Elephant on the Roof…or Storm in
By Beverly Hicks Burch
Microburst. A pretty innocuous sounding word, isn’t it? It almost sounds like one of those little particles in a good face scrub that exfoliates you face of dead skin cells. “Our product contains thousands of little microburst that will slough off dead skin cells and leave you complexion with a radiant, youthful glow…”
Well, friends, I can tell you there is absolutely nothing innocuous about a microburst! And, it leaves a path of destruction and no healthy glow… On July, 10, 2008 I had the misfortune of experiencing one first-hand…making it the latest in a long line of storm encounters. As I stated before, I almost feel like I have “tornado magnet” encoded on my DNA.
In all fairness a microburst resembles a tornado, but is different and not officially one of those swirling, dark monsters that gobble up homes, lives and landscape. A microburst is about 2.5 miles in diameter and the winds are generally a localized column of sinking air. At the surface these winds can manifest as straight-line winds which are similar to a tornado, but have different characteristics. Some microbursts have been measured at 75 mph…which we know is the equivalent to a Cat 1 hurricane strength wind.
There are two types of microburst…dry and wet. The descriptions are pretty self explanatory. The wet microburst is accompanied by moderate to heavy rain. The southeastern USA is where you will most commonly find the latter…and that was the elephant on my roof this past July…although I swear I heard (and a neighbor avows he saw) an honest to goodness, old fashioned tornado. I heard the classic jet plane (or as some people hear it…freight train) sound and a whistling sound reminiscent of what I heard during the tornado that menaced Center Point/Birmingham, Alabama on the Sunday before Memorial Day 1973.
And this one came from absolutely no where…with no warning…
I had been sitting upstairs in my bedroom on the bed with my laptop. I had not felt particularly well that day. It had been a hot, sunny July day in Georgia…typical of any summer day in Georgia or anywhere else in the Deep South.
Down in the afternoon I had heard the doorbell ring. I figured it was a package I had been expecting (internet shopping is a lifesaver for the disabled!). I was expecting an order of hand cream and lotion from Bath & Body. As I was sitting there on the bedroom, I subconsciously began to realize I was hearing distant thunder…a very distant and muted rumble is what I heard.
Being the smart gal that I am, I knew I better get my package off the porch in case it did rain (thunder doesn’t always = rain in the South). I got up, walked down the stairs and to the front door. By the time I opened the front door there was SO MUCH rain coming down it was almost as if there where hundreds of people standing on the roof with fire hoses and they were directing all the water (rain) at the front porch!
I was so overwhelmed by the amount of rain coming down that I didn’t really pay attention to the surrounding conditions. My first clue that something was up should have been the fact the UPS guy had wrapped my small package in this massive plastic bag…like a dry cleaning bag. I stood there in a conundrum…do I leave the package until the rain stops, or do I open the door, grab the package and risk feeling like a drenched dog in the rain? I chose the latter…there was hand cream and lotion in that box by Jove!
I opened the door to the driving rain, extended an arm out, snatched the box…and yes, half of me was soaked.
I walked back to the kitchen with the box, got a knife, opened the box, took out the packing materials and headed back upstairs. I got about half way up the stairs and that’s when it happened…just that fast…it had probably been five minutes or less since I headed downstairs to retrieve the package…
…and now I was standing mid-way up the stairs listening to what sounded like a 747 flying low above the house, then a low whistling sound…almost a moaning sound. Then I heard what sound like an elephant rampaging on the roof. That sound was followed by a loud crash and the whole house seemed to tremor or jolt. Every dish (and believe me when I say I have a lot…thanks Mom for this “addiction” *grin*) in every cupboard or hutch AND every window rattled.
The first thought in my mind was, “TORNADO!’ That thought was followed by, “Ok, what do I do next? GET TO THE LOWEST LEVEL IN THE HOUSE!” Believe me, in this case, that wouldn’t be much help. You see, I was living in a home without a basement…a rarity of me indeed. I knew six or seven steps were not going to make a big difference. (The area I live in at the moment has very sandy soil and as a result basements are rare.)
As fast as my ol’ joints would allow me, I got down to the bottom of the staircase.
I stood there at the bottom of the staircase in the small hallway between the kitchen and the dining room and contemplated whether to continue on towards the laundry room, which meant passing through the powder room and down two more steps. But, by the time I reached that point another very tell-tale sign was obvious. My whole house permeated with the scent of pine! It was like a sprinkler system had gone off and sprayed every square inch of the house with Pine-sol!
My mind, by then, was screeching, “There’s a tree down!” By then, the wind affect was over, but it was still driving hard rain outside. I clearly expected the top story of the house to be gone and what was left upstairs being blasted with waves of rain.
I decided to inspect what I could from downstairs. Instinct for some reason carried me first to look out the back. No trees down there! The deck furniture had been blown around and toppled over. My new umbrella for the table had been blown into the back yard and looked like it had taken some damage…oh, well. That’s replaceable…
Gingerly I made my way to the front of the house to look out the windows there. That’s when I began to notice damage. Fortunately, there wasn’t any interior damage…or at least I thought so. But, when I looked outside the windows I saw a jumble of pine trees in the front yard. Okay, I can deal with that…
Then, I saw the next door neighbor and another person with her walking on the street in front of my house…and, they were taking picture of MY house! Not a good sign…
I had just gotten off the phone with Tall & Handsome who had just landed at Dulles Airport in Washington, DC on his way home from a business trip in California. I knew I had to be his advance warning system and give him a heads up before he came home, drove up the street and saw storm damage. He would have freaked out! So, I tried to call him back before he boarded his next flight.
I reached him and with all the background noise behind him, it was hard to convey what had happened.
“Honey, we’ve been hit by a storm and there are trees down.”
I repeated myself and he said, “What do you mean?! We just talked and everything was fine.”
“It happened right after we talked…just that fast…”
I explained to him that it was still raining and I was afraid to go upstairs, because I was unsure of what I would find. At T & H’s urging, my heart still pounding, I began to ascend the stairs…believing there would be no roof at the top…
I was delighted when I reached the top of the stairs to discover things looked normal…dry…and there was still a roof. I began to investigate upstairs…everything at the back of the house look fine. But, when I entered the front bedroom where I had been setting up a quilt room, I looked out one of the windows and saw IT…
…there was a tree on the house…on the front corner. I could see branches hanging fairly precariously in front of the window. I had also noticed something else…the discomfort level upstairs was rising…and fast. That could only mean one thing…something was wrong with the air conditioner upstairs…and in the South in July you cannot survive without air…at least with any modicum of comfort…and you surely couldn’t exist on the second level of a house…hot air rises!
So, come time for his flight, T & H boarded the next junket of his journey home and with the forewarning I had given him, half way knew what to expect when he pulled up at the house.
Good thing. There was a pine tree…close to 100 feet tall that had blown over and had landed on the house. Parts of more pines trees were in the front yard in a jumbled mess. The sad thing…they weren’t our trees, but the neighbor’s trees. The one on the house had stood at the corner of her house and when it fell spanned the whole distance between her yard, a city easement and out side yard.
FYI…the way insurance looks at it…if a neighbor’s tree falls on your house and it’s alive…you and your insurance carrier are responsible for taking care of the damage from the property line over…she only had to take care of the tree damage from the property line over to her house. If the tree had been dead, then she would have been responsible for the damage to our house. Insurance wants to blame God and Nature in the other case…and you can’t hold them liable for anything in a court of law…
T & H had walked around the house before he came in and inspected the damage and turmoil. Yes, he said the air condition unit had taken a beating. We would be sleeping downstairs on sofas and easy chairs until a new one was installed.
As bad as our damage was, we were fortunate. Some homes in the neighborhood sustained considerable damage when the big old pine trees in their yard had fallen…some slicing through homes like hot knives through butter.
The next day we got the tree taken off the house, and a tarp was placed over the gaping hole and damage. The new air conditioning unit was installed fairly quickly, but we have just within the last week or two gotten the rest of the damage repaired. It turned out to be more than we realized. The quilt room sustained water damage…and some strange way, the ceiling in the living room sustained water damage…the contractors never figured out how that happened.
I can also tell you this…just like the “divorce diet” is not the best way to loose weight…storm damage is a pretty traumatic way to get rehab work done on a home. It’s not one of my top 10 recommendations…
This had been my second tornado experience in less than ten years. Yep, I hate to say it, but in 2001 a tornado damaged my home in Alabama. What a hideous year! It was a late tornado…occurring in November.
My son had called me and said, “Momma, there is a tornado very near the house.”
Ever the hopeful skeptic, “I said son, it can’t be, I’m looking out the window now. It’s not even raining and is like any other day.”
Why didn’t I knock on wood? Almost as soon as the words were our of my mouth, the power went out and leaves in the back yard started swirling like they were caught up in a vortex.
The nasty twister that hit our little community was caught on film by someone and pictured in The Birmingham News. I had been home alone with my sweet little Lady…again! Once again, she beat me downstairs…that dog could have taught tornado safety!
I am hoping and praying I can end the decade without the “three times is a charm” experience. I’ve really had enough of elephants on my roof…and storms in my hair!! Mother Nature, gimme a break!!
© 2008 Beverly Hicks Burch All rights reserved.