On June 15, in the town of Winnsboro, like many surrounding towns nearby, the local Facebook pages were alight with their usual chatter and gossip. "Mcdonald's messed up my order," "What's that smell?", "There is a cow out on 312". Little did everyone know that the chatter would be much different in the next few hours.
In the early morning hours of June 16, 2023, a storm was being followed closely on the radar. Another storm before this one had hit the town of Perryton, Texas, producing Tornadoes and wreaking havoc in Oklahoma. Conditions were right for this storm to have the same potential. Record-breaking hail, high winds, and heavy rain. It was living up to its potential as it moved through the DFW area. Baseball and above-sized hail was already being shown on social media, and the storm was headed East! As a weather enthusiast, I was very interested in the storm and noticed a strange shape forming; there was a bow echo, a large one. It was no normal thunderstorm; it was becoming a Derecho!
What is a Derecho?
Derecho is Spanish for straight. It is an extremely rare but strong storm that can last hundreds of miles. A storm often has straight-line wind damage, but a Derecho is different.
It's been described as a "wall of wind," which can be, and in this case was, devastating. The damage can be similar to a tornado or hurricane but extends much further. It's even more dangerous when there is no tornado associated with it, as it does not often come with a warning. The winds must top 57.5 miles an hour to qualify as a Derecho. The winds in Winnsboro were clocked at 98 -112 miles an hour! Devastating indeed!
Winnsboro Comes together
Immediately first responders were on the case. Clearing roads and checking on people who had damage. The count of people in the area without electricity topped 200,000. This was not going to be an easy clean-up!
Citizens of The areas hit suddenly cared less about petty differences. Neighbors began calling one another and making sure everyone was ok. People went out before daylight to check on elderly and infirm friends. At 1:00 in the morning, I went to check on someone, and there were already people with chainsaws cutting away trees from the highway.
As daylight approached, Winnsboro VFD was already making sure damaged houses had no trapped occupants and clearing the most damaged areas.
Downtown merchants were in town before dawn to check their own buildings and help those with damaged buildings start to clean up. Franklin Street, for example, had a road full of glass and debris from Carden Hall. The merchants were sweeping the streets and clearing the area. Everyone was helping! No one was complaining. The rest of the day, many people were helping one another come to terms with what had happened.
The following Days
The next seven days were a whirlwind of activities. The Winnsboro Fire Department did an excellent job of stepping up to the plate and getting the resources we needed. Several surrounding fire departments also came in to help with medical resources and manpower. Brookshires gave out free bags of Ice for several days. Most were without electricity for a week or more. It was eight days for us. The ability to get Ice to keep food and water cold daily was a lifesaver!
I cannot say enough about Winnsboros Volunteer Fire Department. They were amazing to watch as they coordinated disaster relief efforts. They got Winnsboro the needed help with food, water, and supplies. FEMA, Red Cross, The National Guard, and more were all there, providing hot food, water, Ice, cooling stations, and even boxes of rations without question or judgment, all thanks to the efforts of a COMPLETELY VOLUNTEER Fire department as well as the Winnsboro Police Department. Many Fire volunteers worked full-time jobs, came home, and then headed straight to the City hall to feed people or check on the elderly. It was truly amazing to watch.
The citizens of Winnsboro showed, for the most part, patience and concern for one another. After a few days, we were all exhausted, hot, and tired and still kept our wits about us. We understood that the clean-up would take time. The linemen were doing the best they could with what they had. Often they would get the electricity on at one location, and it would blow a transformer, and they would have to return. The linemen did an amazing job. Many were
sent from out of State and were not used to our extreme heat, but they braved it anyway. We did lose one lineman out of West Virginia. He was working near Marshall. Mad respect these guys!
Then there were the rest of us. We took chainsaws and tractors and got straight to work, helping without complaint.
Toward the end of the week, we got a water conservation notice. There were a few upset about this, but It will happen when the electricity goes out for a long enough time. The pumps cannot continue to pump for that long, so the city will live on whatever water is in the towers until it's gone. Thanks to the electric companies for getting those pumps rolling again. As everyone got their electricity back, we saw less and less needing outside help. Our little town had braved the storm! We could not have done this without each other. The kindness shown to our fellow citizens was an amazing sight to see!
I am truly proud to see everyone working hard and putting aside differences to get our little town working again, even in the face of destruction!
Our town is almost back to normal. Yesterday on Facebook, we were back to our old selves, "Mcdonald's got my order wrong!", "That restaurant is too high!" I can't see to get out of my driveway!" Yep, we are definitely back to normal! We did learn one thing from all of this: We care about one another, and kindness is the best way out of any situation.