A year after an enormous windstorm blew across America and added the word "derecho" to the vocabulary of West Virginians, the governor's office released a report on the state's response.
Some state agencies with emergency responsibilities either did not follow through or lacked necessary knowledge to fulfill their responsibilities, the report says. Other agencies wanted to help but were not utilized. But the report does not name which agencies failed and in what way.
The 2012 derecho was a storm like nothing in anyone's memory here. On the radar, it was as large as the state. West Virginians are unaccustomed to windstorms that skip over mountains like they weren't even there. The storm gathered west of Chicago and barreled east at 75 miles an hour -- moving straight ahead, not circularly, hence its Spanish name meaning "direct." More than 680,000 customers lost power across the state. The storm was followed by relentless, oppressive, potentially lethal heat.
While details of this storm were severe and unusual, it is hardly the first weather-related emergency West Virginians have ever seen. So why were some state departments unable to meet their responsibilities? Why, at this late date, does it appear that West Virginians are just discovering that when the electricity goes out, it is difficult to communicate immediate updates to residents? Or that fuel pumps don't work?
In the state report, the page on "Fuel Access" is a particular piece of circular nonsense. "Contrary to popular belief, there was not a gasoline shortage in West Virginia," the report says. Then in a footnote, it says, "A real shortage did exist in some locations where stations were overwhelmed because of the panic. In these locations, the panic caused the shortage."
The derecho exposed how vulnerable modern society is during a power outage. Stores with plenty of food that people wanted to buy closed because merchants could not transact business without electricity. Gas stations with plenty of gas closed because they had no power to pump it.Indications are that unusual and extreme weather events are the new normal. That means West Virginians -- in both the public and private sectors -- had better make plans on calm days, when the lights are on.