All Kinds of Windstorms
Wind and windstorms have become part of our idiom (the way we speak), being used in figures of speech. A few examples are:
- "They went through the place like a whirlwind."
- "If I don"t get home soon, she"ll be Category 5."
- "It looks like a tornado hit this room."
- "He was buried in a blizzard of paperwork."
- "This crisis was a perfect storm."
- "This project faces a headwind."
Before modern meteorology with satellite images, Doppler radar, computer programs, and real-time communication, we didn"t know where the wind came from, what caused it, or when and where it would hit next. Some people thought the wind had a mind and will of its own. Modern science and technology has enabled us to figuratively "read the mind" of the wind (though we are sometimes wrong).
Now we can look at a map showing wind speed and direction along with lines of temperatures and air pressure. Maps can also track the projected paths of a hurricane, supercell, or winter storm. Our mobile phones can sound an alert when there"s a tornado warning for where we are.
In the Bible
The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes (John 3:8).
Terrors overtake him like a flood; in the night a whirlwind carries him off (Job 27:20).
"... and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you" (Job 1:19).
But soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land (Acts 27:14).
In the News
Dover, Ohio, September 14, 2008 - Halfway through a Sunday evening service, the power went out for a few seconds then came back on. It took several minutes for the mercury vapor lights to return to full brightness. Then the power went off and stayed off. The service was ended and congregants went outside, where it was still light, then started home. Some had to go around downed trees; some had to detour around blocked roads. The power in most places was out for days.
What happened? Tropical Storm Ike. As a hurricane, it hit the Gulf Coast just three days before, downgraded to a tropical storm with a 400-mile-plus radius, and headed north. As the leading edge of the storm spread over Lake Michigan, its winds regained hurricane force. Damage in Ohio was widespread and in places severe. "There were 370,000 outages in the state capital of Columbus."
Indiana, Ohio, and Alabama, January 11, 2020 - High winds and rain moved through Indiana and Ohio, and severe weather claimed 11 lives in Alabama. In Ohio, a tornado touched down near Troy, while about 100 miles away, strong winds blew the steeple and several bricks off a historic church in Portsmouth.
Lake Charles, Louisiana, August 27, 2020 - Hurricane Laura was a Category 4 storm when it struck the coast of Louisiana, centered on Lake Charles. Churches in the area were destroyed or heavily damaged. Many of these churches had been hit by Hurricane Rita 15 years earlier. Among the dead was the pastor of a church in Iota. COVID19 pandemic restrictions resulted in no shelters for hurricane evacuees.
Sugarcreek, Ohio, June 5, 2010 - A wedding at a church near Sugarcreek was interrupted when the power went out. A tornado warning was received, and everyone went to the basement hallway until an all-clear was sounded. An EF1 tornado had touched down in a nearby county. It tore into and through Sugarcreek, creating power outages and damaging roofs. This was the eleventh tornado in Tuscarawas County since 1950. The wedding resumed without power. Another tornado (the twelfth) skipped through nearby New Philadelphia on September 17.
Our special downloadable resource for March is Emergency Supply List Recommendations (Essential supplies to have on hand in a disaster or emergency event). Click *HERE* to get it. If you"re not already subscribed to our weekly updates and The Church Guardian (the monthly newsletter), this will sign you up.
More information is available in the Security Guide article "Preparing Your Church for Natural Disasters" and the Sheepdog Church Security training course Severe Weather and Natural Disasters.
Taking a Blow
For those who have suffered serious damage from a windstorm, "Taking a blow" is not just a pun. It is the reality of feeling like you"ve been punched. Just ask those who have lost their homes, their shopping places, their schools, their workplaces or businesses, and their places of worship. Most hurtful are suffering physical injury and loved ones and friends being killed.
As a Church Safety Ministry, we can"t prevent windstorms and the related lightning or hail. We can help church leadership know how to prevent or minimize damage from these weather events. More importantly, we can work toward making strong storms survivable for those inside. If the congregation is building a new structure or renovating/remodeling an existing one, storm survivability can be included in the design. Some improvements may be made to the present church building. The goal is taking the blow without injuries or lost lives.
From the items of equipment recommended for dealing with severe weather we are featuring the Midland WR300, Deluxe NOAA Emergency Weather Alert Radio. Its features are:
- S.A.M.E. Localized Programming,
- 60+ Emergency Alerts, &
- Alarm Clock w/ AM/FM Radio.
S.A.M E. means it can bring you weather reports and alerts specific to your location. This radio can also pick up other public emergency alerts, such as hazmat incidents, wildfires, etc. If it is on AM or FM radio, it will automatically switch to incoming alerts.
Kinds of Windstorms
There are several kinds of windstorms. They fall into four broad categories: Winter Storms, Thunderstorms, Desert Storms, and Cyclonic Storms.
The first three weeks of March are in Winter, so it is not surprising that most of us still have winter storms coming our way. For a Church Safety Ministry this means not putting snow shovels, snow blowers, and salt in storage until the end of the month.
Pacific Winter Storms originate as North Pacific Extratropical Storms that move inland and across the continent. They are usually moderately cold. Temperatures may get into single digits but usually bottom out in the teens. However, a moisture-laden ocean air mass delivers snow. It is common for church services to be cancelled at least a couple of times during the season in Northern and Mountain states. When services are held, Safety Team members need to keep outside walkways cleared and salted and be ready to assist people having a hard time walking outside.
Another type of winter storm is Arctic air masses moving south into the United States as Polar Vortexes (Alberta Clippers). When they come far enough south, they move east. However, those coming south into the Intermountain region (between the Cascades and the Rockies) may move west through low points in the Cascades - such as Snoqualmie Pass and the Columbia Gorge - and hit west side communities, such as Seattle or Portland. A Polar Vortex brings extreme cold. States in the Northern Plains are especially likely to have very low temperatures.
Thunderstorms are usually in season mid-Spring to mid-Fall in the North and year-long in the South. They are also more diverse in their manifestations - lightning, hail, tornadoes, downbursts, derechos, and flash floods - and are potentially very destructive, more so collectively than all but the most severe hurricanes. For one thing, they are more common and widespread. For another thing, tornadoes have such concentrated power, followed by derechos (intense, long-lasting, straight-line winds).
Lightning and Hail
Damage from lightning and hail is not very common but does happen. Lightning often goes straight to the ground from lightning rods on the roof of a church. However, the grounding cable should be firmly connected to the ground rod. This should be checked on patrols following lawn care since they can be damaged by mowers. Then too, some lightning strikes may have more energy than the lightning rods can handle. Church fires have started by lightning.
Lightning damage to electrical systems and electronics is more common. A direct strike is not needed, just one close enough to send a strong surge through electric lines. Have surge suppression in place to protect sensitive equipment. Also, back up vital church data to non-magnetic removable data storage, such as CDs and DVDs.
A hailstorm can damage roofs and vehicles. Have damaged roofs fixed to prevent leakage and water damage.
Tornadoes, also called cyclones and whirlwinds, are often deadly. Church design can minimize damage from all but the strongest tornadoes. More important is having and identifying areas which can be used as storm shelters. Suitable shelters are interior spaces (no outside walls) with no windows that have a narrow, sturdy ceiling, strong walls, and an inner-opening door which can be barred. Ideally, this is a basement corridor and restrooms. Even better are basement classrooms extending into the ground (when the church is built on a slope).
A derecho [deh-RAY-cho] is a long-lasting strong wind spawned by a thunderstorm supercell. It can extend for miles bringing damage as severe as an EF0 or EF1 tornado. The damage is all in one direction instead of circular.
Desert Storms and Winds
Desert storms include dust storms and sandstorms (which differ by the content of carried material). Sandstorms can erode building and vehicle surfaces. Dust storms can force dust through door jams and window casings if they"re not tight enough. Haboobs (named after similar storms in Sudan) are giant dust storms with dust clouds up to 8,000 feet high moving as a giant wall. They "occur when winds from dying thunderstorms push downward and pick up sand and dirt across desert areas." In the U.S. they usually form in the Phoenix, AZ, area.
Further west, hot winds seasonally blow from deserts through the mountains into western California and southwestern Oregon. They can dry crops and bring extreme temperatures, and sometimes whip small fires into firestorms.
These are the largest storms on the planet, often hundreds of miles wide. They are called cyclones after the smaller cyclones (tornadoes) because of their rotation. The wind speed increases closer to the center of the cyclonic system and is at its maximum in the eye wall. The eye itself is calm air.
Cyclonic systems may be tropical, subtropical, or extratropical depending on where they form. For instance, Hawaii is in the tropics, Florida is in the North Subtropical Zone, and the Mid-Atlantic states are in the Temperate Zone. Alaska stretches from the Temperate Zone through the Sub-Arctic, to the Arctic Zone.
Cyclonic systems are labeled for their wind strength: Depression, Storm, Hurricane. The top-level tropical system is called a hurricane if it forms in the Atlantic Ocean or the northeastern Pacific Ocean, a typhoon if in the northwestern Pacific Ocean, and a cyclone if in the Indian Ocean. Both hurricanes and typhoons have hit Hawaii.
Cyclonic systems form when warm and cool air and/or water currents meet. Tropical systems draw strength from warm ocean waters.
Hurricane season in the United States usually runs from June to October, but can begin as early as May and last into December. Hurricanes and tropical storms make landfall in Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, Gulf Coast and Atlantic states, and Hawaii. Rarely does the remnant of a Pacific hurricane reach California. The major threats from a hurricane are high winds, storm surges, massive rain, and tornadoes. Most casualties are by flooding from storm surges and rain, though falling trees and downed power lines have killed many.
How can a Church Safety Ministry save lives in a hurricane?
Days before, when the community is in the projected path of the storm, prepare the congregation for evacuation. Urge them to evacuate in time. Arrange help for those who cannot evacuate on their own. Plan where the church can regroup in safety to account for each member and notify others that they are OK. Board up windows to minimize damage.
If the church is not in a target community, but close enough to where evacuees go, it may offer shelter for them. Have enough supplies to provide food, water, hygienic needs, sanitation, and sleeping places for several days. Be ready to treat injuries and respond to medical events.
Make it an ongoing practice to safeguard church records. Considering the possible damage from a direct hit, this includes duplicate records off-site, preferably in a place safer from hurricanes, such as a bank vault, or electronically in another state. It would require a lot of work to load file boxes into a van for evacuation.
These are called nor"easters because leading winds come from the northeast. They are extratropical cyclonic storms which form within 100 miles of the Atlantic coast where the warm Gulf Stream and cold water meet. Like tropical systems, they can be more than 200 miles wide and can do a lot of damage on coastal communities.
When nor"easters form in Winter (they can come in March), their effects can include blizzards. A nor"easter may merge with a Winter storm crossing the continent or an Icelandic-Greenland Cyclone, forming a super storm. Preparing for a nor"easter is a combination of preparing for a winter storm and a hurricane at the same time.
This is like a nor"easter, except it comes from the northeast in the North Atlantic. The Icelandic Low between Iceland and Greenland where cold and warm water meet is the beginning point for these cyclones, which then move southwest toward the Maritime Provinces and New England. Prepare for this as you would for a nor"easter. Weather forecasts usually call these nor"easters.
A Church Safety Ministry needs to know what kinds of windstorms may come in their location and how likely they are, then prepare to protect the flock before, during, and after the storm.
There Is More
The other three articles in this series on Dealing with Severe Weather and Disasters are "Heat & Cold, Flood & Drought" (Extreme Conditions), "On Shaky Ground" (Tectonic Disasters and Other Geologic Events), and "By Human Hands" (Man-Made Disasters). The Closer Look article is "The 2002 Our Lady of Peace Church Shooting."
- Kris Moloney, "Severe Weather and Natural Disasters v3," Sheepdog Church Security Training Courses: Training Materials (Classroom) [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/severe-weather-and-natural-disasters-training-bundle]; Individual Training (Online) [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/severe-weather-and-natural-disasters].
- "Effects of Hurricane Ike in inland North America," Wikipedia [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Effects_of_Hurricane_Ike_in_inland_North_America].
- John Futty and Mark Ferenchik, "Repairs could take a week: AEP workers rushing back from Texas, but damage called unprecedented," Columbus Dispatch, September 16, 2008 [https://archive.vn/20120731070447/http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2008/09/15/A1_wind_placeholder.ART_ART_09-15-08_A1_VOBB1TM.html].
- Brie Stimson, "Ohio church damaged as high winds, rain batter state," Fox News, January 12, 2020 [https://www.foxnews.com/us/severe-storms-in-ohio-damage-homes-down-trees].
- Diana Chandler, "1 pastor dead, Cameron flooded, many churches damaged by Laura," Kentucky Today, August 31, 2020 [https://www.kentuckytoday.com/stories/1-pastor-dead-cameron-flooded-many-churches-damaged-by-laura,27722].
- Staff, "June 5-6, 2010 Tornadoes Hit Northern Ohio and Northwest PA," National Weather Service, June 6, 2010 [https://www.weather.gov/cle/event_20100605_tornadoes].
- Jon Baker, "Tornadoes past in Tuscarawas County," Times-Reporter, July 5, 2010 [https://www.timesreporter.com/article/20100705/NEWS/307059972].
- Lee Morrison and Joe Mizer, "Tornado hits Phila area," Times-Reporter, September 17, 2010 [https://www.timesreporter.com/article/20100917/NEWS/309179845].
- Kris Moloney, "Emergency Supply List Recommendations (Essential supplies to have on hand in a disaster or emergency event)" Sheepdog Church Security [https://sheepdog-church-security.ck.page/35d259d229].
- Kris Moloney, "Preparing Your Church for Natural Disasters" Security Guide, Sheepdog Church Security [https://sheepdogchurchsecurity.net/severe-weather-preparedness].
- "Midland - WR300, Deluxe NOAA Emergency Weather Alert Radio," Sheepdog Church Security Store (Recommended Equipment for Safety Ministries) on Amazon [https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00009V2YV?ref=exp_instructor_moloney_dp_vv_d].
- "Thunderstorm," Wikipedia [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thunderstorm].
- Staff, "Tornado Basics," Severe Weather 101, NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory, no date [https://www.nssl.noaa.gov/education/svrwx101/tornadoes/].
- Louisville Staff, "Derecho," National Weather Service, no date [https://www.weather.gov/lmk/derecho].
- Staff, Louisville Weather Forecast Office, "Derecho," National Weather Service, no date [https://www.weather.gov/lmk/derecho].
- Matt Daniel and Deborah Byrd, "What are haboobs? Amazing pics and videos," EarthSky, September 26, 2018 [https://earthsky.org/earth/what-are-haboobs-amazing-pics-and-videos].
- "Cyclone," Wikipedia [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyclone].
- "Nor'easter" Wikipedia [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nor%27easter].