When it is 92 degrees in the shade and blistering in the sun, the last thing anyone wants is to lose power. But when Mother Nature decides to unleash her wrath, there's little we can do. Our best defense against wild weather is good preparation.
We all know the drill: Keep a hurricane kit stocked, plenty of water and batteries, and, in the yard, keep dead tree limbs and loose debris to a minimum. A gas grill and a generator can prove invaluable.
The recent, intense thunderstorms on June 25 and June 29 caught us by surprise. Monday's storm was a whopper (with accompanying tornado), but it wasn't that unusual for this time of year in Virginia.
Friday night was a different story. In the days that followed, many of us learned a new weather word: derecho. That's what the National Weather Service says swept through here that night.
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A widespread, long-lived wind storm associated with a straight-line band of quick-moving thunderstorms, the winds from derechos can reach 60 to 80 mph or higher.
Friday's derecho began life as a band of thunderstorms in Indiana. It was fueled by unusually high heat and moisture and aided by a high-pressure system that was sitting over much of the country. Conditions were perfect for this superstorm to grow quickly. The system covered about 700 miles in 10 hours.
With little to no warning, the storm caused incredible damage. Across the entire eastern U.S., many millions of us were left without power. Utility crews — some from as far away as Texas and Ontario — have been scrambling to restore power to affected customers.
Their Herculean efforts are appreciated. Driving around the area, fleets of utility trucks can be seen on the road, and crews are working late into the night. A heartfelt thank you to all those linemen pulling down 12- and 18-hour shifts in this hot-as-Hades weather. No one will be happier than them once the power (and air conditioning!) are restored to all.
Until that happens, a useful survival tool is to remember to keep a good attitude and put things in perspective. Fuming only raises your body temperature. There's a reason people use the expression "chill out" — it works.
And we've been fortunate. Our storms have been wind events. Downed trees and wind damage cause many problems and, tragically, sometimes loss of life. No one can dispute that power outages are unavoidable and that not having power is a pain. But for the vast majority of us, we can survive without electricity (I've heard that our ancestors managed fairly well without it). Yes, it's hot, and yes, food spoils. But in the scheme of things, life is manageable as long as we have water and the plumbing works.
Without those two modern amenities, life would be very miserable indeed. We've been lucky that for the past several decades we've had relatively little flooding to endanger our water supplies.
Aside from occasional drought conditions, water has remained plentiful and safe. That's something to be thankful for. And while picking up from wind damage is hard and often costly work, it is nowhere near as difficult, dirty or unhealthy as cleaning up from flood damage.
Forty years ago last month, what was left of Hurricane Agnes dumped an astounding amount of water across the East Coast, causing flooding from New York to Richmond.
FEMA describes Agnes as "the most massive flooding in the history of the eastern United States." The devastation from that storm will remain a benchmark of just how horrible life can get.
The storm killed more than 100 people, flooded millions of acres, ruined entire neighborhoods and caused unprecedented ecological damage to the Chesapeake Bay. In Richmond, the James River crested at an all-time high of 36.5 feet. More than one-sixth of the city was flooded.
For those who remember, the aftermath was miserable. The swollen river flooded Richmond's water filtration plant, and for days portable filtration units were trucked in from Camp A. P. Hill to supply drinking water to Richmond-area residents. The memory of standing in long lines at Willow Lawn — dirty, hot and sweaty — waiting to fill buckets and jars, or anything that would hold water, isn't one I need to relive.
There are images seared in the mind from that flood that will never go away: bloated bodies of dead cows, tree limbs and cars being swept away on an angry, filthy, brown James River; standing on Cary Street looking down at what should have been River Road Shopping Center and seeing just the tip of Safeway's roof peaking out of the water. Those are memories that never need to be re-created.
For many, Agnes is just a historical footnote — nothing more than a line on the floodwall in Shockoe Bottom or an annotation in the history books. But one day (hopefully no time soon), another storm like Agnes will strike — the only question is when. And when that storm does hit, it will affect an area vastly more developed than in 1972. Far more people will be affected.
But as of this writing, there is absolutely nothing in the Caribbean to even suggest the thought of a hurricane. And heat and weird weather aside, it's still summer, a glorious time of year.
For now, the power is on (we hope!), the pace is slower, and it's time to relax with friends and family. On a summer night, listening to the crickets sing and watching the fireflies dance about the garden, it's hard to get worked up about possible weather disasters.
Just make sure you have that hurricane kit ready.