Inaugural Day Storm of 1993.
Winlock, Washington, Inaugural Day Storm of 1993.
As a child, the earliest memories I have are all of catastrophic events, horrible, debilitating calamities that may have cost any number of lives had they gone wrong. My first living memory is of myself choking on a piece of candy at the age of three, my mom still holding my newborn baby brother. My dad picked me up and hit my back hard enough to bruise to clear my throat. I still remember the feeling of utter helplessness and I didn’t eat another hard candy until I was almost ten.
When you’re a child though, memory tends to be shoddy. It will jump around on you, skipping from one era to the next, recalling the smallest details of a day 20 years ago without the larger details that make it matter. Such is the case of the Inaugural Day Storm of 1993.
I was in grade school at the time, having just recently moved to a new home in the backwater rural oasis that was Winlock, Washington. My father was given a well drilling business as a gift from his mom’s new fiancé and the result was a decently sized home and about five acres of property, the most space my family ever had growing up. We would live there for almost five years before moving back to Seattle and the city life in which we all grew up.
It was that first year though, with the largest storm I’ve ever experienced first hand that I remember most vividly. It wasn’t a hurricane or a tornado, and it surely wasn’t on par with some of the great natural disasters that strike our nation every year, but for an 8 year old it was almost impalpable how scary 100 mph gusts of wind can be when you’re all alone.
The storm struck while I was still at school, still a relatively new addition to the Mrs. Turner’s small 3rd grade class – the new kid, still with very few friends, and fewer notions of the town in which I now lived. Our home was in the hills, a good five miles from downtown where the school was located, and so when the word came that parents should pick up their children before noon, mine were too far to hear that that was the case. The storm struck and we were stranded in the classroom, at least 10 of us whose parents could not reach the school in time. As we sat under the brick roofed compound, wind howling though the gaps, scaring one girl to tears, I watched in wonderment as TV antennas, plastic kiddie pools, and pieces of fence flew by the school’s window.
From within that belly of our daily prison we watched as the town was torn apart, debris littered across the street, listening to the radio over the school’s intercom for a half hour until the power finally went out.
After two hours of the strongest winds, we were finally loaded onto a bus, given the emergency kits that our parents so carefully packed for us on the first day of class and toted home. My brother at the time was in kindergarten, only five years old and was entrusted to me by a school that could hardly keep itself together let alone its students. Our bus ride was often a trip of more than 45 minutes, the route taken winding in concentric circles outward until it finally reached the dirt road that led to our house, five miles away.
That day, as roads were closed, powerlines downed and trees blocking the bus’s path, it took almost 2 hours, and with the majority of radios not working, the bus driver had no way of telling the sheds that he was running so late.
When my brother and I were finally dropped off at the end of our half mile dirt road, the wind was blowing at almost the same strength as when I sat watching from my classroom. An eight and a five year old trudged along slowly and carefully, all the while staring up at the booming groves of evergreens on either side that swayed to and fro, bending precariously against the wind, promising to snap at the base at any second. Whenever the wind died down a bit we would run, as fast as we could until it was too hard once more to run.
Our house, at the very end of the road, on the back right corner and down a long dusty driveway was still intact, but when we arrived our parents were no where to be seen. They had gone looking for us, and at that very moment were at the elementary school yelling angrily at a principal whose sole job was to see to her students’ safety, something my mother let her know she’d failed at.
As we huddled into the darkened corridors of our house, waiting for our parents – this was before cell phones were such common fare – I wondered how long it would last. I wasn’t scared, but my brother was crying all along, and the house was bending inward from the force of the nature’s bad day. Fences were torn apart, our shed flipped into the neighbor’s yard, and three foot section of paneling torn from the roof of our barn, threatening to spread. At one point a pointed thud signaled the contact of a wheelbarrow with the side of our house.
For another hour we sat in that house and waited, until our parents finally arrived and assured us we would most likely survive.
The experience, however safely we came out of it, bred in me a solid respect for the power of nature and to generally fear and respect any storm of that magnitude. Since then, I’ve only witnessed one other such storm, sizably less dangerous with age on my side to counter it, and the raw destructiveness of other storms in New Orleans and Florida in recent years with which to compare it. But, I’ll still never forget those few hours in solitude, trying to calm down a five year and hoping my parents would be home soon.