The meteorologist soberly warned us on the 6-o’clock news: a line of dangerous thunderstorms was fast approaching northern Indiana and would strike within the next twenty-four hours, pummeling cars and houses with hail and blasting trees with lightning. The storms could produce straight-line, hurricane-force winds, severe flooding, and maybe even… tornadoes. My mouth grew dry in terror as my heart fell into my stomach.
The weatherman (as I still call those of his profession, be they man, woman, or machine), stood in front of a map that featured a menacing row of red blobs that spread in a line of potential destruction from Wisconsin to Missouri. The weatherman said that this system was called a ‘derecho‘, a type of rare and extremely dangerous storm system. We had one of these derechos last year that had produced record winds and damage, he said. I couldn’t remember, but I’m sure that those storms must have been terrible. And now, northern Indiana was ground zero for this new system! We must stay tuned for more severe weather alerts from our local news channel.
Oh no! I must prepare for the worst, I thought. I rushed to the grocery store and fought against another old man for the last case of bottled water. I yanked it from his claws and dropped it in my cart in triumph, only to have it snatched away by a sweaty, red-faced fat man, his eyes wide with panic. I offered a young mother forty dollars for just one of the gallons of milk in her cart, but she refused as she swerved and skidded through the aisles. I settled for a case of Yoo-Hoo, all that remained in the store. I met with similar ordeals at Walgreens and Lowes. Ultimately I got everything that I needed save the batteries, which were sold out everywhere.
At home, I boarded up the windows and my tool sheds. I evacuated my precious lawn ornaments and outdoor furniture into my garage. I tested all of my flashlights and my emergency radio.
Weather warnings grow increasingly dire these days. This is no wonder thanks to our advanced pinpoint HD doppler radars, our satellite tracking, and our cutting-edge computer modeling, all of which provide such detailed feedback and wondrous forecasting abilities. I am so thankful for the 24-hour wall-to-wall news that drives such advances, and that these channels care so very much for us regular folks that they provide every bit of warning possible before a storm strikes, making sure that we all take very seriously the danger from each approaching front. And I can only shake my head in amazement at how accurate these predictions have become thanks to all of this coverage and technology.
In all my years, I’d never heard of a derecho before this time. We used to just call these things ‘thunderstorms’. Apparently the term has existed since the 19th century, but meteorologists have hesitated to use the word out of concern that it would confuse and panic the general population.
Is it like El Niño’ and ‘La Niña’, words that I’d never heard before about 1995, when we were suddenly bombarded with the terms in the wake of those horrific storms and the reportedly freakish weather of that time? What a great disquiet this caused us during those months, with ocean currents going haywire. We could hardly pry ourselves away from the Weather Channel (back when they showed actual weather reports).
Derecho. Sounds like a cloud of red demons rolling out of the fiery depths of hell. If they’d called this system a mere “thunderstorm” I would have yawned and returned to my nap, but “derecho” makes me stand up and listen.
If I was ever tempted to make light of these warnings, thinking that nothing had come of such forecasts the last time, the media will repeat over and over again their dire threats of hurricane-force winds, power outages, flash-flooding, and baseball-sized hail, plus they will offer their earnest advice for checking my house and flood insurance. The barriers of my cynicism would crumble before such a steady artillery barrage of alerts and replace them with a dark foreboding that rises like a tide of doom within my shell-shocked heart. Who can stand before the full force of an unrelenting media bombardment?
That these responsible professionals, our beloved meteorologists, have now unholstered and drawn that pistol of a word, “derecho”, and fired warning shots in every direction demonstrates the seriousness of this weather event.
At 6:00 p.m. an unsettling darkness filled the sky, and I shuddered in terror. I listened in horror and fascination as Skywarn storm spotters reported on conditions all along the front. They mentioned places that I frequented almost every week! “Dark clouds and winds gusting at 22 miles per hour,” one of them reported just half a mile away! Severe weather alerts beeped across the bottom of the TV news screen, with the weatherman advising us to seek shelter and stay tuned. I called Millie to join me in the basement, and of course she carried that yappy little dog of hers.
At 6:35 the storm struck. Thunder boomed about 10 Mississippies away and sprinkles pounded the basement window. Sensing our fear, the dog started to yap. While Millie shivered under the guest bed in the corner, clutching her tiny Pomeranian beast, I cautiously peered out the window. The trees and bushes lurched and shook. Sustained winds had reached a dreadful 25 miles per hour, according to the radio!
A car—some Nissan, I think—hurried past, and I could only imagine that the driver must be reeling with shock and alarm as he fought to control his little vehicle, aware that each breath he took might be his last. That poor fool, driving around in this dreadful derecho! I could only assume that the man had a good reason to risk his precious life in this unspeakable storm.
A maple leaf tumbled across the grass and struck the window, pinned, twitching and flapping in the straight-line gale as I released an involuntary shriek and shrank away, knowing that the glass could shatter at any moment. Sustained winds had reached 30 miles per hour—only 44 mph shy of a full-fledged hurricane!
Flash… Boom! The thunder echoed much closer this time, I could almost count to five Mississipies! The dog yipped as if shot in her hairy guts. The pounding sprinkles changed to a torrent of drizzle. I warned Millie that the basement could flood at any moment. She started to pray.
Flash-Boom! Flash-BOOM! Oh, my aching soul, the storm, the dreaded derecho, was upon us! The yapping I heard now belonged to my wife. The dog lay on the floor, writhing and frothing at the mouth, convulsing in a seizure. My sobbing Millie wanted to call 9-1-1 for an ambulance, but I pinned her struggling body to the floor. It was too dangerous to risk the trip upstairs, I shouted!
Hail hammered against the basement windows; icy boulders that our emergency radio reported had measured 1/16 of an inch in diameter! After an eternal three seconds had passed, the hail gave way to a squall of rain showers. The town’s sirens began their mournful drone, signaling a tornado WARNING! The emergency broadcast system toned over the radio followed by a computer-distorted voice. Rotating clouds had been spotted only 36 miles away! Tornadoes could hit us in just a few minutes!
I joined my wife and her dog under the bed as the lights flickered once, then again, and then a third time! Was this what the end of the Earth felt like, this assault from the heavens? Would we all perish together in this awful deluge?
We spent the night huddled beneath the bed as the angry skies spilled their wrath upon the cursed earth. We woke up so very stiff and sore that we had to wait for rescuers to come to our aid. The dog, by some miracle, clung to life. But without the meteorologists, the storm spotters, and the constant news coverage, we probably couldn’t have made it through that squall of wind and rain.
The storm had wreaked devastation across my neighborhood: dozens of twigs and branches littered the yards and streets, the ferocious wind had stripped healthy leaves from the trees, floodwaters swelled in parts of my driveway, a plastic bucket that I’d left outside lay overturned. We would spend hours cleaning this up, but at least we had survived the mighty derecho of 2013.
 Ramde, Dinesh. “Midwest Could See Strong Windstorms From Derecho.” ABC News. ABC News Network, 11 June 2013. Web. 18 June 2013. http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/midwest-strong-windstorms-derecho-19374508
 Meck, Bill. “A Quick Explainer On A Derecho.” LEX18.com. LEX18.com, 12 June 2013. Web. 18 June 2013. http://www.lex18.com/news/a-quick-explainer-on-a-derecho