Post-Derecho Takeaways: Think Ahead and Have a Long-Term Plan

On June 29, 2012, a derecho storm raced from northern Indiana to the southern Mid-Atlantic coast in just 12 hours, leaving a 700-mile trail of destruction and plunging an estimated five million people into darkness. Among them was Patrick Wingfield, who lives 20 miles outside Sistersville, West Virginia, a little piece of Americana on the Ohio River. Patrick shared his experience. 

Q: What happened when the storm hit?

Patrick: It was Friday evening about seven and hot. I was taking a turn cooking dinner. My wife was at the window remarking on how odd the clouds were. The wind started blowing stronger than any I have ever seen, and it got dark like the sun had set. Our power went out. But our Kohler generator had us up and running in 10 seconds. 

Q: Is a derecho just a massive thunderstorm? 

Patrick: It's big, all right, but it's mainly the wind – this one had little rain or thunder. It passed by within 45 minutes. I went outside and found a tree had fallen, and branches lay across the driveway. Some slight damage to our greenhouse. That was it. The news on TV said the winds hopped, skipped and jumped randomly, splintering some trees and power poles while it left others alone. Wind gusts were over 90 mph in some spots! Anyway, with the hum of our KOHLER generator in the background, we headed to bed. 

Q: Why do you have a standby generator?

Patrick: The number one thing was that we were on well water. In an outage, the pump would need power. In a rural area like this with miles of power lines running through wooded areas, line repair is going to be slow. This outage was for 160+ hours! But our propane-fueled 12 kW KOHLER powered the essentials — well pump, sump pump, lighting, refrigeration and television — for a week without a hiccup. 

Anyway, the next morning it was good to know that the fridge and freezer were cold, and I could make coffee. We got a call from an elderly neighbor. She needed water and some help with her husband who was recovering from knee surgery. I took water over, and she already had a portable up and running but her well pump wasn't on it. 

The news said repairs would probably take days, so my wife headed for the local grocery store. They only had enough generator power for emergency lights and the registers, so they were giving away water, ice and frozen foods. Only one gas station was open on generator power with a very long line — it was good to not have a gas-powered portable! We felt guilty that night watching the big screen and eating ice cream while thousands were doing without.

Q: You seem to know something about storms and outages.

Patrick: I'm kind of a weather buff and a retired generator technician. Worked for a large county government in Maryland. There were five of us maintaining about 200 generators from a number of manufacturers, including Kohler. So I was very familiar with Kohler. Well-built, reliable, good support. 

Q: What's your post-derecho takeaway? 

Patrick: Think ahead. Have a long-term plan. I saw a homemade sign on a main road: “16 days, no power, no water.” Don't forget water. The neighbors showered at our place. Have gratitude for what you have and share with those who don't.