'We got lucky': Former Grand Forks Air Force Base resident recalls weathering Hurricane Irma’s wrath
From raging prairie blizzards in Grand Forks to tornadoes in Missouri and 50 below zero in Alaska, Rich Thorpe has weathered Mother Nature's wrath in many forms during his 24-year military career.
He now can add hurricanes to the list.
Thorpe, 42, his wife, Lisa, and kids Brecken, 10, and Katie 7, were without power Monday afternoon but otherwise fine after Hurricane Irma roared through the Tampa, Fla., area Sunday night.
Their rental home in Hillsborough County, about 25 miles east of Tampa, came through the hurricane relatively unscathed while the family hunkered in an interior bedroom when the worst of the storm hit their neighborhood about 9:30 p.m. Sunday.
That's when the wind started blowing down large tree branches, Thorpe said. They lost power about half an hour later.
"We had some pretty good tree damage," he said Monday afternoon. "Needless to say, a few of us didn't sleep much last night. It was pretty intense, man. It was crazy."
A senior master sergeant and dental squadron superintendent at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Thorpe transferred in July from Eielson AFB near Fairbanks, Alaska. He was stationed at Grand Forks Air Force Base from 2004 until 2010 and still has friends in the area.
Thorpe figures the brunt of the hurricane came through about 2 a.m., because that's when he noticed pressure building up in his ears, similar to the popping sensation air travelers experience.
"You try not to think of it, but every time one of those big, huge limbs would land on the house, I think sporadically we all woke up," Thorpe said. "And then you would hear the howling winds and feel the popping of the ears and that pressure building up.
"I'm pretty sure the eye went through right where we're at."
Flooding wasn't a concern because their neighborhood sits at one of the highest points in the county, Thorpe said.
By Monday afternoon, the sun was shining, the windows were open, and the family had piled up most of the branches that fell from a huge oak tree in the front yard. The house had running water and working toilets, but Thorpe said he didn't know when power would be restored or when he'd go back to work on base.
"It's long gone by now and you're just seeing the occasional wind flows coming through, which feels pretty good," Thorpe said. "We've got enough food," we've got enough water.
"Thankfully, we got lucky this time."