I grew up in Chicago. It’s in the Midwest, for those of you who don’t know (har!). The Midwest is blessed (or cursed, depending upon whom you ask) with magnificent thunderstorms. Huge anvil-shaped cumulonimbus monsters build up, with accompanied by a build-up of oppressive humidity, until the air falls still and heavy and weighted and you feel almost like you’re swimming through it. Typically, there’s a period of fitful breezes gusting one way and the other, before they die down, and you know IT is going to come through at any moment. And then IT hits: A wild burst of sustained wind coming from one direction, bending all the trees’ branches before it, tossing and turning the (ever-present) trash on the city streets. With the wind comes an abrupt change in temperature–it can drop 20 or 30 degrees in a few minutes–and then the lightning starts, and the cracks of thunder, and the torrents of rain, and the wind always dashing it this way and that. That’s the time to sit in your house near a window, so you can hear and see all the drama, and watch the water crashing against the windowpanes, and be happy that you’re safe and warm.
Rather than, say, walking to the El station without an umbrella, as it dumps water at the rate of an inch an hour. Or driving, when you realize your windshield wipers aren’t up to the job, even at the top speed.
You also got tornado weather. You knew it was tornado weather because the bottoms of the clouds, and the light filtering through, all turned an eerie greenish-gray color. This was when you’d turn on the radio to be sure you heard of any tornado warnings–though it was extremely rare that you’d get one in the Big City; cities, it seems, tend to produce heat islands that cause updrafts that disrupt the beginnings of tornado formation.
Then I lived in the mountains of Arizona, which was blessed with monsoon season, a time when the storms would build up over the mountaintops and valleys over rivers, spreading outward, producing small thunderheads with powerful punch. The storms wouldn’t sprawl over the countryside the way they do in the Midwest, but would produce–just like the weathermen say–”widely scattered thunderstorms”. You can drive between them, and see the thunder, lightning, and rain being produced by one off in the distance, while being dry where you are. But even though they’re small, compared to the storms in the Midwest, they’re intense, and filled with drama.
Then I moved to the Bay Area. This is a place that has never seen a thunderstorm, so far as I know. My need for weather drama went totally unquenched for years.
Then I moved to Lubbock, Texas, a benighted place where people think a row of tulips planted arrow-straight in front of their yellow-brick boxes is a “garden”, and where there’s no topography to speak of for hundreds of miles in any one direction. BUT! But Lubbock had three things going for it: the spring and fall goose migration, wherein you would see, and hear, thousands of geese flying overhead, going north in the spring and south in the fall; incredible sunsets because of the dust and the aforementioned lack of topography–you could see the sunsets for an hour, a vivid array of golds and pinks and magentas and reds; and Wrath of God thunderstorms. These were storms to conjure with, preceded by a wall of dust that would sweep through the neighborhood, covering everything with reddish loam, and then, when the storm hit, turned to instant mud spots. Lubbock is in Tornado Alley, so not only did I get the drama of the storms, but lots of tornado weather.
Another stint in the mountains of Arizona lasted for ten years.
But here in Alaska, where we live, the rains are mostly long, slow, and dreary–no thunderstorms to speak of, normally.
This May, however…ah, it’s been glorious: warm (almost hot), dry, clear, sunny. And today? Today, we are going to get rain. Because the sky over the mountains to the north of us has been brewing monsoon clouds, like we got in Arizona, and now it is dark, threatening, lowering silver-gray and the thunder has been rumbling for an hour, getting closer and louder as the clouds build down to the valley where we live. An hour ago, the clouds were still to the north, and I was sitting in the yard in the beating sunlight, listening to the sturm und drang behind me…now, the clouds have grown overhead and to the south.
Last year, we didn’t have any thunderstorms at all. The first summer we were here, we had two or three; they are very rare. In fact, the various write-ups of weather for these areas specifically mention that “even though you may have heard there are no thunderstorms in Alaska, it does happen…”
I was so excited, I called OmegaDad at work to breathlessly exclaim, “We have thunder! And a huge anvil cloud! And it’s coming our way!” He laughed at me, and said, “I was just talking with M about thunderstorms, and telling him you would be so happy that we’re having one!” Apparently, in one of those cosmic coincidences that make life interesting, I called him just after he announced that…Then, of course, he went on to claim that I was only happy when disaster was brewing, which made me pout, which made him laugh…
Anyway, I’m happy. Thunderstorms do this Midwestern girl’s heart good.