The 12-Hour Storm

Summer storms in Texas tended to be quick and violent. They came on fast and they arrived with a strength and fury that was to be respected and not ignored. However, this storm fought dirty. It was a series of storms that converged on the radar and just when we had survived one bought of red, another cropped up behind it. I’m not saying we experienced rain falling from the sky for 12 hours. I’m saying, we experienced a 12 hour storm; complete with 4 different bouts of hail, incredible displays of lightening, flooding, and winds that bent ancient trees to the ground and snapped less fortunate ones in half.

The storm came on suddenly. It wasn’t the type of weather to creep into view, signaling its arrival with an immense show of thunder and lightening ahead of the precipitation. One moment it was overcast but still light out and the next, the yard had gone to darkness. I hurried across the yard in the eerie absence of light and hopped in the car. I put it in reverse and backed the car up onto the mulch pile under the oak trees. As i checked the radar the dogs barked and jumped wildly in the dog run, upset and anxious that i was in a running car without them. The storm would likely produce both damaging hail and damaging winds. I had to make a decision about which one i thought would pose the biggest threat to my vehicle. In the end, i chose to protect against hail more than wind. I hoped my decision wouldn’t come back to haunt me. I just couldn’t shake the memory of last year’s storm with baseball sized hail shattering windows just up the street from me and totaling cars. I sat and thought for a minute, staring at the tree trunks beside the car. I then resituated the car so that it was about a foot farther from the tree trunks than i normally parked it, in case i was wrong about the hail being a bigger threat than the wind. If the tree trunks swayed, that would give them room to do so without scraping the car.

At first i imagined that the storm would come, we would weather it, and at some point we would go to bed. I was wrong. As the weather began i ran from the car, collected the dogs, put them in the house, and gathered one more pitcher of well water for the house before the storm really opened up. As i was screwing the lock back on the spigot i saw the trees at the northern edge of the property bend over and i felt a blast of cool air hit the side of my body, whipping the hair out of my face. I ran to the house as the rain descended upon the property. As soon as i got in the door i recognized the familiar ping of hail on the tin roof. As i watched out the window i caught my first glimpse of the pellets. They were pea-sized. Sili cowered behind my legs, pressing her head into the backs of my knees. Cashew darted around the interior of the tiny house, whimpering and pacing with purpose. I crated both dogs. Cashew hadn’t been the same since the lightening strike by the house. For her anxiety, i put her in the crate. I put Sili in the crate beside her for moral support and to give me the freedom to walk about the house without something attached to the backs of my legs. As i watched out the windows in the front door i saw the trees thrashing wildly about the yard. I searched for a tornado. I hadn’t ever seen trees thrash like that and i was worried there might be a twister behind the wild motion. My neighbors would later tell me it wasn’t a tornado that had snapped their trees in half, but something called a “microburst”. After assessing the damage to their properties, i decided a microburst wasn’t much better than a tornado. My trees had all been trimmed into pretty stubby looking things by the sellers of the property. They looked like broccoli stems after the florets were removed for cooking. I found them ugly without their big sweeping branches and couldn’t figure out why the sellers had trimmed them the way they had. After the microburst i had a deep respect for the couple that had sold me the property. They had clearly known something i hadn’t. My neighbors lost many of their trees and one friend even lost half the trees on her property; snapped clear in two by the winds and lying on the ground. Some people in kerrville had branches fall on their roofs or into their kitchens. It was an incredible storm. I lost zero trees, thanks to the sellers giving them their awkward “haircuts”.

I stood at the window as the hours stretched on. The trees continued to sway and thrash about wildly in the wind. The house creaked and the hail alternated between pea sized and garbanzo bean sized pellets that came and went in waves, filling the yard with ice balls to be carried away by the water that was now flowing down the driveway, taking the mulch and the top soil with it. I hoped that the trees shielding the car would hold. I hoped that if a branch did fall, the roof rack would take the brunt of the force and help it slide down the side and away from the windows. Through all of this, my five chickens and one crazy rooster stood with necks outstretched, leaning into the wind, soaked by the rain, feathers dripping. I wondered why they wouldn’t just go in the coop. It had a metal roof. I wondered if they were worried about the lightening. They reminded me of the mermaid carvings at the front of old ships, leaning forwards, necks outstretched.

Eventually it became dark. There was a slack period for about three minutes between colliding storms where no precipitation fell. I heard the absence of noise on the tin roof and ran. By the lamplight i could see the soaked and ratty looking chickens standing together in the coop. They looked bewildered. I slid the door in place, closing them in for the night, and ducked back under the porch roof as the rain picked up again. I sat in the rocking chair waiting for the rain to stop. Just then there was a blinding flash of lightening and the room was in darkness.

Thunder unfolded across the hills as i sat, trying to process what had happened. The power was out. I crossed the room to where i knew the lantern to be and felt around on the dusty floor until my hand found it. I pushed the rubber button and the camping lantern filled the room with dim white light. I brought it over to the rocking chair where i sat down again. I dialed the number to the electric company to report the outage. The line was busy. It would be busy for hours. I would hope that somebody from my zip code was one of the one’s tying up the line and that they would get the message and begin trying to restore power to our area, because at some point, i couldn’t use the battery to the phone any longer to try to get through. I sat in the rocking chair and prayed that they would get the power back on in time to save the food in the refrigerator and air condition the house for the dogs the following morning so i could leave them at dawn to go to work. I didn’t dare open the refrigerator and let out all the cold air that remained. I skipped dinner. I wouldn’t have had any way to cook it anyways. The best i would have done was to retrieve and eat an apple, which i wasn’t really all that interested in anyways. I had thought to put my rainwater collection system up before the storm hit so as i sat in the darkness and listened to the rain, i imagined i’d have a lot of rainwater to give the chickens in the morning.

Around 2 in the morning i woke up in the rocking chair to realize every light in the house was on. The electric company had done it. They had restored power to my area. From the clock on the oven i was able to deduce that the power was out for 6 hours before the clock resumed counting. During the storm that had produced the lightening strike near the house, the “report an outage in your area” number had said that 26 meters in the area were affected. During this storm the recording advised that 2982 meters were affected. I climbed into my bed and pulled the covers around me. I had one hour to sleep before i had to get up for work. I was just glad all the food in the refrigerator and freezer hadn’t spoiled.

All together, from start to finish, the series of colliding and developing storms had lasted 12 hours. At dawn i went out to survey the damage.

The chickens were all alive, though still somewhat damp and shaggy. The canvas roof to the chicken pen had held up through the wind.

Cashew had recovered her confidence and was making her presence known about the yard, stomping about, letting her sister, the birds, and the rabbits know who was boss.

The car was safe, and very clean. The trees had held and no branches had fallen. Something was strange about the pin oak though. as much as i looked, i couldn’t find any area where branches had broken. However, some of the branches were resting on the ground. It looked rather strange. It was as if the tree had become fatigued and just couldn’t hold its limbs up any longer, so it let them down, and there they lay, resting against the ground. A couple weeks later, the branches would return to a more usual position but i would fret about it until that moment.

As the property recovered and the excess water dripped from the trees onto the already saturated ground i began to realize something. Firstly, the weathermen didn’t know ****. It wasn’t even supposed to rain that day, and it stormed for 12 hours. Secondly, the bugs could be used to predict the weather. Just before the storm had arrived, i had been watering the garden. It was suddenly alive with little red chiggers and pill bugs, crawling feverishly about the soil. The air started to smell and feel humid. The sky became hazy; my view obstructed by rain falling some distance away. There were signs and i had missed them. I deleted the weather forecast app from my phone and began to listen more closely to what the environment and the animals were telling me.

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