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A Derecho and a Haboob

It was quite a week…..

Last week Friday we picked ourselves off the floor and asked “What happened?”

The story began on Wednesday May 11. We were tracking a storm on our storm tracking app. It had come up from Nebraska and promised high winds, thunder and hail. I had a Bible study at the church at 6pm, and after consulting local people (who know much better than me) we cancelled the evening. And there was some thunder and lighting and rainy wind – and then it was gone.

Thursday May 12 headed in the same direction: a warning that a storm front was coming out of Nebraska. But I was still thinking of the day before and was not nearly so alert as the previous day. Besides, many residents compare this town to a spot of oil…”Storms go around us and leave us dry”. I recorded a sermon for the radio at 4pm and went home. Because I had spent much of the day sitting in preparation for the sermon, I needed some exercise. So Jenny and I headed out at 5pm for a walk around Hillcrest Park, which is just up the road.  (And anyway the storm was only due after 6pm). Well, halfway around the park we noticed the clouds coming in, and decided to turn for home. Jenny remarked on how the clouds were turning brown. At this point we passed some students standing outside of their house taking photographs of the incoming clouds.

And then the Tornado siren went off!

The students stopped photographing and told us to come into their home for safety. We headed downstairs to their basement – only to discover that they were not following us. “You can’s take photographs in the basement!” This announcement was followed by offers of hospitality in the form of alcohol to get us through the storm. Such warm mid-western hospitality. We watched through the window as the sky turned black, trees snapped in half, and shingles were stripped off roofs. A tree toppled over and fell across the road, narrowly missing a student’s car parked outside. And then the lights flickered, and the power went out. We felt wind-driven rain pound the house, leaving muddy streaks on the windows and walls. The surrounding farmland was on the move as the wind picked it up and dumped dirt on the town. And we sat tight for an hour. The storm subsided and thanking our hosts we jogged home, weaving our way around trees lying across pavements and debris strewn everywhere.

It was silent. No storm, no power or water. Then people began emerging from their homes, and the first chain saw started up, and soon the air was filled with the sound of power tools as people cut away the storm-debris.

And the miracle began. People reached out to their neighbours and offered assistance. A tree lay across the road just down from my home. A truck pulled up and four people climbed out, opened the tail gate and hauled out a chain saw. When asked if their worked for the city, they replied that they were “just some good-Samaritans wanting to make a difference”. I heard stories of this happening throughout the town as the community pulled together and cared for one another.

A word for this storm began to circulate the community “We had a  derecho”: which is a line of intense, widespread, and fast-moving storms is characterized by damaging winds. These winds  hit us in 160kph gusts. What made it more intense was the dust that was carried by the wind. And then a new word was heard for this kind of storm: It was a ‘Haboob’ – a  giant dust storm. The National Weather Service said haboobs occur due to thunderstorm outflow winds. The strong winds pick up and carry dust, reducing visibility, and are found in the Sahara Desert, or places such as Alice Springs in Australia, and now in Brookings, South Dakota.

This storm revealed a City where people worked together to make life better for everyone. No division, no one demanding to be helped first . We were just people helping people. And here is the sad thing – the fact that I am struck by the human co-operation is a comment on how we have become as a society. Sadly, the Pandemic seems to have bent us out of shape. We have become distant from each other:  individuals have allowed themselves to say offensive things on social media, and we have begun to see division and meanness as a normal way of life. But this past weekend has shown me that deep down, we are better than this. We became a diverse community of people who were united in serving our community.

I pray that it was not just a thing for the storm.



“To comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” Finley Peter Dunne (1867–1936)