Janice Hall Heck

Finding hope in a chaotic world…

Archive for the tag “Dan Skeldon”

Blame It on the Derecho

Late afternoon/early evening thunderstorms are common in Southern New Jersey in the summer during periods of hot and humid weather, but they don’t usually last long or cause any damage. They put on their light-and-sound show, drop a little rain, and blow over relatively quickly leaving much appreciated cooler air behind.

That was not the case on June 30, 2012, when a severe thunderstorm/wind system hit our area with disastrous results. Our local weatherman, Dan Skeldon, called it a derecho (duh-RAY’-choh).

A derecho is a fast-moving, wide-spread band of thunderstorms with wind gusts of more than 58 mph along a squall line of more than 240 miles. Derecho winds can exceed 100 mph and can cause extensive damage. This derecho reportedly was equivalent to that of an F-1 tornado.

Derecho is a Spanish word that means direct or straight.  In this case, it means straight winds as opposed to spinning and twisting winds as in tornados. Sustained winds of up to 50 mph-60 mph as well as groups of wind microbursts and downbursts (70 to 80 mph or more) pummeled the area. Local evidence shows that the wind bursts seemed to hop, skip, and jump over areas. Majestic pine trees in one area (Route 40 near Atlantic Ave.) snapped and splintered at various heights while the next block of trees appeared totally unscathed. This pattern repeated itself in many of the woodsy areas in Southern New Jersey.

The area of damage was widespread. Friends reported similar damage in Ohio. (See more reports and pictures of local damage in The Current of Mays Landing and The Press of Atlantic City.)

This storm formed in the Midwest and raced across fourteen states before hitting the Atlantic coast (New Jersey down through Richmond, VA) just thirteen hours later. Watch this hourly time lapse video of screen shots from  Weather Underground that shows the speed and direction of the storm movement. Notice how the storm intensified as it hit Southern New Jersey.


The derecho hit the Southern New Jersey area in the dead of night (1 am) with wind gusts over 70 mph. More than 200,000 Atlantic City Electric customers (40% of ACE customer base) lost power because of high winds, fallen trees and utility poles, and downed wires and transformers. We lost power in my neighborhood for almost six full days. My sister, thirty miles away, lost power for seven days.  All remaining communities had power restored by Sunday, July 8th, eight days after the derecho.

Property damage to cars and buildings was random but significant.  One resident of neighboring Egg Harbor Township was out in the storm on Main Street in Mays Landing when a tree fell on his car. Thankfully, he and his two passengers managed to get out of the car safely.

At least eleven roads had to be closed in our area, including Route 50, Main Street, the main route through Mays Landing, NJ.

Gas stations throughout the area were closed because of loss of electrical power. Our local WAWA opened up within a day of the storm running on a giant generator. Word spread fast in our neighborhood that WAWA had hot coffee and gas (sorry no deli) on Sunday morning. Our neighbor brought us coffee and donuts at 7:30 am! How’s that for service? (Thanks, Beni.)

This tree (below) blocked access to my sister’s house in Vineland, NJ. The fallen tree pulled down transformers, utility poles, and electric and telephone wires. Their street reopened six days later.

The worst effects of the storm were fatalities. Two children lost their lives when a tree crashed on their tent as they camped in Parvin State Park. Several other storm-related deaths occurred.

Because the storm essentially destroyed Memorial Park in downtown Mays Landing, our Hometown Celebration scheduled for June 30 had to be cancelled. Tents, tables, and chairs set up the previous evening blew away in the heavy winds. (We will now hold our big town event on July 28.)

We sustained only minor damage at my house. Two tree limbs fell in my backyard, but the birdfeeders remained intact.

We are thankful for the 1500 plus workers who arrived in convoys of electric utility and tree service trucks. We noticed license plates from Ohio, Pennslvania, and Maine, as well as many trucks from other areas of New Jersey. The utility companies have an agreement to help each other in emergencies, and it was amazing to see how well this worked.

Workers gathered by the hundreds at the Atlantic City Race Course in Mays Landing at mealtimes where they were fed by a catering company. They slept at night on the floors at the power-less Richard Stockton College. Local citizens picked up ice and bottled water at the AC Race course handed out by volunteers from the local Community Emergency Response Team.

And, of course, we all had to throw out everything in our refrigerators and freezers. The week became known as the “Great Refrigerator Clean-Out Week.”

Despite all the inconveniences of this past week, we all have a new word in our vocabulary and a new topic to discuss while sitting around the pool: derecho.

There was one other minor casualty of the derecho: my blog. Without my computer, I was not been able to post anything this past week. I blame that on the derecho! I’ll catch up this week, I promise. In the meantime, we are paying closer attention to thunderstorm warnings!

Relay for Life Wash-Out, Or Not

Our Ocean City, NJ, American Cancer Society Relay for Life,  June 22, 2012, was almost a complete wash-out weather-wise.

The local organizing committee worked hard to pull this event off, but lightning, thunder, and rain thwarted attempts to run the usual all-night Relay.

Volunteers started signing in Relay teams at 4 pm, but dark, threatening clouds hung in the sky above us. It was not a question of if it would rain, but when it would rain and for how long.

Local South Jersey Channel 40 weatherman hero, Dan Skeldon, warned that we would have intermittent thunderstorms and rain throughout the evening. Still, we signed in teams and watched the skies. We advised teams not to set up their tents, but a few intrepid groups managed to get theirs up despite the theatening weather.

Thunder and lightning flashes became more frequent, and the rains began, so we moved inside the Ocean City Civic Center to wait out the storm.

Photo by Cassandra Heck

The crowd inside dwindled a bit as some of the faint-hearted Relayers called it quits and left for home. The rest of us participated in the hastily reorganized, but memorable, opening ceremonies.

Within the hour, the rain abated, and Relayers began to walk the track. A number of teams (mostly the teens) put up their tents on the football field.

My team, the NJ Krewe du Kroey, departed for local headquarters a few blocks away at the first signs of thunder and lightning but made their way back to join me on the track as soon as the rain stopped. Several pansies members of the team decided to stay home and collect those long dormant dust bunnies under the beds that were now demanding immediate attention. Oh well, their loss.

The braver members of the NJ Krewe du Kroey

While the NJ Krewe du Kroey team dawdled in a warm, dry house, I talked with photographer Brian M Richards. At first, I thought he was with the The Press of Atlantic City, but when I talked to him, he revealed that as a volunteer event photographer, he goes to seven or eight Relays a year, takes pictures, and posts them online for the American Cancer Society (ACS) and Relay followers. You can find more pictures of the Ocean City Relay here.

Brian choked up, and his eyes reddened and filled with tears when I asked him why he went to so many Relay for Life events. “I have lost nineteen family members to cancer, including my mother, father, and youngest brother. Coming to Relay for Life and taking pictures helps me remember and honor them. Cancer is a terrible disease, and this is my way to fight against it.”

Later, I saw a familiar Relayer, Jimmy Walker, walking the track in his HOPE Relay for Life T-shirt. Each year we see Jimmy at the Ocean City Relay, and he faithfully walks all night long despite having to walk with a cane. Just his presence makes us smile and encourages us to complete more laps than we had originally planned to walk. We admire his stamina, his determination, and his loyalty to Relay for Life.

I asked Jimmy why he participates in Relay for Life, and he responded with a broad smile, “I do this because I want to encourage others in their fight against cancer.”

A primary function of the Relay for Life is to raise funds for cancer research. Each team gathers sponsors and donations before the Relay, but many also do on-site fundraisers. Our team planned to do face-painting, sell popcorn, and do the Great PheeBee Blueberry Funnel-Cake-in-the-Face-Fiasco-Fund-raiser. These on-site fund-raisers for the Krewe were #EpicFail, not because of lack of effort, but because that thunder and lightning storm kept battering us.  (Anyone have any ideas for what to do with 100 bags of popcorn we couldn’t sell?)

PheeBee in 2010 Fantastic Blueberry Funnel Cake Fund-raiser Fiasco

Because the Relay crowd had thinned out significantly, we decided to save that delicious blueberry funnel cake for another fund raising event. Then we thought we should just eat it on the spot. Hmmm. Where did it go?

Other teams had fund-raisers planned, too. Delicious looking sandwiches, cupcakes, and boardwalk pizza appeared for sale at tables around the track. Food always makes for a good fund-raiser.

One twelve-year-old boy designed a “Candyland” theme for his fund-raiser. This site was popular with the younger members of the NJ Krewe du Kroey who stopped by to ponder the choices. Ten pieces of candy for $1.00. What a deal and for a good cause besides! What parent (or grandparent) could argue with that?

MiMi and her stash of penny candy.

But the rain was not finished for the evening, and dark clouds once again rolled over the Ocean City High School football field and track. And once again, Relay activities moved inside the Civic Center for the remainder of the event.

While the rain definitely dampened the Relay, it could not snuff out the spirits of the Relayers. Talk has already started about next year’s Relay! Maybe you can join us. We have asked Dan Skeldon to reserve better weather for us.

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