Aug 16, 2019

Posted by in Life & Musings | 0 Comments

TERRIFYING: Mother Nature in all Her Glory

This weekend was supposed to be the annual Timeline event at the Schuyler Flatts Memorial Park in Menands, NY. This is our favorite event that we’ve done the past few years, and the people there are always top-notch. We really look forward to this one.

Oddly enough this week Pete and I just could not get motivated to do anything for it. We didn’t want to pack, we didn’t want to sew, just… no motivation. It was like we were running on a different timeline where the event wasn’t going to be for another couple of weeks so we just weren’t in any kind of rush, if that makes sense. It wasn’t even like it “snuck up” on us, we literally felt like it wasn’t the right time, we weren’t meant to be there, etc. Apparently, we weren’t.

Pete arrived ahead of me because I had a massage to give, and basically got the encampment set up with some of the other guys. I was bringing up the rear with some extra drinks, and 33 dozen cookies I had baked this week in anticipation of this event. I arrived, made the rounds saying hello to everyone, meeting new faces, and now starting to get excited. I did notice though that unlike most events, no one was rushing to get into garb. Usually everyone likes Friday night to be the night that it’s just for us. The pre-party. I didn’t think too much of it though because it was super muggy, and I figured folks just didn’t want to be bothered. No big deal.

Around 6pm we started to see clouds rolling in, and could hear the thunder in the distance. Not long after we also started to see some lightning. This is also not unusual, it’s August and storms happen. We did our typical, get the metal and fabrics in under the sunfly, and prepare to say in a covered location to stay dry.

Sure enough, in rolls the rain. We adjust the sunfly to shed water, and just sit enjoying the cooler breeze and chatting. I’d say maybe 10min into this I start to feel a bit chilly, and the wind really starts to pick up. Still, nothing we aren’t used to with a storm. It’ll pass.

I had no longer finished that thought when the sunfly was coming at my face! We grapple with it, and with three of us holding onto it for dear life (including myself, thank you pole dancing for the upper body strength and martial arts for knowing how to brace myself) to keep it from flying in further, Pete and two of the other guys work to restake the rope that let loose, and get another pole up to replace the one that broke. Mind you, our poles are trees. They’re about 2″ in diameter thick hardwood trees that we took down to act as our poles, to be a bit more period correct.

With it re-staked we resumed some conversation and were grateful for the sunfly because it had started to hail, when it came loose again. This time however it wasn’t just the sunfly coming at us, it was the table, the chairs, everything. Everything was flying! I know I let out a yelp of a scream, and over the noise of the area I heard Pete say to make a run for cover. I asked if he meant the bus and he said yes. The bus however was across a decent sized field (about 1,000 ft according to a rough estimate off Google Maps), which meant we had a lot of ground to cover.

We took off running, blindly, in the direction of the bus. It was raining and hailing so hard, plus thundering and lighting, and I know something happened on my run because I remember letting out another of those yelps instinctively. It was a whiteout from the rain and hail whipping so hard, and on top of that it was getting in my face and eyes so bad I literally feared I was going to lose my contacts. They did slip off my eyes, so I was blurred even worse than just the weather.

Thankfully, we made it to the bus, completely soaked. We were soaked before we started running, but we were really soaked now. It was like in the cartoons, where someone comes in from the rain and there’s an immediate puddle below them. That was exactly how it was when we got in the bus. I almost couldn’t open the door against the wind.

Once inside we toweled dry and found dry clothing to wear. Of course this was the one time I didn’t bring spare clothing, and was intending to wear home what I wore there today so I only had my Viking era garb. So be it, it was better than wet clothing, on it went. We weren’t in the bus five minutes when the rain and wind and thunder stopped, and the sun came out. As quick as it came on, it was over. So we headed outside to survey the damage.

It was shocking to walk back outside. Utterly shocking. Massive limbs were down from trees, the Civil War encampment was decimated, the giant circus tent that was being rented as an overall escape for anyone (and where we’d have a community dinner on Saturday night) was down because the giant railroad spike tent stakes had been ripped up almost totally out of the ground, and I believe some ropes snapped. We could see in the distance that the sunfly was off to the side, the geteld was down, and one of the saxon wedges was down. First we had to stop and see the event coordinators in the Civil War encampment though.

The question was brought up on if we stay or cancel the event. There were a lot of mixed feelings, naturally. Some people had sustained some serious damage, but others had driven a really long way (like Ohio and even Canada) to join us. Do we leave it up to individuals? What do we do. There was a small chance for more rain in the forecast, and there was a concern that it could also develop into a bad storm. Ultimately, the coordinators made the tough decision to cancel, because we had been lucky that no one was seriously injured this time around; if another storm of that magnitude came in we might not have the same luck. So we went over to our guys to tell them the news, and started to pick up the pieces.

At this point Pete and I were planning to stay the night, let things have a bit of time to air dry, and we’d leisurely pack up in the morning when it wasn’t starting to get dark. It’d be easier that way. So while he was doing this, I gathered some of the cookies I had made in a bowl, and I started making the rounds to offer people moral support in the form of baked goods.

During this time pizza arrived for us, and we all wandered over to get some. Well, except the Native American encampment since they didn’t even lose their fire in this somehow, let alone their tents. They were hooting and hollering and having a grand ol’ time during the storm, while making venison. Unbelievable. LOL While we were eating though we noticed the fire chief driving around, lights on, surveying the field. Reenactors who have been in the hobby for over 20 years were saying they had seen a lot of bad storms, but nothing like this. I believe it, the damage was just unbelievable.

Went back to our own encampment after eating, watching this guy drive in circles essentially, while we tried to make a game plan on what to do. That’s when Pat, one of the coordinators for the event, came over to let us know he had just spoken to the fire chief.

The first thing he told us was that we had an unconfirmed touchdown. Not in the field itself, but nearby and we caught the edge of it. So what we had just gone through, right out in the elements, was either a microburst or a tornado. A tornado! I couldn’t even tell you which because it was so loud my brain doesn’t remember the sound, and you couldn’t see anyways to know if the sky changed color. That explains the extensive damage though, and why massive tent stakes were ripped up and out of the ground.

The second thing he told us made us change our plans. There was another band of storms heading our way out of the west, due to hit around midnight, that had the potential of being just as severe as what we just witnessed. There was a brief pause as we all digested this new information, and in light of this we decided that we were going home.

Everything was wet. Things were broken, including my loom (I’m so sad about this because Pete made it for me, even though he can make another it’s still sad). There were minor injuries, but they were starting to show. Our pillows got damp because a roof hatch wasn’t closed in the back of the bus (trying to vent heat). It just wasn’t worth trying to stay. So, as the sun was setting we started getting things packed away as best we could to load back up and take home.

We arrived home finally around 10:30pm, and watched the lightning as we came down the highway. Being that we were tired and wet and had just experienced Mother Nature’s wrath full-force, it wasn’t as exciting as we might have otherwise found it.

Once home, with the adrenaline finally wearing off, the real aches and pains started. Pete has a nasty hematoma on his left thigh, outside area. It’s large and welted right up, and starting to bruise in all sorts of colors. He had a little bump on his head, but nothing too major. Originally I thought I escaped relatively unscathed, but now I was starting to feel my right foot was sore and has a bit of a bump on it, and I have little red marks where I must have caught some stuff on my legs. My wrists are pretty sore, and I’m sure in the morning even more is going to present itself. All things considered, we got off easy. Likely when everything went flying we probably got struck with items or ropes, but since we were moving to get out of the way it likely mitigated the damage.

Thankfully no one on site at the time was seriously injured. Everyone walked away from this, no vehicles were caught in the crossfire, and all any of us have to repair are some tents or sunflies. We got off extremely lucky considering what we went through. By all rights the damage and the injuries could have been much, much worse.

In the moment, with the adrenaline going, it didn’t see terrifying at all. Now that I’m sitting, looking back at it, it’s extremely terrifying! Like my worst nightmares come to life! I can’t even accurately describe what it truly was like to go through it. I know these words do not do justice to this event. It was absolutely insane. I never want to be witness to Mother Nature in this way ever again.

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