits from one of the solar tubes (also previously damaged) landed in the side yard with the shingles.

Yet only one resin deck chair went over. The others stood in place next to the glass-topped table, undisturbed.

All around the property, various types of firewood cover—plastic sheets, tarpaulins, short metal panels, all held down by hefty rocks and concrete blocks—took off, along with a metal rain barrel, which we had tipped upside-down for the winter behind the house. That launched about ten feet and clipped an outdoor faucet handle, giving us a well-pump-cycling mystery that took until midmorning to figure out.

Oddly, no broken limbs or fallen trees, not even shattered small branches. Nevertheless, we are VERY GLAD the big pine trees next to the house are gone! It’s hard to imagine that something wouldn’t have split and fallen during the cyclone. This sort of event is precisely why we went through the big fandango to take them down.

The debris patterns clearly indicate rotary wind direction. And unlike the straight-line microburst that hit our neighbors, this wind lifted things up instead of blowing them down. I checked the local newspaper and all our neighbors, only to learn that nothing happened anywhere else. Except with our closest neighbor, who heard the same huge noise and had a tree fall across his driveway. It broke halfway up, in the middle of the pine stand along our shared border.

Wow. Twenty-four hours later, I’m still rattled . . . and better understand what flatlanders experience when they hear that telltale “locomotive” sound that sets off sirens and makes people duck and cover!

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