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COMMENTARY: Stormy weather stories
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COMMENTARY: Stormy weather stories

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Harriet Hutto


We have witnessed some fairly turbulent weather this year. For all of the years we have been in our house, our designated safe room for major weather warnings has been a bathroom that opens into our hall. It has no outside windows and is pretty well fortified with sturdy walls.

Never once in all of these years have we actually gone into that room because of a storm. But on Sept. 17, the remnants of Hurricane Sally began to throw off weather systems that triggered tornado warnings for our specific area.

I looked at Charlie and asked, “Is there any reason we shouldn’t go into that bathroom?” He said, “Not that I can think of,” so I grabbed a folding chair and pillow, turned the TV up as loud as it would go and we took our seats in there to wait for the all-clear signal.

We could hear them mention names of roads that are on either side of our house. As we waited, the power went off. Before our generator comes on, the slight power interruption causes the TV to turn off, and it has to be manually turned back on.

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So, we pondered … do I run out and turn the TV back on or just wait? Wait until when? I opened the bathroom door so I could see out of the bedroom window across the hall, and I watched the movement of the tree branches as they bent over from the wind. When that seemed to have lessened, we cautiously came back out. We were lucky. A tornado did not touch down here. Sadly, people in other parts of the county were not as fortunate earlier this year.

Just a month before this, we also were not as fortunate. Before 7:30 one morning in August, a thunderstorm rolled through our community. I am quite sure that was some of the loudest thunder I’ve ever heard. I opened the blinds, and almost immediately, Charlie and I saw a ball of fire that was accompanied by a very loud noise. We both knew that lightning had struck somewhere. The power went off. Later, when we turned the television back on, it didn’t respond. That was just the beginning. We discovered that our telephones did not work. Neither did our internet. One lamp, which was plugged into the same receptacle with a cordless phone receiver, never produced light again.

After we gathered our wits about us, we called a neighbor. So, to begin to take care of what we knew about, he offered to go buy new TVs for us. When he and his brother brought them into our house, they came in a door that we had not used that day. As I unlocked it, I saw all sorts of trash on the garage floor. We discovered the irrigation control box had been blown to smithereens!

After they plugged the television sets in and got them set up, they didn’t work because the Direct TV boxes and our antenna apparently had been struck also. So we had to schedule people to come replace those while also waiting on the phone and internet repairmen. I had to order the phones, so we had no service until they arrived a week later. (Thank goodness for cellphones.)

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The afternoon of “storm day,” we saw the warning light on our generator. When we were able to get a certified repairman here, he said it appeared that lightning had damaged “the board,” the major part of almost anything now. He installed a new one. The final repair was done five weeks after the lightning strike, when we eventually tracked down someone who could replace the apparatus on our TV antenna. Since that is higher than a regular ladder, he needed a hydraulic lift to be able to reach it. A friend owns one. so he brought that here for the repairman to be able to complete taking care of the damage that was done in less than one second that morning.

We have gone through a number of days this fall when we had very heavy rains produced by other tropical storms/hurricanes. But weathermen can forecast things so much better now than they did years ago. Charlie says he remembers water running across the highway when he was a young boy, and the older folks just said it was from a September gale. There was no warning. To be fair, there was no TV -- and maybe no weathermen. I don’t know. But they weren’t forewarned.

Even in the mid-1960s, when we flew to the Bahamas to enjoy the island for several days, an unannounced (to us) storm arrived. One day we were out on a sailboat on the clear blue waters, and the very next day, winds were gusty and we watched as natives began to tie things down on the beach. There really had been no warnings on television there either.

Later that morning, the person in charge of our group rounded us all up and said, “A hurricane is expected here probably later today, and the pilot thinks we need to fly back to Florida now. Be in the lobby in an hour with your suitcases.” By the time we met back there, power was out. The pilot said we had missed our window of opportunity to leave, so we sat it out there.

Of course, all outside activities were canceled. I remember the hotel gave everybody a deck of cards and provided us with a bag lunch. We were traveling with good friends, so the four of us played cards most of the day. Before evening, power was restored, and we were able to watch TV again.

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The dining rooms were open that night, and we had “regular food.” It really must have just been the edge of the storm. Other than some winds and rain, we never felt as if we were in real danger, and there was no damage to our hotel. The following day (when we were scheduled to leave anyway), we took off from the airport as planned. In days gone by, that hurricane might have been classified as just another “gale.”

So, take heed when forecasters give you the expected paths of storms. As we all know, those might change a number of times before the actual route is established, but at least we know the storms are there. And I’ll tell you about our Hurricane Hugo memories another time. That was “the big one” in 1989.

Harriet L. Hutto of Providence is a periodic contributor to The Times and Democrat.



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