A Storm for Our Time of Extremes

The storm's power as seen on Arcadia Street, NW.
Patrick Ryan
The storm's power as seen on Arcadia Street, NW.

Just when you think it’s safe to go out on a Friday night, you discover a new creature blasting out of the weather misery index headed straight to a neighborhood near you.

What we had here, folks, was a derecho, a storm phenom that occurs under conditions of extreme heat. All around D.C., we had all the fixings for a derecho visitation, which is short (maybe a half an hour) and extremely intense, as we found out in the morning.

It was as bad as it sounds, and it was enough to make you retcho. Along with sorrow for the deaths the storm caused, my sympathy—heartfelt and relieved—goes out to everyone who was otherwise most directly affected by the results of the derecho—trees falling on houses, power outages, loss of communicastions, loss of homes and shelter, loss of frozen food, loss of care, long lines spent idling in gas stations, of which there were precious few in the D.C. metro area. People lost power and resorted to eating by candlelight, and all their gadgets suddenly dimmed, or failed, or were of no use. There was maximum texting and tweeting but only if your gadgets worked.

Some of us were lucky, some of us were not—but the whole area, to some degree or another felt the effect of what’s basically a really extreme summer storm, full of hail, lightning, powerful winds, sheeting rain and thunder brought on by extreme summer heat—in June, no less. In D.C., temperatures had hit 104 June 29, and early in the evening, weathermen were already warning about the oncoming stretch and line of storms. “Everybody’s going to get it,” and “There’s no escape” and such and such a place "is getting hammered,” where common expressions of what was coming and what was happening. Of course, it’s tough to heed the warnings when your television shuts down.

We heard the 70 to 80 to 90 miles per hour winds in our Adams Morgan neighborhood, which for the most part escaped relatively unscathed, although all of us feared the worst, having experienced 50-inch snow, power outages and a real hurricane. But we could see the aftermath—branches all over the streets, some smaller trees down along with big branches. On Woodley Place near the National Zoo, a major, old, huge tree had cracked and uprooted, stretching itself across the street and on top of two houses.

Similar sights—in the forms of videos and photos on line were seen all over the District and in Maryland and Virginia. Huge power outages occurred—and Pepco, in spite of all those television commercials about caring for their customers and getting their act together, appears still not to have its act together, with at last count around 30 to 40,000 customers without power and not expected to bring back full power for another week -- a situation Gov. Martin O'Malley of Maryland said was completely unacceptable.

We live, of course, in an age of extremes—extreme partisanship, extreme fighting, extreme Kardashian, and especially extreme weather, although not extreme global warming, according to some. Still, it’s 106 in Atlanta, Colorado is burning, and we’re facing 90-degree-plus heat for the next ten One of the things we find about events like these is that it brings people out to help each other—libraries open their doors and air conditioning to displaced persons, neighbors take in their neighbors, people check on their neighbors, their children and pets. Or not: a Motel 6 hotel apparently upped their rates to $500 a night, anticipating a huge profit. Deretcho indeed.

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Fri, 31 Oct 2014 15:19:21 -0400

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