I remember growing up when hurricanes and tornadoes were pretty much just subjects you learned about in science class. They were bad things that happened somewhere else. As I’ve gotten older, I’m not sure whether I just have a greater awareness of such things, or if they really are happening with greater frequency in our area, but I am no longer a stranger to hurricanes, tornadoes or severe wind events.
Hurricanes with flooding rains, strong winds and power outages come our way once every year or two. Tornadoes have, sadly, become much more common locally, too. There is also a destructive phenomenon called “straight-line winds,” which in June 2010 caused severe damage to the Bowman family’s homestead in South Annville Township, Lebanon County.
Along with the increased number of severe storms in recent years has come more sophisticated forecasting that can provide advance warning of most types of disasters. I have sought shelter in our cellar more than once when local radar showed tornadic activity headed our way. Fortunately, most of those storms either turned out to be less severe than feared or they changed course.
Recently, I had a new experience weather-wise and one that I hope won’t soon be repeated. I had been invited to attend an afternoon ribbon-cutting ceremony at the place of employment from which I retired. It was a nice event and I enjoyed seeing many of my former coworkers. There was a social time afterward, with refreshments and a tent set up with folding tables and chairs, so folks could relax as they socialized.
The meteorologist had called for a chance of severe thunderstorms, but such forecasts were an almost daily occurrence that week: sometimes the storms materialized and sometimes they didn’t. But as the afternoon went on, I realized that this time a storm was indeed on the way. It was nearly time for evening chores anyway, so I decided to head home.
As I was leaving, I overheard an acquaintance leaving a message for her husband to come and pick her up from the event. I told her I’d gladly give her a ride home, but she declined, saying her husband would be on his way shortly. With that, I walked a block or so back to my car and, just as I got to it, giant raindrops fell onto the windshield. What luck — I’d made it just in time, or so I thought.
I was only about 2 miles from home, so I looked forward to a speedy trip that would get me there ahead of the storm. It was raining, but there was only the rumble of thunder in the distance, so I wasn’t alarmed as I stopped for the traffic light where I would turn onto the road to my farm. About the same time the light turned green, the rain grew heavier and I heard loud pinging sounds, which I soon realized were created by hail hitting my car.
I drove only several hundred yards farther, when in the blink of an eye, the rain became so heavy that it looked like someone had thrown an opaque white shower curtain over my windshield. Simultaneously, strong winds began to rock my car. I was worried about a stand of trees alongside the road and tried to get beyond it, but by then all the cars in front of me had come to a dead stop. There was neither time nor visibility to pull off the road; we all just parked in the travel lane and put on our emergency flashers.
I didn’t have long to think about what would happen next. As quickly as the maelstrom had struck, it dissipated, and the sun oddly appeared. Traffic started moving and I began wondering if my barn at the far end of this road still had its roof. Fortunately, it did. The fast-moving storm appeared to have missed that immediate area and a downed tree limb was the only sign of any storminess. I heaved a sigh of relief and gratefully went about my evening routine.
All seemed well until the 10 o’clock news came on the television. I was taken aback to see my former boss being interviewed on camera. His hair was plastered down, and his shirt and tie were soaking wet. He was describing what had happened near the site of the ribbon-cutting minutes after I’d left — downed trees fell onto the roof of a house and also onto a car. Obviously, the same storm I’d experienced had struck there, too.
I would later learn that this sudden burst of wind, hail and rain had sent the tent, folding tables and chairs flying. While fortunately no one was hurt, I was particularly distressed to learn that the woman I’d offered the ride to had been knocked to the ground by the strong gusts while standing outside awaiting her husband’s arrival. How I wish I’d been more insistent about giving her a lift.
It just goes to show what risky business it can be when dealing with an angry Mother Nature.