On July 2nd, I thought I’d finally figured out this Covid summer. After coming to terms with the fact that the virus wasn’t going anywhere, that I wouldn’t be swimming any time soon, I made a move. I ordered myself an extra-large doggy bathing tub, dug around in the garage for an old beach umbrella, and set up shop for my new daily mini-vacation. Every morning after breakfast, I’d head out the back door, plug in some headphones, dip my feet in the water and kick away as if I was in an Olympic-sized pool. The bonus was the fact that I could watch the birds, butterflies and even my decidedly least favorite small mammals, destroyers and omnivores of flowers and vegetables. I could enjoy shooing them away. I’ve been amazed at how well this little spot has worked for me. The heat and humidity where I live are always a challenge during the summer months. Ordinarily, I’d do my swimming at the outdoor pool and feel perfectly fine about spending the rest of my day indoors. But with this set-up, I’m spending hours outside. Adding cold water from the hose keeps the temperature from getting too toasty. Aside from the physical and psychological benefits of this arrangement, I think my growth as a backyard scientist has been a much-needed plus in my life. But the bliss back then was short-lived. On July 11th, exactly a month ago, nature took a surprising turn.
In the midst of a typically warm, muggy afternoon, a rain event was predicted. When it arrived, large chunks of hail came along for the chaotic ride, blowing things over, denting vehicles and leaving large chunks of ice all over the grass and garden. It was a mesmerizing event. I stood at the back of my porch to avoid getting hit by the blistering balls, hard enough to pockmark metal. All I could think of was climate change. There have been so many extraordinary weather episodes all across the world. Lots of people think that since it’s not hot all the time, the concerns over what’s happening to this planet are overblown and inflated. How very narrow and naive. That storm, a scant month ago, left us without power for 12 hours. In addition to the modest discomfort, there was worry about all the food in the refrigerator and freezer going bad. In the time of a pandemic, having to toss out expensive sustenance and replace everything is daunting. When it ended, the cleanup started. After that was done, it was time to just start over.
Today started out as a normal Covid Monday. I was going to babysit my eldest grandson during the afternoon as I have for months. I ate my breakfast and then went out into the yard for my pool time. After a few temperate days, the sizzle had returned. I listened to music while I paddled away, getting up intermittently to photograph the butterflies I so dearly love. I was also happy to see my cardinal pair, Carmine and Pumpkin make their appearances, always a bright spot in my day.
After a few hours, my grandson came over – lucky me with the family living across the street. We ran a few errands and then went off to one of his favorite drive-through restaurants where he gets his grilled cheese sandwich and a milkshake of one kind or another. We park in a shady space and chat about all kinds of different topics. Our freewheeling conversations cover a lot of territory ranging from the ordinary, who did what at home earlier today, to the more exotic, like cloning and eugenics. We were watching a red-tailed hawk swoop and dive, no doubt on the hunt for a tasty snack, when I noticed that the sky to the northwest was suddenly looking ominously dark. A 60% chance of showers was in the forecast but the perceptible nuances in cloud formation made me think it was time to head home. We were only about eight minutes away but in that short time, the winds picked up and we quickly went inside. Within a minute, a powerful wind gathered that was incredibly loud. My son, who was upstairs working, appeared saying he thought he’d heard something like crashing glass. The three of us stood at the back door watching all sorts of debris swirling through the air. The power in the house snapped off. The pole from which the power and cable lines run was crooked and one of them had been yanked off the house. What we thought was shattered glass was actually a devastated hackberry tree, tall and imposing, which draped over our driveway and our neighbor’s to the south. A huge limb had snapped off and crashed into their garage which serves as a studio for the artist who is constantly working in it. I shouted out his name, mightily relieved that he answered. His wife is away so I knew he was in there alone. Meanwhile the wind had pushed a fencing section right off its post in my yard, no small accomplishment as the posts are set deeply in concrete. The whole episode only lasted a few minutes. During a lull in the rain, I sent my grandson home. Within minutes, various neighbors emerged to check on each other and the physical damage.
My neighbor’s garage/studio is a total loss. He was inside at the time – miraculously the limb hit the apex of the roof which held even though a wall bowed out to the side. My fence is being held up by an extra timber Michael had lying around, ever the boy scout, always prepared. We all thought we’d seen some kind of mini-tornado. The stuff swirling through the air had a circular motion. We later found out it was something Id never heard of before, an unusual kind of straight wind event which had cut through the midwest leaving a wide swath of damage which will cost billions. A derecho wind.
What is a derecho?
A derecho (pronounced similar to “deh-REY-cho” in English, or pronounced phonetically as ““) is a widespread, long-lived wind storm associated with a band of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms variously known as a squall line, bow echo, or quasi-linear convective system. Although a derecho can produce destruction similar to that of a tornado, the damage typically occurs in one direction along a relatively straight swath. As a result, the term “straight-line wind damage” sometimes is used to describe derecho damage.
How strong are derecho winds?
By definition, a derecho must include wind gusts of at least 58 mph (50 knots or 93 km/h) or greater along most of its length. While derecho winds typically are less than 100 mph, gusts as high as 130 mph have been recorded — equivalent to those with strong EF2 tornadoes.
Backyard science, all right. I’ve never heard of this wind until today. Ordinarily, I’m thrilled to learn something new every day. But for now, I’m just wondering when the locusts are coming. The other plagues too. The out of control virus still rages here. The weather is bizarre, the planet blaring messages in our faces. The power in my house has been out for 10 hours now. My power company just sent me a message telling me my power has been restored. This is a current photo of the inside of my house.
Tonight I sat for awhile in my driveway, charging my phone and a battery pack for a few hours. Oh me of little faith. With limbs that size lying around and power outages everywhere, I didn’t think I’d have lights or fans tonight. My freezer food is melting while the refrigerated food spoils. I did some lovely birds emerge for their dinners and watched the sky turn an amazing shade of pink. Ad I close this note in the darkness, I’m reminding myself to be ready for anything in the morning. Except my feet won’t be dancing in my pool.