Winds take Paris by storm


I’ve never been frightened of storms. In fact, I’ve always been fascinated by the science of weather — particularly thunderstorms, hurricanes and tornadoes.

My Grandma (Katherine) Roberts was terrified of storms, a trait she passed on to my sister, Cheryl. Cheryl’s granddaughter, Jenna — not through any fault of her grandmother — is also storm challenged. For a long time, even a hint of thunder or lightning sent Jenna scurrying to the closet in her home.

When I was a student at Indiana State University 40 years ago, one of the last classes my senior year was meteorology in the geography department. I took it pass-fail because — I’ve pointed out before — I’m a right brainer and most science and mathematics concepts are beyond my comprehension.

The class was interesting. My professor was a guy who always wore a denim jumpsuit to class. What he lacked in fashion sense he made up for in explaining how weather worked. The class was filled with aeronautics majors who were also pilots. 

Fast forward a few years to my obsession with the Discovery Channel’s show “Storm Chasers.” I even dreamed of one day going on a trip (yes, you can sign up for them) as a storm chaser.

After Wednesday here in Paris, I am rethinking that dream.

I live on the western edge of Paris in a home remodeled for me by my brother, Sam. There is a privacy fence around the back and north side of the property and a two-car garage behind the house. There’s an alley directly behind the privacy fence and then open farm fields. On a hot and humid summer night, when I lock the garage up following a day at The Prairie Press, I can smell the corn.

The winds have been fierce coming from the west and southwest since I’ve lived there whether this past winter or this spring — but nothing major. Occasionally my Ingrum’s Waste Disposal garbage tote would be tipped over.

Until Wednesday evening.

I was half-asleep with the television on when I suddenly noticed a loud noise. It didn’t sound like a freight train — like those who have experienced a tornado first hand frequently report — but it was definitely loud. I muted the television sound and listened.

The sound got louder and I realized it was the wind — and then the house began to shake. The shaking and moving was not like an earthquake — which I’ve experienced a couple of times. It’s difficult to describe but the house was shaking and — for the first time in my life — I was frightened of a storm.

I jumped up and ran to the kitchen to peer out my kitchen door in time for me to see one of my heavy wrought-iron outdoor chairs/rockers be deposited in the backyard of my neighbor’s home. 

Holy crap.

I backed away from the door and ended up in the small inner hallway and waited out the storm. After the worst had passed, Michelle Jacobs and I met up at the newspaper office to check out damage and get pictures. Some may think what’s the big deal about a few tree limbs or trees, but the storm did a lot more than that.

The next morning, Sam took a look at the house. The shingles on the back of my home — facing the west — were curled. Sam said the roof decking had been lifted and shingles on the roof were missing or curled.

The National Weather Service released information Thursday saying the winds in the thunderstorm were 70 miles per hour. The storm seemed to be concentrated from just south of the Edgar County Fairgrounds to the south edge of Paris. The worst damage was in the center of the community where trees were uprooted, snapped off,  while trampolines ended up flying over fences and into nearby streets.

Our Weather Wizard Everett Lau explained storms like this — he described it as squall line — sometimes intensify so quickly that a warning is not issued by the NWS. That certainly occurred Wednesday in Paris but Vermillion County, Ind., and Vigo County, Ind., both received warnings before the storm arrived there.

I learned a new word this week — derecho — defined as a widespread, long lived wind storm. Derechos are associated with bands of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms variously known as bow echoes, squall lines or quasi-linear convective systems.

The interesting thing about Wednesday’s storm — at least to me — is that the worst damage appeared to be on north-south streets. There were exceptions of course — like Edgar Street — where several utility poles were snapped off and Union Street between Main and Buena Vista where the old feed store building ended up in the middle of the street.

Whatever the storm moving through Paris was Wednesday evening, it was intense. Perhaps this is a good time to make sure your family knows what the plan is in case of a tornado or severe thunderstorm.

In the meantime, a big thank you to the City of Paris crews, Paris Fire Department, Paris Police, Ameren and EnerStar crews who spent most the of night blocking off hazardous areas, checking for downed power lines and making sure citizens were safe.