Derechos, which are not the same as nachos.


Nachos, while a delicious treat, are not derechos, which are violent storms.

The recent storms and destruction on the East Coast have brought the word ‘derecho’ into the common vernacular. I’d never heard that term before; I’ve always heard the called ‘straight-line winds.’ Whether I think I’ll use derecho or straight-line winds, I’m not sure.

Back in 2005, I blogged about such a storm, a derecho, here in North Dakota. They aren’t exactly rare, but this one was voracious and terrifying and illustrated exactly how we can forget things like basements in a panic situation.

It sounded like jet engines, roiling and growling almost on top of the ground in angry masses of yellow, orange and sickly green. We didn’t know this storm was on its way as it rolled across the flat prairie around 5:30 a.m. I was happily asleep as the wild wind approached, like many people. A local man, who happened to be awake that morning, said he looked out of his window and saw a wall of murky near-black clouds roaring quickly across the sky, and he didn’t think twice about running into his basement.

Weather officials were taken off guard by the sudden appearance of the storm. They had about 10 minutes to get the warning out about the 90 – 100 mph winds headed our way.

This storm traveled over 60 miles, never waning, moving quickly across the prairie.

I woke up to the entire house shaking, the light outside my window a strange green.

The sudden silence of my room fan shutting off as the power died woke me up, and the light in the room was a putrid green, the color of a bad hail storm about to explode. Then the roar of a wind I’d never experienced before careened around the small second floor of the house where I was, and I was wide awake. I was sure the huge cottonwood tree next to the house would fall down on the house, plummeting right into the wall of my studio and office. The walls were groaning. I cracked open the door to the second floor deck to peer out, and quickly shut it before it was ripped out of my hands. Branches were snapping off of the cottonwood tree and literally flying across the yard. Huge, heavy branches.

I ran downstairs to find my parents in the dining room, all of us wondering the same thing: what was this?

Our dining room, it is important to note, has a huge plate glass window. And a that very, very large cottonwood right outside the window there in the yard. We foolishly stood in front of the huge sheet of glass and watched as huge branches blew by the window and across the yard. Dad was sure his airplane, tied down in an open-front hangar in the yard, would be destroyed. I was sure the little storage shed where we kept some antiques and other memorabilia, would be blown away.

The storm’s winds snapped and uprooted trees, blew quonsets and farm buildings across the fields, their entrails spilling north-east across fields, joining the bobbing and imploding grain bins tumbling across these same fields as if they were paper.

In another 25 minutes, after it left this area, it would strike Icelandic State Park and cause a tree to fall on a man sleeping in a tent, causing severe injuries but saved from death by two coolers in the tent that took the brunt of the fall.

As the house shook and the noise increased, I tried to come up with good adjectival descriptions. I didn’t want to be the doofus who stood in front of a camera and said “it sounded like a big train!” with little else to provide.

Dad turned on the emergency weather radio, and the droning voice warned of apparent impending doom and advised everyone to seek shelter immediately. We didn’t.

I didn’t know how much longer the trees or the house would take this lashing. We all waited, listening to the oddly comforting sound of the NOAA computerized voice coming over the storm radio as it monotoned out the towns that were being hit next. We never once thought of heading into our basement, but waited somewhat silenced by the massive sound and fury beating down on the house in torrents of rain and wind.

At around 6 a.m., the storm lessened and moved on. It had only lasted about 15 minutes. Our yard was a mess.

So many trees lost. So many buildings. The elevator in Hampden. So much destruction.

But no lives taken.

That storm, to be frank, put the fear of storms into me. I’d always enjoyed a good thunderstorm.

No more.

Now I find myself  watching the radar periodically throughout the day during the summer, even when no storms are predicted. When there are storms, I am glued to the radar like I would be a movie, and I watch for the telltale bow echo that can bring about more fury than hell and a woman scorned.

I can’t really explain how terrifying it was to be in the house during those 15 minutes, too confused and scared to even consider going to the basement.

The airplane was unharmed. The tiny storage shed with no earthly reason for not blowing away remained. Yet trees and barns came down. How selective and strange are the decisions of the wind.

We went into Hampden that day, after the storm, and joined the people  surveying the damage and planning the clean-up. We headed back to the farm and did the same thing. As dad and I stood in front of a barn that had come down, he injected a bit of humor.

“Good thing we never got around to putting that expensive new roof on the barn,” dad said, eyeing the pile of rubble capped off nicely by the roof that had desperately needed repair.

All I can say, really, is that it sounded like a big train. I’ve never really liked nachos, anyway.