Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Don't worry, it's only a liberal myth.

I originally posted the following play-by-play account to a USENET newsgroup back in 1998 in response to a rather nasty spate of tornadoes, not often seen in upstate NY.

I was sitting on my friend Keith's front porch tonight, sipping a glass of water and chatting with him and a mutual friend when a thunderstorm rolled through. It looked a lot like a typical upstate NY summer squall. The sky darkened and there was thunder. LOTS of thunder and way more lightning than I'm used to seeing. The trees across the street started shaking, swaying and gyrating like weeds in the gusty winds which pummeled them. Rain came down in sheets. If I'd left the porch to get something out of my car, parked directly in front of Keith's house, I would have been soaked to the skin. A leak in the porch roof, which usually just dripped when it rained, poured like a bathroom shower. After about 5 minutes of that, hail anywhere from pea-size to cateye-marble size clattered down onto ground and the porch roof. The yard and the street went white in a matter of minutes.

After 20 minutes or so, the storm abated. It turned out that this was just the opening act. Another storm, almost identical to the one before it, only much stronger, cut loose. More rain, more hail, and a lightning bolt which struck less than 2000 feet away, which sounded like a rifle shot amplified 1,000 times. This all happened not once but 6 more times. I had to drive home, 8 miles, through all of this. I saw husky, almost perfectly straight bolts of lightning (no forking) hit the tops of area mountains as I drove by them. I saw clouds the likes of which I never saw before in this area. The sky looked like a grainy b&w photograph. I had to stop for gas on the way home. Fortunately, the gas station/convenience store I chose had sheltered pumps and a sheltered entrance. As I waited in line inside to pay for my fill-up, I heard a muffled roar, like when an air-conditioning unit starts up, except that this was much louder. I asked the cashier if it was in fact the store's A/C unit. She confirmed what I already instinctively knew - that what I was hearing was the sound of freakishly heavy rain hitting the roof of the gas station. It was so heavy that there was no way I could continue my drive home until it let up.

One thought I had was "God, these storms are intense. I hope we don't get a tornado". Well, I never saw a one myself, but I learned on that evening's news that not one but several tornadoes had hit the area and a lot of people in outlying areas just narrowly escaped injury. (Twisters do seem to hit in outlying areas here when they occur, though in 1992 one wrecked a steel warehouse building and snapped an 80-year-old maple tree clean in half.). One TV news program showed an amateur video of one twister passing within about 100 feet of their backyard. That's as close as I ever want to come to seeing a real twister. Our local newspaper (singular) showed pictures of several peoples' houses reduced to rubble. I can only thank whatever greater entity there is up there that my home, or those of anyone else I knew was not among them. It makes me violently ill to contemplate those people losing not only their homes, but family records, keepsakes of past events in their lives, and book, record or other collections, all literally blown away by this otherworldly force. One local tv station had its building partially demolished (while the news anchors were still on the air), all of its broadcast equipment ruined by the resulting rain damage, and its 600-foot antenna tower and satellite dishes trashed. It and 2 local radio stations which were renting space on the tower got knocked off the air.

Our county executive said in a press conference that evening that this was the worst spate of tornadoes we've had in this area since 1936; that we've had only 3 confirmed twisters here since then and yesterday. A friend of mine was visiting relatives in one of the worst-hit areas, but apparently the storms missed them. I was relieved to hear she was okay. Most people I knew only heard of the twisters on the news. I guess we were damn lucky.

I used to love thunderstorms. They were a part of summer for me. Now when they predict thunderstorms - as they're doing for tomorrow and Wednesday, I'm going to be looking over my shoulder...

This global climate change thing isn't funny anymore.


I drove through some of the areas hit by the storms several weeks afterward. The twisters weren't the F5 monsters that occur in the Midwest which devour whole towns in minutes, they were only F1's or F2's which lacked the power to reach into the valley I lived in and mostly hit surrounding hills. Even so, the damage they did was barely comprehensible. Several stands of trees looked as if Godzilla had stepped on them. In one spot, a twister had ripped the pavement off a road before tearing into a small house nearby, its facade gone and its interior exposed to the elements. Someone, presumably its owner, had spray-painted "There's always hope" on an interior wall.

Whenever someone makes the mistake of associating the current trend toward more extreme weather with global climate shift, he gets shouted down, she gets told that it's only a myth, and the factories and SUV's keep right on chugging along. Garbage-mouthed pundits and talk-show hosts hurl salvo after salvo of invective. Business-as-usual trumps common sense. Will it take wholesale environmental catastrophe to shake up the careless profiteers who prop up the status quo?

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