Tell the truth. Before June 30 you never heard the word "derecho." Now, if you live in Atlantic or Cumberland counties, chances are you'll never forget it.
The Spanish word describes a broad, sustained wind storm that moves in a straight line, a kind of storm southern New Jersey was mostly unfamiliar with. We're more used to northeasters and hurricanes, storms that give lots of warning before they show up.
A year ago, there was plenty of warning as Hurricane Irene headed up the coast. Enough for authorities to call for an evacuation of all of Cape May County and parts of Atlantic County, enough for Gov. Chris Christie to famously call for people to "get the hell off the beach" and enough for the Governor's Office to request and receive a federal pre-landfall disaster declaration.
That planning meant that federal aid flowed into the area quickly after Irene, including aid to individuals to help pay the costs of evacuation and food lost in power outages, even though storm damage in South Jersey was much less than officials had feared.
The June 30 derecho was a different story. It showed up overnight, without warning. In 12 hours, a line of violent thunderstorms raced more than 700 miles from Indiana to the Atlantic Ocean, bringing violent winds that easily topped 80 mph and cut a path of destruction through Atlantic and Cumberland counties. Snapped trees and downed power lines left neighborhoods looking like war zones and left many residents without electricity for a week or more.
The June 30 storm, now classified as a super derecho, did much more damage to places like Vineland, Egg Harbor Township and Galloway Township than did Irene, which had reverted to a tropical storm as it hit New Jersey. But, in contrast to Irene, the federal government has refused to consider requests for disaster assistance by private homeowners and businesses.
That's partly due to Federal Emergency Management Agency rules, which place more emphasis on floodwaters than wind damage.
But there seems to be a perfect storm of irony here as well. Property owners who had no time to prepare for the super derecho are being penalized in part because government officials also had no time to prepare for it - such as requesting pre-approval for disaster aid. And, while money was readily available to help replace food that was lost when electricity went out for a few days after Irene, it is not available for people who were without power for much longer, during one of the hottest weeks of the year.
New Jersey's Office of Emergency Management is considering filing an appeal to try to overturn FEMA's decision. The state should file that appeal. And FEMA should be flexible enough to recognize that the victims of the derecho deserve the same help that people got after Irene.