HURRICANE! The Big Blow and Other Breezy Tales 

... Storms I have endured.

Russ Priestley

My first experience with a significant storm came in 1938. I was coming home from high school football practice, somewhere near dusk, fighting the strong winds. All of a sudden I noted that trees were starting to fall across my path. Not having been home since early morning, I did not know that the weather bureau was tracking the path of a hurricane...something which New England had never been subjected to, at least in my lifetime.

 On reaching home, I was told by my mother that a hurricane was headed for our area. We listened to the radio news until the power lines were severed and we had no battery-powered means of communication. It was many days before crews could restore electricity to our home. Newspapers sold like hot cakes the next morning. It was then we realized what we had been through...our first hurricane.

Not until I was a pilot in the Army Air Corps and on Guam did I encounter similar storms, except in the Pacific they are termed Typhoons. The procedure then was to tie down all the planes, get out of the tents or barracks and repair (a favorite term in the military, meaning to go or betake oneself elsewhere) to one of the giant hangars, set-up folding cots elbow to elbow and wait out the storm. This one proved to be more wait than wind.

 Nevertheless, a short time later, after piloting a cargo plane to Iwo Jima with supplies for the crews of the P-51s that accompanied B-29s to bomb Japan, we were preparing to return to Guam when the Operations Tent informed us a typhoon was headed our way and we could not take off. Instead we were issued a tent and a stack of burlap bags. We had to "hunker down" for the big blow. Iwo was the largest of a string of volcanic islands, eight square miles of volcanic dust. Because of its location, it had to be taken as a stepping stone to aid in the bombing of Japan, but it cost the lives of 6,821 and 21,000 casualties, mostly U.S. Marines. Filling the bags was no problem because of all that dust, but securing a tent was a problem. Again, I survived this one.

Later, in civilian the early 60's, I think, my mettle was to be tested again when a big blow hit this city and a falling tree ripped off the electric line to my home. The homes on each side survived and did not lose electricity. In this instance, one of the neighbors let us run an extension cord to their house so that we would not lose the food in our deep freeze. Otherwise, it was candles, a kerosene lamp and flashlights, plus a fireplace for heat and some cooking.

 Perhaps the most memorable storm was the blizzard of '78. It took me eight hours to get home by commuter rail from my Boston studio. Many cars were stranded on the Interstate Highways, as well as on most secondary roads. It snowed all night, but I don't recall the official depth of the snow. In the morning I could not open the front door because the snow was packed against the door. My home is a ranch style so I just opened a window, floundered through the snow to my garage and got a snow shovel to free ourselves. There was no electricity for days after this one, but we had an ample supply of wood for the fireplace to give us heat. Along with this there was no means of transportation to utilize, as the roads were not plowed. Ironically, we had two sons in Arizona who wired us for money. We had to walk to Malden, about three miles each way, on the unplowed streets to get to the Western Union office where we wired some money to our sons...broke, but basking in the sun of Arizona.  

September 1, 2000

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