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The micro-ist of micro storms


This reporter and her family were apparently the only ones to suffer damage in the Saturday storm. Our collapsed pole barn.

By Angela Reinhardt

Staff writer
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     I just got off the phone with the county EMA director and he confirmed it – thunderstorms that came through Saturday afternoon apparently didn’t cause damage anywhere but on the half-mile of family property where I live.
    “You’re the first I’ve heard of any damage,” Pickens EMA Director John Nicholson told me.
    Everywhere else got much-needed rain and some thunder, but inside the teensy weensy circumference of land in west Pickens it was like Night on Bald Mountain for a terrifying minute or two, in which time the pole barn collapsed and several gigantic trees were uprooted, including a massive oak that splintered and blew over at the end of our dirt road.
    At about 2 p.m. Saturday I was sitting on the couch in the living room with my daughter when the sky got dark and we heard a stray boom of thunder. She’s scared of storms and started to spool up. In a feeble attempt to console her, I tracked the weather on my phone and said things parents usually say.
    “See,” I told Scarlett, who was teary-eyed and unconvinced. “The red areas are going around us. It’s just thunder and rain, sweetie. We’ll be okay.”
    Maybe kids have a sixth sense with storms or something, like dogs, because I couldn’t calm her down. Even though the rain wasn’t bad at that point I decided on an out-of-sight-out-of-mind approach. We moved into a back bedroom where there aren’t any windows.
    That’s when things got nasty.
    Out of nowhere the walls and roof creaked and shifted and the sound of violent wind cocooned us. I peeked out the bedroom door, through the window in the room across the hall, and saw the rain blasting by horizontally and faster than I’d ever seen it move. I took my son and daughter in the bathroom (for the first time ever) and they proceeded to freak out. “Oh my God! Oh my God, mom! We’re going to DIE today!”
    They told me their last goodbyes by the bathtub while I tried to convince them we weren’t (probably) going to die.
    Then it was over, as quick as it came.
    In the next few minutes I got a call from my mother-in-law who lives a few hundred yards down the hill. She wanted to know if we were okay. She told me about all the damage, which inconsiderately pinpointed every piece of farm equipment on the property: The pole barn collapsed on the new lawn mower and our go-kart, and the willow tree fell on the utility vehicle and the tractor.
    Everything on their screened-in porch was violently blown around while everything on my porch remained suspiciously unmoved, including papers and empty plastic containers. Neither my mother-in-law nor I received warnings on our phones or on the local weather stations. It was a total sneak attack.
    I called my husband, who was at work across the county, and all they got was thunder and rain. On our drives around the area we didn’t see any other damage (insert crickets chirping) and I didn’t see any other posts on Facebook about a storm. It was like God fired a laser beam of wind down from the clouds onto just our property. 
    Monday morning I got in touch with Dan Lindsey, Ph.D., a research meteorologist with the NOAA who said the damage was probably caused by a microburst. He even sent me a radar video of the storm from the National Weather Service and pointed out a “small intense echo in western Pickens County” at around 2 p.m.
    “These are somewhat common and are relatively small in scale,” Lindsey said, “so it's reasonable that the damage could be isolated to something like a 40-acre area.”
    He told me microbursts (or small downbursts) occur when rain from a storm evaporates, resulting in an area of quickly descending air that hits the ground and spreads outward. Not all evaporation leads to microbursts and other elements are at play when they do occur, but they usually happen with the strongest portion of storms when conditions are just right.
    Interestingly, a microburst is also what  EMA Director Nicholson said caused last week’s storms, which damaged the animal shelter and tore the steeple off a church.
    “They don’t always affect a large area, but they can be really violent,” he said.
    Despite all the technology that tries to help us plan ahead, these microbursts  show there is still unpredictability with weather and its bizarre precision -- hitting just my area. And you know what? Even though those 90 seconds were really, really terrifying, I like the fact that we still don’t know it all.