Friday, July 1, 2011

June 30, 2011: When all hail broke loose

Midwestern thunderstorms frighten me. Perhaps I took The Little House on the Prairie books too much to heart, but one day after I’d been in Chicago a while, I began to imagine that the winds blew harder the lightning streaked brighter, and the thunder boomed louder than at home in western New York. When I thought back to the storms at home, I remembered mostly what we called “sheet lightning”—no visible streak, just masses of clouds flashing with diffused light. Sheet lightning would never strike us, I believed. Living in a trailer, I was more afraid of wind.

Since living by Lake Michigan, I’ve paid more attention to the weather—at first, not by choice, but because some weather systems demanded attention, swooping in from the west to drive out the sunshine. Sometimes it’s just a cloud or two blotting out a little of the light or a freshening breeze; sometimes it’s an entire front visibly advancing, not unlike the onslaught of the crystalline entity in “Silicon Avatar” (Star Trek: The Next Generation). Sometimes it’s a milquetoast of a thunderstorm. It flashes, booms, blows, and rains a bit, then moves over the lake, leaving no ill effects behind except for a few drenched joggers and dog walkers.

Then there’s the storm of June 30. The unpredicted storm of June 30.

When I came home, I thought about changing for the pool. Even as I walked, a few clouds rolled in, and something in the air changed, but I was still considering it because there were no severe weather watches or warnings from the National Weather Service. I looked, but I didn’t see any predictions of what was to come. I was tired, though, and thought I’d wait until an evening when it didn’t look quite so much like rain.

Between 7:30 and 8:00, it seemed to be getting darker than it should have been for the time of year and day, even with an overcast sky. That’s when I noticed the cloud front above.

Wow.

By a little after 8 o’clock, the sky had turned a midnight blue. That’s when I heard and felt it.

Hail hitting the windows.

It bounced off so quickly that I couldn’t see how large it was—probably not that big—but the relentless racket made me afraid that the windows would break. The rain, right behind the hail, blew sideways from the east, with some even getting between the window panes. The two trees in front of The Flamingo tossed.

Being alone, I was starting not to like this.

After what seemed like a long time, but was probably at most 10 minutes, the hail stopped, although the rain banged against the glass almost as loudly. Between the hail and rain, and with a little anxiety mixed in, I gave up on watching Star Trek: The Next Generation and headed for the bedroom. The lightning continued for what seemed like hours.

The next morning, I saw many small and a few large tree branches down, including a significant one from the tree across from the bus stop. Overall, the damage didn’t seem that bad at first, although later I saw more large branches that had been torn off trees.

When I came home that evening, I could see from a half block away that the gate at The Flamingo had been covered with caution tape. As I passed by to go to the front, I could see why—one of the two pines along the sidewalk had been uprooted and then had fallen across the cabana roof, denting the edge slightly. It’s the first storm casualty I’ve seen in the garden.

Later, I learned the storm hit only select areas, including, unfortunately, the Garfield Park Conservatory, where the damage is described as “catastrophic.” If you can, please do what I did. Make a donation today to help with the cleanup and repairs and whatever needs to be done to save the plants, especially the ferns.