A Derecho in Iowa; A Hurricane in the Gulf

As I write this, Hurricane Laura is churning in the Gulf headed for the Texas/Louisiana border. 

Hurricane Laura Tuesday Night, August 25, 2020

We’ve been paying attention to the storm for several days now. It is expected to be a major wind event, with a strong storm surge. 

Here in Houston, we hope for the best and prepare for the worst. 

We fill up gas tanks and charge batteries. Neighbors board up windows and bring anything inside that could be blown away by 100 mph winds. Friends who live close to the water evacuate to escape the potential storm surge.  

All this preparation is possible because we can see a hurricane coming. 

You know what you can’t see coming? A derecho.

“A derecho (pronounced duh-REY-cho) produces a swath of particularly damaging thunderstorm winds (specifically, wind gusts of at least 58 mph along most of its length with several well-separated 75 mph or greater gusts) over an area at least 250 miles long.” 

National Weather Service

A derecho is a weather event: a damaging wind that travels in a wide, fast-moving line. 

If you’re like me, you never heard of a derecho before the one that hit Iowa earlier this month.  

Maybe you still haven’t heard of it. The storm didn’t seem to get the national attention it deserved. 

I was in Iowa shortly after the derecho. It reminded me of how Houston looked after Hurricane Ike. The broken trees, the blue tarps on the roofs, the utility trucks and chainsaw crews everywhere. 

Here are some pictures I took between Des Moines and Ames, Iowa, on Sunday, August 15–five days after the derecho.

In Iowa as a visitor, I was able to piece together a picture of what the storm was like through other people’s stories:

My sister is someone who pays close attention to the weather. She was caught off guard when the municipal sirens went off in her Urbandale neighborhood. 

My sister worried about her friends, who she knew had gone to Wal-Mart. By the time she called to warn them, they were already ensconced in the back room of the store, along with all the other shoppers who had been directed there by store management. Wal-Mart’s tornado protocol transitioned nicely into derecho protocol.  

A relative recounted the story of his brother who got caught by the storm while working in a cornfield. He and two others piled into the cab of a pickup to wait out the storm. They waited in there for 40 minutes, with winds of 100+ mph. He compared the experience to his time in wartime Iraq and Afghanistan.   

At the park, I overheard walkers talking about their roof damage from downed trees. And at the pharmacy I overheard shoppers exchange notes about whether power had been restored yet and where they were staying in the meantime.  

Laura is looming in the Gulf. 

We wait patiently. Praying for those who will be in the worst of it; praying it won’t be us. 

That’s the luxury of being in a hurricane, compared to being in a derecho. We have time to pray and prepare.


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