This could be a title of a novel or a soap opera, but it is actually a response to Thursday’s storm. I heard a weather reporter say Thursday morning, “if you didn’t know that this storm was coming, you have not been listening because we have been forecasting it since the weekend.” I had never heard of a “derecho,” until last year when we were standing on the ballfield and a massive wind struck suddenly. So as they began to talk about this one, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. Whether straight-line winds or a tornado, a big blow was headed our way.
We were on I-95 south, north of Richmond Thursday and saw something that we had never seen before. A state trooper had his blue lights on and had all traffic, in all three lanes, slowly following him up I-95 north. A tornado warning had just been issued for Fredericksburg, and I truly believe that this state trooper was intentionally slowing traffic that was headed north, giving the storm an opportunity to move eastward. Some of you may say that it was a funeral procession, but it was not, and we had seen no issues north of Richmond.
I am amazed at how far technology has advanced, allowing meteorologists to predict weather with such accuracy. By watching the weather radars, they were able to tell us that winds near 80-90 mph were headed into western Chesterfield, the tri-cities and Prince George. Not only did we know that they were coming, they had it down to the hour and minutes that they would hit. There is also nothing like an eyewitness account. I was standing on my back porch and it truly sounded like a freight train coming. I did not know if it was going to be straight-line winds or a tornado, but I do not believe that it mattered; it was going to blow and blow hard.
The problem with a storm like this was that some people disregarded the warnings. Whether you were driving down the highway or outside, you did not heed the warnings issued and seek safety. Trees, power lines and blowing debris become some of the dangers in high winds. I had a large branch blow out of an oak tree in my yard that stuck in the ground about 18 inches. What would it have done to a person if it hit them? We heard the tragic story on the news of the four year old that was killed by a fallen tree in a park. I remember being on Engine 1 during Hurricane Isabel. Trees that had fallen in front of and behind us had trapped us on Lewis Road. I can remember hearing trees breaking and falling all around us, as we waited for assistance from other firefighters that made us a path of escape. A greater danger is when a tree falls and becomes entangled with power lines.
I told you the story about being in Montgomery, Alabama, when the 80-plus tornadoes struck Kentucky. There were tornadoes and severe storms in Alabama that night as well. I remember sitting on the front porch of a restaurant when sirens began to blow. At first, I thought that there may have been a volunteer fire station close by, but I soon realized that that was not the case. I will never forget what the little girl asked her mother and her mother’s response. “Mommy, what are those sirens?” The mother answered, “Those sirens mean that very bad weather is approaching.” The mind-boggling part was that no one responded to the sirens, including us. Yesterday’s storm would had been siren-worthy had we had a warning system like that in place. The point is that we must take these warnings, however they come, seriously and take action before the wind blows. If we wait until the wind blows to act, we have waited too long.