Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

July 11, 2012

Rise of the derecho: A new summer threat emerges in the two Virginias

By CHARLES OWENS
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— Somewhere in that state of slumber between sleep and consciousness, I heard it coming. I didn’t know if I was awake, or dreaming. But the sound kept getting louder. It sounded as if a train — or perhaps a steam engine — was approaching.

I had just went to sleep about 30 minutes or so earlier — hoping to be alert and awake for work the following Monday morning. But a good night’s sleep wasn’t meant to be had. I was soon awakened from my slumber by the noise of doors slamming open, forcing me to open my eyes wide.

I had left the two French doors upstairs open with the hope of allowing a cool summer breeze to come through at night. Instead, a “derecho” rolled through, violently blowing the doors back and forth, and deluging the kitchen with rain.

I didn’t want to get out of bed. I really didn’t. But it sounded as if a tornado, or perhaps a hurricane, was blowing up against the side of the house. The window fan that was on got progressively louder as the storm continued to pound the side of the house, and the small deck porch connected to the outside of the bedroom. I heard things blowing over outside, and it sounded as if another tree had fallen.

Still half asleep, half awake, I stumbled out of bed, and lumbered toward the kitchen area. The electricity was flickering on and off. I realized it was happening again. Another massive storm. But this time it sounded like it was going to take the roof off of the house. Rain was also relentlessly pounding outside.

I thought to myself — why is this happening again? And why now — at the one-year anniversary of my mother’s death. After all, a so-called derecho had just rolled through the region two days earlier knocking out power to nearly a half million people, and forcing the evacuation of the Second Chance Rocks the Two Virginias Concert. Why was another violent storm — another derecho — hitting us again?

The first task at hand was to shut those French doors. The kitchen floor was already inundated with water. So before I could get the doors shut, I had to grab a ton of paper towels, and attempt to soak up some of the water. Had I been thinking clearly — and not still confused from being rudely awakened — I would have simply grabbed a mop. But I didn’t.

I was eventually able to get the two doors closed, but a pile of magazines sitting on the table near the doors were soaked as well.

In addition to the powerful winds, it was lightening and raining like crazy outside. The large patio umbrella was nowhere to be seen, and all of the chairs and even the round metal patio table outside was gone. Large trees were bending in the powerful wind. And the sound — the sound of an approaching train or steam engine — is something you just don’t forget.

When all was said and done, I was actually able to go back to sleep about an hour later. What was done was done in terms of damage. I wouldn’t be able to go outside and pick things up, and look for things like that giant umbrella that had blown away, until the morning.

lll

I thought another derecho was coming Tuesday evening. I stopped inside of a local restaurant in Bluefield, Va., that specializes in excellent sub sandwiches, and due to the fact that another storm was threatening, I decided to eat inside. Within a few minutes of ordering the cheese steak, chips and a soda, I had sat down. I noticed several people were standing near the glass windows, so I got up and looked. There was a dark, really dark, cloud in the background. It almost looked like a funnel cloud. And it kept getting bigger.

Soon I realized it was actually getting closer to us, and not actually bigger. The dark cloud turned out to be a hail storm with strong winds. It hailed so hard that the ice was coming inside of the restaurant every time a store employee cracked the door open to look outside.

lll

The National Weather Service in Blacksburg, Va., says a derecho is a persistent and intense mesoscale thunderstorm complex that follows a straight line. The term derecho is Spanish for direct or straight ahead. As we have all found out over the past couple of days, a derecho is capable of producing hurricane force winds in the mountains.

An Associated Press article earlier this week suggested we are now seeing more of these derecho storms because of global warming. Whatever the reason, a derecho is now the equivalent of a curse word in our region.

And it’s worth pointing out that the power has flicked on and off several times as of this writing.

Charles Owens is the Daily Telegraph’s assistant managing editor. Contact him at cowens@bdtonline.com.