One Person’s Severe Storm, Is Another’s Nightmare
Global Consequences of Weather’s Aftermath
The consequences of extreme weather events are being played out in Haiti and the U.S. Southeastern Coast, and sometimes the impact of a major storm event involves the death of thousands and even hundreds of thousands.
For Spokane, we are certainly not immune to ice storms, massive snow storms, the resultant flooding after snows; wind and even tornadoes have touched our lives. Ice Storm ’96 or the Wind Storm of 2015 conjure up personal loss and tests to our individual and community mettle.
Storm watching in the Inland Northwest is a proclivity here as it is for those living in Tornado Alley in the Midwest or down south battening down the hatches preparing for hurricanes.
Headline Grabbers Equate to Impacts on Lives
Thinking of anything dubbed, “Severe Storm,” is something that is both awe-inspiring and deadly, and no amount of preparation is too much.
According to the National Weather Service, Severe Storm events have wreaked havoc upon the state. We have had the most recent Wind Storm, Nov. 18, 2015, killing four people in the state, and knocking out power for a million people. Wind speeds clocked at 119 mph in mountains—and urban areas like Seattle and Spokane—scared many into becoming more prepared for future weather events and the catastrophes that often follow.
As we went to press, we saw death and destruction in North Carolina and other parts of the south and in the country of Haiti, after being battered by Hurricane Matthew. More than 1,000 deaths had been reported in Haiti, caused by the hurricane’s power and aftermath. Even more dramatic, in 2004 more than 300,000 were killed by a tsunami in the Indian Ocean.
Landslide! Washington’s Deadliest Weather-Prompted Disaster
The human scale of a natural disaster can be traced to how an entire community rebounds. The March 22, 2014 Oso, Washington, mudslide (caused by heavy rains on some treacherous land altered by heavy logging) was the state’s single most deadly weather related catastrophe—43 people lost their lives.
Music therapists (see “Music to the Ears,” Spokane Coeur d’Alene Living, Dec. 2015), a cadre of social workers and grieving experts went to Oso to help the entire town heal both collectively and individually. Yet, again, that individual act of heroism and survival stands out.
For Amanda Skorjanc, the world seemed to be coming to an end when the land let loose. She told reporters that the mudslide first sounded like a truck driving on a rumble strip. Then the lights started flickering. The hill above her Oso home had collapsed.
“It was like a movie,” she says. “Houses were exploding. The next thing I see is my neighbor’s chimney coming into the front door.”
Amanda had time before the mud came into her house to grab her 5-month-old son, Duke Suddarth. “That’s when it hit us,” she says. “I did not let that baby go for one second.”
Like many living through a natural disaster or weather event, Amanda did her bargaining with her higher power: “Please save us. It got dark around us, and it was throwing us all over the place. It was very, very strong and very violent.”
The Sound of a Falling Tree Puts Fear in a Mother
Closer to home, Missy Simon says the Wind Storm November 2015 changed her life in many ways—through her son’s tragic paralyzing injury caused by a tree collapsing his vehicle’s cab just a mile from home.
“My 22-year-old son was driving with his friend in his friend’s pick up. They were less than a mile from our home in Twin Lakes when a large tree fell and crushed the truck. His friend had a mild concussion. My son, however, was paralyzed from the chest down,” she says.
Missy’s story is one of recovery, and her son Jordan is now working with vocational rehabilitation.
Here, some of the most significant events in the 20th Century also produced victims, destruction, heroism and healing.
Massive region-wide snowstorms in January 1916 and January 1950
Columbus Day Windstorm in October, 1962 (still the most dramatic weather ever to hit the State)
Inauguration Day Windstorm in January, 1993
January 1997 Winter Storm
December 2006 Hanukkah Eve Windstorm
December 2007 windstorm and flood
December 2008 snow storms
January 2009 floods
2011 January ice storm
2012 Ferry County wind storm
Many of these events triggered presidential disaster declarations, emphasizing their severity.
The November 1996 Spokane Area Ice Storm was a perfect confluence of heavy rain, freezing rain and snow falling in Spokane, Pend Oreille, and Klickitat counties. Up to three inches of ice was deposited on trees, vehicles and buildings. More than 100,000 homes and businesses lost power in the county. Four people died and damage was estimated at more than $22 million.
Windy Morning, Gale-force Evening
For others, last year’s Wind Storm was an eye-opening event that cost them a sense of home, as trees came down onto roofs, creating displacement and rebuilding hassles. Two couples—Gus and Jackie Wright of West Plains and Tracy and Jay St. Ong of the Ponderosa neighborhood (Mica-Dishman Hills)—faced similar circumstances to their homes.
“So often the weather reports tell you that the gusts will get worse,” Tracy says. She and her mother (visiting from Whitefish, MT) went to their basement after seeing the top of one pine snap. Twenty-five minutes later, the women heard a loud snap.
A neighbor’s tree hit her house lengthwise. “It’s not the tree that kills usually, but the branches,” she says. Her master bedroom ceiling was on the bed. All the rafters snapped. Drywall was pierced. That was a year ago, and their house is still being repaired.
Tracy said she’s lucky, and in the end, she will have virtually a new house, after the 1970s home was demolished by the tree.
Jackie says the 1996 Ice Storm caused her to be prepared. She and her husband keep drinking water and food in stock. They invested in a powerful generator, and a conversion kit on the house’s electrical panel. The wind storm ripped out most of Spokane’s electrical grid, except for this little area where she lives.
Again, the tree damaged their house, mostly the garage.
Both Tracy and Jackie cite those stand-alone ponderosa pines as the most vulnerable during a wind storm, something tree experts also cite as the real threats—too much thinning of treed areas and not treating pines correctly (See, “Out on a Limb,” Spokane Couer d’Alene Living, March 2016).
For Tracy, manager of a Washington Trust branch, the ordeal was eye-opening: they stayed in two hotels, and have been renting a large house with furniture and bedding paid for out of their insurance claim—a bucket of money that is running out.
She recommends finding how much money is in the policy for temporary housing, and then find something smaller, and try to live frugally and without expectations of the repairs being quickly accomplished.
No End in Sight for Big Weather
Ted Buehner, Warning Coordination Meteorologist, National Weather Service, Seattle Forecast Office, says “Severe storms and their associated wind, snow and flooding effects will occur in Washington State regularly.”
In July 2007, the Climate Impacts Group launched an assessment of climate change impacts on Washington State. That assessment concluded that the impacts of climate change will be increasing, hitting hard the following sectors: agriculture, coasts, energy, forests, human health, hydrology and water resources, salmon, and urban stormwater infrastructure.
Paul K. Haeder is a freelance writer who worked in Spokane as a community college instructor and journalist for more than 12 years.
The positions taken in Metro Talk do not necessarily reflect the views of Spokane Coeur d’Alene Living’s publisher, editor or staff.
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