Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Aftermath of a Microburst

Among other things, weather in Arizona is usually rather predictable: sunny days followed by relatively cloudless nights. It can dip below freezing at night (very infrequently) and rise well above 115° during the summer. People come to Arizona for the sun and sometimes get cranky when we experience what is, in this part of Arizona, a relatively uncommon experience called rain. People come to the desert expecting warm temperatures and sunshine punctuated by numerous restaurants, bars, and stores into which they can duck when they begin to overheat a bit. So much sunshine gets tiresome, at least for this East Coast-raised woman who misses four identifiable seasons and rain that occurs on more than a quarterly or semiannual basis. That is our normal, but two nights ago, at least for a while, normal went out the window something very different came in.

It was a normal evening. It had been a warm day and I was sitting at my desk writing when I got a phone call from a friend who hardly ever calls. Unusual event number one. We were chatting along and I was noticing that the overcast skies were getting more overcast by the moment but thought nothing of it since it had been cloudy most of the day anyway. All of a sudden the power went out, making it unusual event number two. I told her that it had happened but thought nothing more of it, really, because it happens once in a while when someone its power pole or a transformer goes haywire. It usually returns in a short period of time – most of the time, anyway. We finished our conversation and I gathered my flashlights, my Glade candle and my Kindle on the off chance I would need them all, which I did.

Almost without warning, the air started to turn brown and the wind started to pick up. At this time of year and this area, that’s usually indicator that were going to get a dust storm, known as a haboob, that blows through with high winds blowing dust that reduces visibility to a matter of feet in area where visibility is measured in miles. The haboob did present itself in almost in the blink of an eye when the brown dust pushed by the winds changed to torrential rain that created almost a white out. The rain was also blowing sideways, testimony to the power of the winds that I heard later were measured in gusts up to 68 miles an hour. I could barely see the trailer across the street. Lightning was zigzagging everywhere, there were occasional rolls of thunder and as I looked at my neighbors trailer catty- corner across the street, I noticed the electrical pole behind her house was throwing off sparks. Thinking to myself, “Oh crap, this is not good,” I dialed my electric company with the information of the power outage and the sparking pole. Meanwhile the rain abated after 10 or 15 minutes and the winds calmed down although the lightning and thunder continued for some time. I can’t say I was terrified, but I was certainly unsettled, fascinated, curious, shaken, relieved, and horrified with each of those emotions going on inside me like a miniature tornado. I finally went outside and looked up the street only to see that one of the very tall trees was now lying across the road. Looking in another direction, at the street at the bottom of the small rise on which my trailer sits, was a small lake.  I checked around my house and thankfully found no damage and only bits of twigs and leaves from the trees; however, many of my neighbors and other residents of the same area were not so fortunate. They had lost awnings, parts of the skirting around their trailers, sheds, tree limbs and whole trees, fences and sometimes shingles or even parts of their roof. The blessing in all this is that no one was seriously injured and many neighbors were out walking to see the damage and to make sure everyone else was okay. It’s funny how a situation like this can bring together people who don’t know each other all into a group concerned for the safety and well-being of other unknown people.

It was an uncomfortable night that night. The power had gone out about 7 PM and the temperature inside my trailer had fairly rapidly reached approximately the ambient temperature outside which was about 95°. I turned on my Kindle and read for a bit but couldn’t settle down for long. The candle didn’t give a lot of light but it was comforting to have it glowing in the darkness.  I lay down to try to sleep but it was too hot,  so all I did was toss and turn as my mind jumped on its squirrel cage and ran like a frenzied hamster at full tilt. Just as I almost dozed off about 2 AM I heard the sound of chainsaws. They were very close and they were also very noisy. When they didn’t stop within five or 10 minutes I finally gave up trying to get to sleep and went to see where exactly those chainsaws were. I didn’t have to go far; they were busily removing branches from the mulberry tree just outside my bedroom which apparently had been impinging on some power lines. I’d called the electric company about that problem earlier in the year but nobody seemed too interested. Now at 2 AM they were interested. They cut and dropped and cut some more for almost an hour, leaving behind a pile of branches probably 20 feet long and up to about 4 feet high. By this time I had totally given up on sleep and so put on my walking shoes and took 3 AM stroll around the park to see what I could see. What I saw was a lot of destruction. Venerable old trees, beautiful trees, lying on their sides, one fortunately having missed a very small camper in which one neighbor lives that always reminded me of a hobbit hole. Others had fallen across streets and one demolished a chain-link fence by falling directly on it. On my walk I dodged tree branches, mud puddles, bits of corrugated aluminum, and occasional car or electrician’s truck but aside from workmen, it was almost like the proverbial “not a creature was stirring...”

I went to work yesterday as usual, but the routine was somewhat modified by my having to take a shower with the light from a small LED flashlight, a breakfast consisting of a couple of tablespoons peanut butter and no iced tea which would have involved opening the refrigerator, something I was not willing to do since I was not sure how long before the power was restored. On the way I had stopped to speak to a neighbor and to watch him start to clean up his yard when we noticed this porch light had come on, the signal that at least in that part of the park there was power again for the first time since the night before. I rushed back home to find that yes, I too had power, and once again I could turn the air conditioner on and not worry that the boys in their fur coats would overheat and become ill. I went to work but it was a very long day. I have pulled all -nighters a number of times in my life but I’m getting a bit too long in the tooth to be able to do it with any semblance of gusto or more than a modicum of energy. It was a pure joy to walk into my house last night, not quite 24 hours after the storm passed through, and find everything in order (or in what passes for order in my cluttered little world), the air still, the sky relatively clear, and everything almost normal.

It’s been almost 36 hours since the storm which I now believe was a microburst went through and made some any changes in the landscape. I’ve been through hurricanes, typhoons, earthquakes and even have been close enough to see some effects of a volcanic eruption during my lifetime. Each time there’s a period right afterwards when the danger is past but there is still a feeling of unreality about it all. Physically and mentally I’m still unsettled, tired, and I guess a bit anxious. I know the probability of another such storm of such a magnitude occurring anytime in the near future would be at least highly unlikely if not astronomical. The cleanup continues but even once the debris is cleared away there will continue to be reminders of that half hour or so when the world went mad. Maybe it’s good to be a little unsettled, because then you’re not taking anything for granted like your health or your safety or the health and safety of the people and things that you love and even people and things you aren’t aware of or don’t know. It’s probably a very good day to just sit and think. Perhaps, in looking at what could have happened, I should make plans and choices that might affect me in my surroundings the next time we have an unusual event with even .01% the power of the microburst. I don’t remember feeling terrified as the storm blew through, but I think I would be lying if I didn’t say there was some fear and anxiety there. I do remember quite clearly now that I wasn’t praying to God to deliver me from injury or death, more just a watchful waiting for what, I don’t know. At the end however I do remember more than one occasion of conversation with neighbors and passersby that included “Thank God!”

Was it a chance for me to practice my faith that God would take care of me even without my asking? Was it a reliance on my faith that I didn’t feel the need to pray for deliverance? Was it a fatalism that what was going to happen was going to happen regardless of what I said or did? After consideration I still don’t know. I just know my soul is unquiet and my spirit is troubled and I’m not totally sure what I need to do to regain my spiritual balance.

I guess I hoped that maybe by dictating this and letting my friendly neighborhood Dragon program transcribe it for me might be therapeutic. Maybe it will be, just not right now. The writer in me felt the need to put words on paper – or electrons on a computer screen in a word processing program – to try to capture my thoughts and feelings and emotions over the past 36 hours. I know I need more sleep, I know I need to get firmly back on my schedule and just as firmly back on my dietary plan which, due to the upsets yesterday, were somewhat discombobulated. The boys are napping, so all appears right in their world. They didn’t miss a meal, the discomfort of the night before last and the heat is dissipated, their drinking fountain now works as it should, so they can pick their favorite spots and either watch the world go by through the window next to the cat tree, on the lingerie chest in the bathroom or even on my desk. Perhaps they’ve got a good idea; maybe I just need a nap and maybe, just maybe, I need to say “Thank God” a few dozen more times.

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