01 August 2005

- The Weather -

Running2k has a really interesting post about the pleasures of bad weather. Growing up in Minnesota, I know well the "pleasures" of blizzards—the howling wind, the icy roads that can quickly turn driving into a demolition derby, the phalanx of snow plows driving down the interstate breaking up the immense drifts that quickly form. I have so many memories of blizzards that I could go on forever—doing a full 360 on the interstate, winding up on the side of the road, with nobody hurt and the car able to go on its way; 18 inches of snow one night that took two full days for street crews to clear, only to be hit that night with another storm that dumped 24 inches; snow in the front yard that went higher than 6 feet and 10 feet out next to the street, where the snow plows dump their snow——but the blizzard I most remember happen when I was living in Indiana.

Now, the part of Indiana I lived in is not really prepared for large amounts of snow, relying on the sun to do most of the road clearing. But that wasn't the worst of it. No, the houses are not really insulated for cold temperatures, and the house we lived in was leakier than most. So one night, an artic cold front came through, pushing temperatures down to record lows— -34°F. The cats and I (Spouse was off at a conference) spent the night huddled directly over the heating grate closest to the furnace with heavy blankets on—and it was still cold, cold, damn, damn cold. It really made me nostalgic for those Minnesota blizzards...

On the opposite extreme, I've seen a tornado once and funnel clouds more than once. Southern Indiana, of course, has extremely impressive thunderstorms and gets its fair share of tornados. Though they stayed away from our immediate vicinity, we had three small ones hit the town we lived in while we were there, and I did see any number of funnel clouds. In Minnesota, however, I actually experienced one first hand.

For those of you who have not had the the joy of experiencing one, tornadic weather is very creepy, the whole air feels funny, very heavy, sometimes with cool drafts shooting through it. During the day, the sky looks weird, usually a strange grey or black, with definite overtones of a sickly green.

The tornado I experienced is perhaps the most bizarre spectacle I've witnessed in my entire life. I was about 12, and Dad and I were on our way to play golf. As we drove toward the course, the sky looked stranger and stranger. Then, we spotted a potential funnel cloud, so we turned around and headed home. Just as we arrived in the driveway, the sirens went off, and we took cover under the basement stairs. I remember the sound as extraordinarily loud, though it was nothing like the freight train tornados are often compared to.

As is often the case, the tornado itself was on the trailing edge of the storm. But unlike most such storms, this one was followed by bright sunlight, not a cloud in sky. So when all was finally quiet and we could see through the windows that it was now sunny, we came out to see what, if any, damage the storm had done. As it turned out, the tornado had passed within 200 feet of our house, so debris strewn everywhere—clothes, insulation, a doll, etc.—but that wasn't the spectacle.

We lived on the edge of a smallish farming community, and the tornado had stopped about a mile out of town in a field of corn. I mean stopped. The tornado had not gone away. No, it had just stopped, as if to take a final bow and let us admire it in all its glory. So there it was, sitting under bright blue skies, dust rising from the ground, its funnel glistening white specked with the bright colors of wreckage spinning merrily about. If it was a most bizzare spectacle, it was also intensely beautiful.