Monday, June 7, 2010

Thunder and Lightning ... Enough!

Here it is ... only June ... and I'm feeling shell shocked.

Three times within the last week, we've had mega-thunderstorms, and for different reasons, all of them have been memorable.

I remember as a kid loving thunderstorms ... that was, of course, before someone explain to me that getting hit with a bolt of lightning was a good way to get electrocuted (oh, and by the way, the next time I read about someone who was electrocuted being in "stable condition" I think I'll scream. Electrocution means death. The proper word for the other situation is "shock.")

Back in those good old innocent days, I'd sit on the front porch of the family's cottage in Hampton Beach, N.H., and watch the storms go by without a fear in the world. For whatever reason, thunderstorms always seemed louder at Hampton Beach. We had a screened in front porch, with a very comfortable cot in one end. I'd lie in the cot and just listen to the thunder and the rain pounding against the roof. And if the wind was blowing the right way, some of that rain might even form little mist round me.

Considering that most of the time, thunderstorms are borne out of excessive heat and humidity, that seemed almost refreshing.

Of course, I never knew back then that tornadoes emanated from thunderstorms, or that, if violent enough, they could blow trees over onto your house. Hurricanes or tornadoes caused that. Not thunderbumpers.

Whatever I knew or didn't know, these storms just didn't seem like such a big deal then. But then again, this was before the advent of 24-hour weather, accu-weather, intellicast, and all the rest. It was before the Todd Grosses of the world (insert your least favorite forecasters here) got on TV every 15 minutes to hype up the latest storm and do their best to put everyone in a giant panic.

Now, of course, there are scrolls at the bottom of your TV screen that not only indicate that a storm's brewing somewhere out west, but that if the conditions are right, it could mean the end of the world as we know it (apologies to REM).

Now, every time a particularly nasty storm starts churning up, the obligatory tornado watch ends up on that scroll. If you watch the Weather Channel, and hear a series of ear-piercing beeps, stop whatever you're doing and rivet yourself to the TV. We're going to get a thunderstorm and it's quite possible it could end up spawning tornadoes.

Let's talk a little bit about tornadoes. They may be the bane of existance in the midwest and the south, but we don't get very many of them in the Boston area. Not only that, for us to even get a tornado, conditions have to be just right. And I mean just right.

They may be plentiful during April and May in areas of the country where weather variables result in violent fronts. But around here, it's just not warm enough -- most of the time -- in the spring for that to be a problem.

And even when it is, we generally have the cool ocean air knocking the temperatures down in advance of the fronts so that by the time they get here, a lot of their energy has dissipated.

And that's fair. We get enough crappy weather without having to worry about tornados, too. We may not get a whole lot of hurricanes, but we get their little cousins (nor'easters) which can be brutal if we're talking snow. The Blizzard of '78 was a Nor'easter on steroids, for example.

Actually, all kidding aside, New England is hardly the worst region in the country for weather. For a hurricane to come all the way up the coast into the cold water current from Labrador, and do any real damage, it either has to be a monster of a storm or it has to take a path that leaves no room for meandering. We've had them. We're not immune. But more often than not, what we end up getting are either weakened versions of them or remnants that produce a ton of rain but only a shell of the damaging winds that go along with them.

And get our share of snow, too. Only if you check our snow totals with what they get in Buffalo, or Chicago, or other places in the midwest, we make out in that deal too. And unless something really freaky happens, we don't get a great deal of snow until December, and -- with an exception now and then -- we're usually out of the woods by April.

Even the cold weather seems to spare us from the worst of it. I look at temperatures in Minnesota, or the Dakotas, and compare them to Boston ... and we're downright balmy even at our worst. About the only thing you can say about our weather, though, is that it often changes way too fast for our satisfaction. You can't get used to anything, because tomorrow it can be, in the words of Monty Python, completely different.

I was talking with someone from San Diego last night, and she was saying that May and June are their "gloomy" seasons. We don't have "gloomy seasons." It rains when it rains. There's no real rhyme or reason to it.

Anyway, the first of these three storms hit is Thursday, with much thunder and vivid lightning. A man from the next town over got stuck by a lightning bolt (he's OK, which means he wasn't electrocuted). A tree fell on another house. And our building at work scored a direct it. I've never been anywhere that's been hit by lightning before. This didn't sound like lightning. It sounded like someone hit the side of the building with some kind of bionic wrecking ball (oh, for all the times I've wished someone would take a wrecking ball to the place!).

The building shook. And I mean shook. I was, at that very moment, putting a dollar bill into the machine to get some crackers when the bolt hit, and it knocked me off balance and sent me backwards. The weird thing about it is that at the time the bolt hit, the storm appeared to be waning and moving away. Not so, apparently.

Anyway, as soon as the bolt hit, the fire alarm went off. Naturally, the fire alarm was situated right above where the force of the bolt had sent me. Between the bolt and the sudden alarm, I'm amazed I didn't have a heart attack, and equally amazed no one else did either.

Thankfully, the bolt didn't cause any permanent damage. No fires. Just a lot of freaked out people evacuating the building in the pouring rain.

Friday night came storm No. 2. Actually, make that Saturday morning. At 3 a.m., to be precise. Friday night was the Relay for Life down at Lynn Beach, and I spent most of it walking around Red Rock Cove. I think I did 12 laps altogether, and with all the other walking I did to get too and from my car (by the time I got there the only available parking spaces were in Connecticut!) I probably walked four miles.

I chose not to spend the night there, but my wife and son -- who work with a local Boy Scout troop -- opted to stay. I was pretty tired when I got home, and fell asleep on the couch. All of a sudden, at 3 a.m. (or thereabouts) this tremendous burst of thunder woke me up. For about the next 20 minutes it was like watching the fireworks on July 4. It was definitely a great show, and I was happy as hell to be inside.

But I was not happy as hell knowing my wife and son were sleeping in tents on Red Rock Cove. Thank God for cellphones. I called Andrew, and found out they'd all gotten out of there in time to take refuge in their cars.

My son's best friend is Mr. Weather. In fact, his nickname is "Radar" because tracking storms is one of his main obsessions. Radar has taught my son a lot about this sort of thing. So -- unbeknown to me -- Andrew was able to track the storm on his Blackberry and not only knew which storm was the one that would come up and get us, but helped warn everyone in his troop in time to get them out of there.

Saturday came the first of the two-day tornado watch. All day long we were warned, within an inch or our lives, to expect Wrath of God weather. There were so many storms heading our way that we'd be sure to end up dealing with one of them.

Of course, Saturday was the day all the state tournament baseball and softball games were being played, and I was to cover two of them -- back to back. This meant sitting around in the proximity of chain-link fences, aluminum bats, etc. Just what you want to be around in the event of lightning.

I can't think of any time in my life where I've dreaded going to work more ... not even when I knew that I'd done something that was going to get me in a little trouble. I'd have rather had gum surgery than sit there for four hours sweating out thunderstorms and tornadoes.

These things are torture. You can't go anywhere without hearing a weather update, and it's especially annoying watching them on TV, when some breathless forecaster actually smiles his/her way through the report ... as if a tornado is the funnest thing in the world. These people do this when they're forecasting blizzards too, the bastards. It's all a big riot to them. The rest of us are trying to figure out how the hell we're going to get to work, where the snow shovels are, whether the snow blower needs gasoline; and panicking over the fact that we can find our left boot, but the right one has disappeared.

The last thing we need is some beaming weather person telling us -- with unbridled glee and excitement -- that we're going to get two feet of snow. Be miserable like the rest of us!

I'm a cynic most of the time when it comes to this stuff. I take it all with a grain of salt. But Saturday, it just seemed that there was no way any of these storms would miss us.

But they did. All of that worry for nothing! Oh, they hit elsewhere ... and with a fury, too. But they missed Lynn, Massachusetts. We got a few drops and that was it. Our games got played, and it was a quiet nice. It was actually a pleasant night, too.

So when we got all these admonitions again Sunday, my attitude was, "yeah? well, they said that yesterday and nothing happened." We got up and walked in the AIDS walk in Boston (six miles; I've become a walking fool, except that my feet are killing me today), and even though we got a little bit of rain, nothing of biblical proportions. Of course, the forecasts that said we'd get deluged all day were wrong. We didn't. We only got deluged for about a half hour, in the afternoon, long after we were done walking.

But unlike Saturday, when the deluge finally hit ... it hit. Hard. I guess that's what the "scattered" in "scattered thunderstorms" means. One place gets slammed. The other place gets nothing.

Sunday, we got slammed. Two streets over from my house, a tree was uprooted right out of the sidewalk and slammed into someone's house. Something called straight line winds raced down a narrow corridor of my city, knocking down trees and/or large branches and creating quite the mess.

Similar straight line winds really clobbered areas of Brookline ... where we'd been walking just a few hours before.

Radar had been on the phone with Andrew all day, telling him that this cell or that cell was approaching, and my son even called me up to warn me that a wall cloud was spotted over Lynn Classical High School (wall clouds mean tornadoes are possible).

By then, I'm afraid, I'd had enough doomsdaying. In a most unfriendly-like manner, I told him to knock that shit off, and that I was tired of it!

And then I was very glad we didn't get a tornado. I'd have absolutely dreaded the "I told you so."

By 7 p.m., it was all over. And I was able to monitor the Celtics-Lakers game (Go Rondo!) in the peace and quiet of a tranquil weather environment.

This week is supposed to be similarly quiet. And I have to tell you, I could use the break.

No comments: