Wednesday, March 8, 2017
Mrs. G. and I both started the day without a hitch. I got up around 6:15 and started rambling around the house while she was trying to fill a sleep deficit acquired over the last few days. I put the coffee together but didn’t start it, poured myself a bowl of granola and started reading newspapers on an iPad. Yes, this is how retired folks start their day.
The other fun part of being retired is that the days are either empty or full, and this was going to be the latter. I had an appointment on the other side of town at 1:30, while we had a shared appointment a few miles away from there at 3:30. After Mrs. G. woke up and we drained a pot of coffee, she and I both spent some time prepping paperwork and making notes to prepare for the afternoon.
At first we planned on going to my appointment together, where Mrs. G. would wait for me, but in the end, we decided to take two vehicles and meet at 3:30 at our mutual appointment.
Around 11:30, I walked out to get the mail. It was warm and windy, but nothing out of the norm for March. I had my back to the west when I heard what sounded exactly like a train coming up behind me. This didn’t make any sense at all, but I turned around anyway to see what it was. Here’s the thing. One doesn’t see the wind. It’s felt, and boy did I feel it.
I walked up the driveway at an angle and mentioned it to my wife when I was back inside. Even though I’m sort of a weather geek, we both dismissed it as one of those weird things, and by 12:45, I had packed up the truck and left the house.
The wind had kicked out a lot of road debris, so I was dodging trash cans, door wreaths, and recycling tubs. A few miles down the road, I was about to be passed in the oncoming lane by a Jeep Wrangler with one of those fiberglass canopies that can be removed in the summer. I normally don’t notice Jeeps as anything noteworthy, but the canopy had abruptly lifted off the vehicle and was now thirty feet in the air. In my side mirror, I could see the driver get out of the Jeep, at first trying to figure out what the heck just happened and secondly, trying to figure out what to do about it. Luckily the top had landed on the side of the road, halted from rolling any farther by a road sign.
This was getting bad.
While I was driving on the expressway, I felt an occasional gust slam into the side of the truck, which tilted the body. I have no idea what it feels like to be body slammed by a bull, but this could have been it. Smaller cars were moving at about half the speed limit, trying to stay on the road. I made it to my appointment and texted my wife about the Jeep and she texted me back that one of the heavy wooden rockers on our back porch had blown over.
My appointment went quickly, so I went out to the truck to call my wife. The reception was sketchy, but the gist was that the wind was getting really bad. I told her to drive very carefully, and I’d see her at our mutual appointment. Meanwhile, the car right next to where I was parked was now under a tree limb. I was a worried about Mrs. G. being on the road, but it really didn’t seem unmanageable. We’re New Yorkers. We can handle this.
On my way to the other appointment, the phone rang. The hands-free system worked fine, and the screen showed that it was Mrs. G. I tapped the green “answer” button.
“You won’t believe this. All of the trees in our backyard are gone. Down. I’m not kidding. Gone. Holy crap, there goes another one!! The power just went out!!”
I turned around and headed home, a good half-hour away. Meanwhile, the wind had increased, making the driving even worse. Thankfully, the power was on for the trip home so the traffic lights were still working, but there was a lot of traffic for this time of day.
I pulled down the street before mine, and there were traffic cones in the road. A huge oak was now leaning on a wire of some sort, probably telephone or CATV. I pulled over as far as I could and drove under the wire and then turned down my street. A few trees were down, but nothing too extreme. When I pulled up the driveway, I could see a large, thick section of an ash tree on the hood and roof of my neighbor’s pickup truck.
We have a dogleg to our driveway and I usually park alongside the house, but I pulled the truck in front of the garage because the pine trees that usually look soft and pretty suddenly looked ominous and dangerous.
I changed my shoes to boots and went outside, staying upwind and out of the fall zones, should another tree come down. It was that bad.
One thick white pine tree had snapped in two. This tree had to have been sixty feet tall, but now it stood there, scarred and broken with a birdfeeder still hanging on one of the lower branches. Cardinals came in for a seed or two, oblivious to what had happened.
Other smaller (and by smaller, I mean thirty to forty foot deciduous and pine trees) came down, some broken, some uprooted as easily as picking a flower. A large maple split in half and lay on the garden. A sizeable ash tree was hung up in the broken crotch of the maple tree; the top half angled downward and jabbed into the ground.
It looked as if a giant hand had swept over everything, laying it down in one fell swoop.
None of the benches or statues were hit and miraculously, nothing hit the house. When I went back inside, we looked out at our favorite white pine, a large graceful tree with the perfect birdfeeder branch, and watched it list in the wind. The earth around it was lifting as if something large and deep was trying to push its way out of the ground. We started moving valuables to the other side of the house because if that tree went down, it was going to land squarely on our roof.
Earlier in the day, the wind sounded like a train. Our backyard now looked like a train wreck. All of the work, and the landscaping, and the effort my wife and I did to highlight and keep these beautiful old trees was gone in about ten seconds.
As the day moved on and it got darker, we hunkered down inside, hoping that nothing else would happen. Around midnight, the winds settled back into a normal range.
In the end, we had our power back up in minutes and nobody was hurt. Our home remained secure and solid. Many people in our area did not fare as well, as the repairs and cleanup will takes days to weeks to months for many.
I called a tree service immediately after my wife called me and got on their list, but the cleanup will have to wait until people with trees on their houses have been addressed, so we’ll have to deal with this for a week. Small branches have been taken to the curb, but the tangled mess in the backyard is a Jenga tower; waiting for that one key piece to come out and everything falls. We stay away from it.
Plans? We have a few. Once the twenty or so trees are removed, we’ll have lots of sunshine in the backyard for the first time. Some huge trees were spared, so these will now be more prominent. We’ll also have room for a garden shed, something we’ve needed and wanted for some time but we never had a place to build one. Some shade plants might not make it, but everything else will benefit. It sounds so trite to say something along the lines of “nature’s fury,” but really—watching it unfold was both beautiful and frightening. I’m thankful we only have to deal with the frightening part every two decades or so.
I really can’t complain about not having cable or the Internet when it’s thirty-seven degrees in my daughter’s living room. I know crews are out trying to restore services, and for that, I’m thankful. It’s brutal 24/7 work. When he blew into town, our governor was quite vocal about the lack of preparedness and speed with which repairs have been made. All I can say is that this is easy to say when the dirtiest job you’ve ever had was deciding which pocket square goes with which necktie. Our community has pulled together as it always does when things go bad. If it doesn’t look that way to our governor, there’s a bus that leaves every two hours. We’ll give you a call when there’s a ribbon that needs cutting.
Insurance won’t cover a dime of our tree removal, so if you ever plan on having a forest in your yard blow over, make sure it hits your house or your vehicles because that’s the only way that’ll be covered. We’re getting estimates now, but the general opinion is that it’ll take a couple of days, a crew of men and I have no idea how many trucks and wood chippers.
This windstorm has been compared to the Ice Storm of 1991. The Ice Storm was worse, but this was a close second. Wind gusts hit 82 M.P.H. with this storm, and if one were to factor in the acceleration effect of that wind and that speed whipping over rooftops and between buildings, it gets even beefier.
As I finish writing this, I’m staring out the back window from the kitchen. It’s starting to snow as it gets even colder outside and it’s still windy, albeit normal wind. The birds and squirrels have found shelter in the maelstrom that used to be our backyard, probably looking at this as simply rearranging the furniture.
Silver linings, I guess.
We’ll fix what’s been broken, be grateful for what wasn’t, and years from now, we’ll tell stories about the Windstorm of ‘17.