September 7, 1998: Derecho

Today is a day of meteorological infamy and I am happy to have been able to have been a part of it.   Derechos are an extremely uncommon weather formation and today Upstate New York was hit by one of the most famous ever.  Known locally as the “Labor Day Storm” or elsewhere as the Syracuse Labor Day Derecho this event was so significant that Wikipedia has an entry about the storm and it is listed in the very small list of famous derechos to his the United States.  NOAA has a site dedicated to the storm as well.

I had the morning off from work and went in to the Wellesley Inn around eleven in the evening.  It was a perfectly normal day as far as the weather was concerned but shortly after I got to work that started to change very quickly.

I was on the phone with a friend who worked the same shift, the overnight audit, at the Super 8 on Lehigh Station Road in Henrietta just a couple miles south from where I was working in Brighton.  We were chatting about the normal industry events and exchanging shift information to speed things along.  I remember looking up from the desk and looking outside into the parking lot and I watched the weather change almost instantly from a calm to incredible wind and rain.  You could hear it shifting.  You couldn’t miss it.

Just as quickly as the weather changed everyone outside began running for cover and cars began to slide in the parking lot.  I asked the person on the other end of the phone, Bill I think his name was, if he was seeing the same thing and he said that something similar was happening down there.  I hung up the phone and ran to the front doors to watch the ensuing mayhem.  It was utter chaos as everything that wasn’t bolted down, and many things that were, began taking flight across the parking lot.  This was some serious wind.

I attempted to step outside but feared that the wind would rip the doors from my grasp and shatter them under the pressure so I kept them closed and locked unless someone tried to get in.

After not too long of a time a horrible noise came from the back hallway and I scrambled back there to inspect the situation.  I was met with a wall of rain in the middle of the long hallway that ran the length of the hotel!  The wind had torn open the windows and the pressure was so great that the rain wasn’t even hitting the floor for most of the length of the building.  Standing in the hallway was just like being outside.  The wind was so intense that it came down the hallway in a spiral.

It turned out to be a series of microbursts called a derecho and it did some serious damage from a bit west of Rochester through Syracuse and out to Utica.  There were a lot of people without power in the morning and the hotel filled up with people looking for a place to stay.

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