The world derecho entered Southern Illinois’ lexicon 10 years ago today.
Before May 8, 2009, virtually no one knew of the Spanish term that refers to a lengthy straight-line windstorm that is frequently accompanied by a band of fast-moving showers and thunderstorms.
And, we weren’t alone. Subsequent news reporting showed professional meteorologists knew little about the phenomenon. The May 8, 2009, storm became the focus of studies and lectures.
Unfortunately, the residents of the region didn’t have the luxury of learning about the derechos through lectures or reading textbooks. The people of Carbondale, Murphysboro, Johnston City, Thompsonville and all points in between got hands-on training.
The storm, which struck Southern Illinois with little warning shortly after noon, caused major damage from Grand Tower to Galatia. Winds were measured at speeds of 81 to 106 miles per hour. Trees were uprooted. Roofs were blown off homes. Much of the region was without power for several days.
Damage from the storm forced the cancellation of final exams at John A. Logan College. Lack of power — 68,000 homes and businesses lost power — caused Jackson County Circuit Court to shut down for several days.
The storm blew down trees in portions of the Shawnee National Forest and left areas of Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge as a tangled mess of shattered trees. Some of those areas remain scarred by the storm.
Clean-up costs in Carbondale alone were estimated at $1 million.
Few people in the storm’s path were untouched. Lives were changed. Remarkably, just one fatality resulted from the storm.
Now, 10 years later, derecho has become part of the vernacular. Mention the term, and “Where I was when the storm hit” stories begin to spill out of the mouths of those who experienced the freak weather event.
In some contexts, time is measured in relation to the derecho. Now, 10 years later, we’re able to re-live some of those moments.
The region has learned some things — primarily the importance of storm preparedness. In the past several weeks Southern Illinois University Carbondale was presented an award from the National Weather Service for being a “StormReady” university.
Many of the steps taken by SIUC to improve its preparedness are the result of the derecho.
One of the steps taken by SIUC includes the installation of solar powered speakers which will allow for wireless communication even in the event of power outages. The university also has 13 pre-recorded messages that can alert the campus to threatening or dangerous situations, and they messages can be activated from multiple locations.
The derecho certainly tested the mettle of Southern Illinoisans. It was a learning experience for all. In some instances, scars still remain from the storm.
But, just below the surface there are the other stories.
Stories of neighbor helping neighbor. Stories of groups from outside Southern Illinois pouring into the region to assist those without power or supplying food to clean-up crews. Sometimes it takes the worst of predicaments to expose the better angels in all of us.
Storm survivors seem to relish stories of impromptu neighborhood parties.
Since the storm occurred in the spring and knocked out power, freezers full of food were in danger of spoiling. Following the storm, entire neighborhoods shared meals as homeowners grilled out, cooking frozen foodstuffs before they were lost.
May 8, 2009 — it was a monumental day in Southern Illinois history. It’s a day none of us would want to live through. But, as in most instances, the adversity resulted in positive change. For that, we can be thankful.