By: Red Dog
23 March 2003

Being a Storm Spotter, I'm always checking the local weather forecast. I knew there could be some severe storms today, but the chances were not all that good for severe weather.

I was sitting at work in my office and checked the internet site for my local Skywarn Spotting Group. The radar showed some good soaking rain and weak thunderstorms in the area, but nothing to get excited about. Looking at the loop, a series of 10 radar images that give you a sense of where the storms are moving and how fast, I noticed that the brightest color on the radar, was about to come right over my area.

I mentioned this to our secretary and I told her that we would soon have some heavy rain, but it shouldn't be all that bad. As I sat there looking out the window, the rain began to pick up. Suddenly, it started pouring and the wind greatly picked up in intensity.

Then, it hit me... this wasn't just normal thunderstorm winds. We were in the middle of a Microburst, or collapsing thunderstorm that is capable of producing wind damage similar to that of a strong tornado.

The secretary had just started to get up to go to the door to look out and to hold it shut because it has been pulled open before by strong winds. Just as she got up, I yelled to her that "This is a Microburst and to get away from the windows!" She turned and ran back deeper into the office and ducked down behind a room divider.

Just as she got behind the divider, all hail broke loose! We started hearing things hitting the building with loud heavy thuds. The door was sucked open and swung around hard, breaking the door closer and smashing into the window behind it, sending sharp shards of glass flying into the office at over 100 MPH!

In just a few seconds, it was all over, but as we stepped into the front room, the damage was substantial. The broken glass had been thrown deep into our office. The computers sitting at the secretaries desk had the monitor screens pitted by flying glass and the keyboards were missing keys that had been struck by the flying glass. Her chair was covered with glass and the chair back was cut.

The wind in the office had blown papers everywhere. We had heard a crash down the hall and the coffee cup tree had been blown over and smashed some of the cups. The attic fan that is down the hall, about 35 feet from the front door was blown up into the attic from the overpressure from the storm.

Large shards of glass were found down the hall about 30 feet and they had to make two 90 degree turns to get where they landed. The wind had carried them there. Another piece of glass, about 7" long was just in front of another desk in another room about 25 feet from the window, again... it had to turn twice to get there. Glass was imbedded about 1/2 ' deep into a wooden doorframe in the front room, about 8 feet from the broken window.

As we found out that no one was hurt, we went outside to see what else might have happened. Our front awning was torn off of the building and twisted up and over the roof. Looking up on the roof, several rows of shingles were peeled back and missing.

Out in our parking lot, 7 sections of the wooden privacy fence were blown down and out into the lot. The pressure treated posts had been snapped off at the ground like toothpicks and the fence sections flew like Frisbees. One section had traveled over 25 feet, landing in front of the truck it had been behind. My vehicle was not touched, but the other two in the parking lot had fence sections either leaning up against them, or on top of them. Paint was scratched and the plastic bedliner in the pickup truck was broken where the fence had slammed into it.

Looking further around, we saw that the concrete bench for the bus stop, that weighs over 300 pounds had been blown over. Walking around the corner, we found our Holly tree, that was over 35 feet tall and has a trunk over 12" in diameter was blown over. Several small trees and branches from larger trees were also broken off and lying around on our lawn, and on the corner, the street and stop sign that was mounted on a steel post, set in concrete was also blown over.

Looking up and down the streets in the area, we saw other trees uprooted and snapped off, but nothing like the damage we sustained.

Our phones had gone out during the Microburst, as did our power, but both came quickly back on. I had already rushed out to my truck to call a warning on this storm and to inform the city's Emergency Operation Center about the damage we had. I also called our local Radio and Television stations to get the word out about the damage.

I soon started hearing my own voice on the radio, giving reports! Soon, an Emergency Manager came by and looked over the damage. He told me that we had indeed gotten the most damage, but that there were some live powerlines down in the neighborhood as well as some more damage about 1/4 mile to our north.

We started cleaning up the glass in out office and waited for the window company to show up to secure the office. It was after most of the glass was cleaned up, that I remembered that I had a video camera in the truck. I grabbed it and started filming our damage as the evening light was starting to fade.

As I was outside filming, another cameraman asked me who I was. He was from our local ABC station and he had been sent to find me. He interviewed me on camera and also filmed our damage. Later, I was on our 10:00 PM news and even had my name shown on the TV!

The next day, my live interview was still both heard on the radio all day and shown on the TV 2 or 3 times more. I even made our local feed on CNN!

After it all was over and we had time to think about what had happened and just how fast it came upon us, we were all very lucky that we were not hurt. I know I saved our secretary from some serious injuries. I have no doubt that she would have taken some major glass hits in her face, had she been sitting in her chair.

Microbursts are caused by a collapsing thunderstorm. What happens is, a thunderstorm rides up and over some hot dry air. This causes the rain that the thunderstorm is trying to drop to evaporate, which in turn, causes that hot dry air to suddenly cool off. Cool air falls fast, in fact so fast in this case, that it steals all the energy rising up into the thunderstorm. The sudden downdrafts cause all of the storms energy and moisture to drop in place. It would be kinda like placing a bunch of the little green plastic soldiers on your patio and then standing up on a picnic table, pouring a pitcher of water straight down on them. As the water hits the concrete, there is no where for it to go but out sideways with great force. That is what causes all the wind damage.

It is very hard to predict a Microburst. Later, the ABC station showed their Viper Radar loop. Indeed, there were sheer indicators that popped up right over us right as the Microburst occurred. It only showed on radar for about a minute or two and then was gone, but it sure did a bunch of damage in the short time it was here.

If you are ever caught in a Microburst, or even think you are, get away from the windows. If you are driving in a vehicle, hold on. The wind force can and will move cars and trucks around, but should not be able to pick them up, but they could blow a large semi-truck over on it's side. If you see one coming at you, (it looks like a huge fast moving wall of water coming at you) and you have time, try to put the back of your vehicle towards the Microburst. If it does blow out your vehicle windows, from flying debris, it's better to have that in the rear, rather than the front.

If you are caught out in the open, get down in a ditch if you can. Lie down and cover your head with both arms to try and protect yourself from flying debris. If possible, don't lie under powerlines. Stay down until it's over. They don't last long, but are VERY intense during the event. You have never seen rain so hard or wind like this before.

I was glad that I've been going through Storm Spotter training. I knew what this was and was able to warn our secretary to get away from the windows before they exploded. This just as easily could have been a small tornado that popped down without warning and the action we took would have been just a little different. Instead of behind the divider, we would have gone into the hallway, below the attic fan that was blown up into the attic.

I sure never thought the storms would come looking for me like this. I always say that Storm Spotting is 90% boredom and about 10% sheer terror. That covers a good chunk of that 10% terror for awhile. Ahhhh, life in Tornado Alley.
Red Dog
Storm Spotter

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