A Stormy Afternoon

21 10 2007

stormI got off work last Wednesday very nearly at the time I am supposed to get off work, which is unusual by itself. I clicked on the radio and dialed over to a sports-talk station that I like, only to be greeted with a severe weather alert. Apparently there were some really ugly storms brewing just to the southwest; the meteorologist even went as far as to say (unwisely, as it turned out) that there might be a few tornadoes spawned from these storms.

We get some severe storms here in the fall, although not as often and usually not as severe as we see in the spring. But, the man mentioned tornadoes, and these babies were making a bee-line right for the area where I live, so I shot home and turned on all of my “storm watch” gear. The NWS and local television meteorologists seemed to think that the tornado threat was actually very low, albeit not precisely non-existent. Thus reassured, I grabbed my camera and headed outside to watch this monster move in.

storm2I snapped this pic of a towering storm complex west of my location, moving northeast. It is comparable in size and structure to the one that went right overhead about twenty minutes later. Note the anvil feature that is trailing out behind the storm on the left side of the picture. That sort of thing gets my attention, as it is a feature that you see in storms with some measure of rotation, and from which wall-clouds–and occasionally tornadoes–can develop. This one isn’t as wrapped up and well-organized as some that I’ve seen, and there wasn’t anything coming over the NWS that would indicate potential trouble, but these things can “blow up” pretty fast. There is something uniquely thrilling about these monster storms. You can feel the atmosphere change around you when they are near–maybe it’s the change in barometric pressure. There’s a subtle tension in the air, like something BIG is about to happen. The computerized voice on the NWS radio informed me that this particular storm, even while I was standing there gawking at it, was producing wind speeds of 50 to 60 mph, with gusts nearing 70.

My wife came out and told me that she was heading up to the store for a few things. I told her she probably better get there quick. The store that we shop at most frequently is only a few minutes up the road, so I knew that she would get there just fine. “Take your time shopping,” I advised. “Wait for this stuff to blow through.”

storm3About ten minutes after she left, it began to rain. It didn’t build up gradually, just suddenly we were being deluged. Visibility dropped to about 50 yards. The alert tone sounded on my NWS radio. My stomach always tightens up a little bit when I hear that tone. Usually it’s just a severe thunderstorm warning, telling you pretty much what you already know. Sometimes, though, it is a tornado warning, and that’s when things get dicey. Sometimes the civil defense sirens go off all over town while the NWS alert tone is still sounding. That’s when things get downright scary…

A few minutes after the rain, it began to hail. I could tell by the sound of it bouncing off of our neighbor’s car that it was pretty big, pea to dime size, with a few marble-sized stones thrown in for good measure. Then the wind came up and we had an all out hail storm.storm 4 There is something especially terrifying about a hail storm, especially when the wind is howling past at around 30 to 40 mph. As you can see in this pic, the hail is actually blowing in sideways, driven by the wind. It makes me wonder about those unfortunate folks who get caught in storms where the hail is much larger–golf ball to baseball sized. What a nightmare. Even with this relatively small hail, the noise is amazing. Beating down on the houses and cars and trees and pavement, it makes a steady roaring sound.

The phone rang. It was my wife, calling on her cell from the store. When I got back outside the hail had passed, and the rain had slowed to a heavily drizzle. I grabbed a shot of the hail that had gathered right in front of the house. Not a particularly bad hail storm, as hail storm’s go. We had one once, three or four years ago, that left the ground blanketed in a layer of hail stones nearly four inches deep in some places. As I remember, they even had to bring out snostorm 5w-plows to clear a section of interstate so that people could drive on it. This certainly wasn’t anything like that.

About ten minutes later, it was all over. We had a sun-shower…a phenomenon that I dearly love for some reason. I ran out to the back yard and snapped a few pics. You can see the sun, but the steady drizzle is not very apparent. It was there, though, and it lasted for some 15 minutes before the rain stopped. After that, everything was all wet and drippy and green, splashed with bright yellow sunshine. The good thing about a storm like this, in the fall, is that it stays cool after the storm has passed. In the summer, a thunderstorm like this is welcome while it lasts, but it is usually followed by almost unbearable humidity. I grabbed a lawn chair and sat out on the front porch. I brought a notebook with me, but it just lay unopened on my lap. My wife drove up a little later, storm endand I went to help her carry the groceries inside. It was time to start thinking about dinner. The excitement was over. Through the kitchen window I could see the back side of the storm that had so recently passed overhead, moving away from us to the northeast. I wondered if someone out ahead of it was dashing around like an idiot, snapping pictures and getting all excited as the sky darkened to his or her southwest. I certainly hope so.

Moments like that are not to be missed.




2 responses

21 10 2007

Cool post– I love crazy weather.

When my husband and I stopped in Fort Stockton on our way home from New Mexico last spring, we were just ahead of a line of storms that turned into a pretty wild hailstorm just as soon as we got all our stuff into the hotel. We went out onto the balcony to watch the rain and hail come down and found a young couple out there, equally fascinated. They said they were from California and that where they lived, there were never storms like that. I was shocked. I thought everyplace got hail now and then!

But although I’ve lived in San Antonio, at the tail end of Tornado Alley, I’ve never lived anywhere with civil defense sirens to warn of tornadoes. Sounds scary. But maybe you have a storm cellar?

21 10 2007

Nope, no storm cellar. If it looks like it’s going to be a really bad day, sometimes I’ll wait until the storms are about an hour away, then haul the family to a local hospital that has a basement level. Mostly we just cross our fingers. Thank you so much for stopping by and reading 🙂

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