A wind storm ripped through my Downingtown neighborhood last night, right after 6 p.m. It felt like being in the middle of a hurricane for about five minutes. (I lived in Louisiana for eight years, and I can honestly tell you the comparison stands up, except that no hurricane I've ever been in only lasts five minutes).
Six or seven peels of thunder and nearly as many visible lightning strikes called my attention to the front porch of the house. When I poked my head out of the door, rain was slashing down in long diagonal sheets and the yaw and cracks of wood splintering augmented the sounds of the lightning. It was hard to know which sound was which.
I bolted upstairs to close my bedroom windows and the rungs on my floor were already soaked. I went through the house as fast as possible, closing all windows. Everywhere I turned, water was coming in through my screens. I felt like a deckhand on Noah's ark. I wished I had remembered to record it with the Flipcam. The footage would have been hard to believe. You had to see it for yourself.
I secured the window locks and ventured a peek outside my front door. A huge limb from the maple in my neighbor's year had been ripped from the trunk and was now covering most of his front lawn and some of his front porch roof. I felt relieved that it had done no structural damage to his house...and I was glad the limb had not crushed my Ford Taurus, which was parked on the other side of the tree.
The thought occurred to me the car might be in some jeopardy, what with limbs being severed and (a glance across the street told me) tress being ripped from the Earth by their roots. The lightning flashed and the sonic booms they made kept me inside for a few more minutes.
Finally, I made a break for the car, determined to move it down the street, away from the tree. I was drenched within two seconds. When I started the car, I couldn't see. It felt as if I was trying to glance through a waterfall. The wipers were useless. I knew I had to drive around a fallen electrical wire to get the car to a safer spot. I wondered if this plan to save a 2003 Taurus with 140,000 miles on the odometer was such a good idea. I did it anyway and ran back into the house soaked to the skin. By the time I had toweled off and changed my clothes, the sun was out. The entire environmental catastrophe took about 10 minutes.
I ventured out into the street with my camera to record the mess. Neighbors were already congregating and shaking their heads in collective wonder. The sentiment du jour was "Wow! What was that!??" Except the language was considerably more colorful and F-bombs flowed freely from nearly every mouth. "Did a tornado just come through here?" No one saw any funnels, so that seemed unlikely. We were all awestruck. My block lost two great old trees, including one about 20 yards from my front porch that barely missed landing on the roof of neighbor's house. I knew instinctively I was sitting on a story and I needed to alert the local newspaper about it.
My friend, the editor of the Daily Local, Andy Hachidorian, was already gone for the day but the city desk had not heard anything about the storm when I called. I told them to please get a reporter down to my block but that I would also take some pictures on my digital camera and bring them to the paper within an hour..
Taking dramatic pictures of nature wreaking havoc on a neighborhood was never so easy. I reeled off about 30 pictures in 30 minutes, some of them recorded here on the blog.
The electric was out, of course. The limb that tore off my neighbor's tree also brought down the electrical and telephone wires. I knew it would be impossible to email the pics to the Daily Local. But I decided it was worth a seven mile drive up Route 322 to West Chester. The guys in the newsroom were happy to have them, although there was some glitches with the SIM card download.
It had been many years since I had a front page photo credit so I was happy to see my work on t he DLN front page this morning when I went to the local Wawa to grab a coffee and paper.
Last night, sitting in the midst of the darkened neighborhood, I slowly sipped and emptied two Weyerbacher beers and smoked a Nicaraguan cigar on my front porch. The night was cool and calm. The neighborhood had taken a beating but everyone was adjusting to life without the maples on our street and some folks were out surveying the damage with flashlights and whispering amazements..
No one was killed. That was best part. But we all went to bed without the benefit of air conditioners or ceiling fans, knowing that Mother Nature had handed us a friendly reminder that you can't ever take anything for granted. Even suburban, sleepy Downingtown had occasional moments of sheer panic and provocation.