Wayne County Wanderings: The Storm of 2018

The newsroom lights first began to flicker just before three p.m. on Tuesday.

A few minutes later, the wind started to howl and I could hear rain pounding on the roof. Then, my computer crashed, followed almost immediately by the power going out for good.

And so I sat there awkwardly in the dark, my hands still poised in the air above a useless keyboard, while an historically nasty storm began ramping up all around me.

At the Window

As the hammering rain grew louder and the wind more insistent, I joined my co-workers at the front windows.

Just a quick glance at the sky was enough to see that things were about to get really ugly. Thunder rumbled, deep and dark. Lightning flashed, splitting the sky in two while ominous-looking ink-black clouds bore down on us.

Rain was now coming down in sheets, blowing from Church Street toward the river.

Several of us watched, transfixed, as two green plastic garbage cans came scurrying down the road. Incredibly, they remained upright, animated by the gusty wind … almost as if they were alive and running for their lives.

They made it all the way to Court Street before finally toppling over and spilling their contents … which was immediately snatched by the swirling wind and spread all over creation.

As the wind intensified even more, trees bowed down toward the ground and branches snapped on both sides of the street.

Shingles joined this macabre aerial dance, leaping off neighboring roofs into the maelstrom.

An eerie silence descended inside as we watched the storm unfold, separated from its wrath by only a pane of glass. Even our ever-present cell phones remained pocketed and forgotten for nearly 15 terrifying minutes.

When things finally started calming down, folks ventured cautiously outside to check on cars and begin assessing the damage.

Because it's in my nature as a journalist (either that or I'm crazy!), I donned my Mets pullover, grabbed an umbrella and headed out to see what I could see.

It wasn't pretty.

Below is the scientific information provided to us by the National Weather Service. After that, just a few personal observations from my journey through downtown Honesdale.

Tornadoes and Microbursts

Officials with the NWS were on scene Wednesday assessing the damage, interviewing witnesses and formulating reports.

Here are several of these reports, released by the NWS Thursday...

•Public Information Statement: A weak tornado touched down on the eastern shore of Keen Lake, Canaan Township, about
120 yards from the coastline.

Most of the damage observed with the tornado was noted near the touchdown point, where several (mostly) pine trees were snapped and uprooted.

Damage to homes in the area was also noted, as well as the loss of gutters and mesh screening for porches.

Minor roof damage was also seen, as trees were snapped along the path.

A weakly convergent path, and sporadic tree
damage, continued along the tornado's path before lifting in an open field just
under one-quarter of a mile east-southeast of its touchdown point.

The start location was East of Waymart. End location was two miles west of Prompton.

This was an EF-1 tornado with maximum wind speeds of 105 mph. The tornado's path width was 25 yard and the path length .21 miles.

•Public Information Statement 2: A Microburst occurred northwest of Waymart and proceeded to cause serious damage on a line through Prompton and Honesdale.

According to the NWS, a microburst is, “a localized column of sinking air (downdraft) within a thunderstorm. It is usually less than or equal to 2.5 miles in diameter. They can

cause extensive damage at the surface and can be life-threatening.”

Damage was first noted just northwest of Waymart, where several large branches were observed to have snapped in a thicket of mixed hardwood/softwood trees.

Trees continued to be either uprooted or snapped as the line continued moving eastward, with at least sporadic tree damage noted in a one mile wide swath along the damage path. Damage to barns was noted, with at least one poorly attached structure shifted in its entirety on its
foundation.

Power poles were snapped, with additional damage done to the roof
and/or facade of several buildings.

After producing damage at Prompton State Park, the Honesdale Golf Club lost 30 trees during the storm.

However, the most
significant damage was noted at a cemetery in Honesdale, where nearly 75 trees were estimated to have been lost near the end of the microburst.

The start location was near Waymart through Honesdale and Dyberry Twp. Estimated maximum wind speed was110 mph.

Its maximum path width was 1.25 miles and the path length was eight miles.

We Were Lucky

It didn't take long to figure out this was one of the worst storms of my life.

Power was out all over Honesdale. Branches were scattered all over town.

Impossibly large trees had been either ripped out of the ground or sheered off about 20 feet up the trunk.

Some of the wind gusts were so powerful that they yanked the roots right out of the earth, bringing ancient sections of heavy bluestone sidewalk with them.

Sadly, a significant number of these trees landed on cars, trucks, garages and houses. There was raw destruction everywhere I looked … and raw emotions scrawled on the tear-stained faces of those who'd witnessed it.

I talked with two women on a 13th Street porch. Both were shaken to the core, but okay. The back of their home had taken a direct hit from a toppled fir tree.

Less than a block away on East Street, I found an old friend standing in front of her daughter's house. It had also suffered a nasty blow from an uprooted tree, the garage crushed under its massive weight.

She was white as a ghost, cell phone clutched in her hand, tears streaming down her face. Luckily, her daughter hadn't been at home when the storm hit.

They'd be alright, but the damage to this house was obviously extensive.

North Main Street was impassable as a gigantic tree in Triangle Park had fallen, taking down wires on both sides of the road and smashing a pair of beautiful old homes.

Traffic was being re-routed around the downed power lines on North Main. A line of vehicles stretched the, bumper-to-bumper, up East Street all the way to the Fairgrounds.

Another friend tried three times to drive a carload of school-aged kids home, but had been foiled. She finally gave up, parked the car and led her little ones home on foot … smiling bravely all the way.

“We'll get there eventually,” she said.

Thank You!

There was absolutely no way I'd write this week's column without mentioning the dozens of police, firefighters, EMTs and first responders who leapt into action without a thought for their own safety.

These men and women are fearless and selfless.

They dropped whatever they were doing as soon as the storm hit. They jumped into their cars, police cruisers and fire trucks with just one thought in mind:

To offer help wherever it was needed.

We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Borough Police, Honesdale Volunteer Fire Companies, paramedics, emergency responders, EMTs, PPL workers, TV and phone repairmen … even just ordinary folks with axes and chainsaws who pitched in without even being asked.

Amazingly, there were no reports of death or serious injury. Police, fire fighters and emergency workers all reported that members of the public were incredibly patient and cooperative throughout the ordeal.

“Everyone's been great,” said one public servant, still drenched with rain and standing tall between a pair of flaming street flares. “And we appreciate it.”

I've often heard it said that disasters like this one bring out the best in folks.

Well, I saw that firsthand during my walk on Tuesday and I couldn't be prouder to be a member of this tight-knit little community.