So the lights went out around eleven on Friday. The Capital Weather Gang — I dearly love their blog — had been warning us about this all evening:
I went downstairs and unplugged the dryer. And the washer, and the dehumidifier, all of which operate on fidgety electronics that don’t need power up- and downsurges scrambling their nerves. I popped the jack out of the laptop, aimed an apotropaic Feng Shui mirror at the half-dead Tree of Damocles in my neighbor’s yard (since there was relatively little else I could do about it), and consulted the weather radar. An ungodly blood-red bow front — I thought of the great bow of Odysseus, full of havoc ready to be unleashed — arced from points in Maryland and Pennsylvania to ‘way downstate in the blue mountain country, and it was rolling east without the slightest sign of veering or breaking up. Scouts of greenish “here there be rain” radar color-coding preceded it.
I expanded the radar image until I could see the local neighborhoods, the route numbers, even my street. Green crept toward the right side of the screen. I stepped out in the yard for a reckless moment, even though the Tweets were now telling me to get to cover and away from windows. Way back in the day I wanted to be a Thunder Goddess riding steeds of half-formed cumulonimbus, too much Wagner at an early age no doubt, but storms always make me long, even if only for a split second, to be in the center of them. You could see flushes of heat lightning to the west, but the air was deader than flat beer, thick, cottony.
I went back in. The green color was marching over my part of the map. The lights flickered and a few outlier breezes tossed the shrubbery; I saved an e-mail, started to shut down the computer, and everything went utterly dark and dead — except, weirdly, for the street lights, which went on and off again depending on the brightness of the lightning display.
Then the army passed. It was like the Dead surging out of the Dwimorberg in Tolkien, like a release of Harpies. You heard a low moan first, then everything in sight began to lean eastward — not the tossing up-gusts of an ordinary storm, but a relentless acceleration in one direction only. Rain followed it, slapping the pavement in big splashes. I think it went on for maybe ten to fifteen minutes. Only a bomb is briefer, for the damage it does; only an honest to God tornado does more damage.
You can see everywhere you go — I have taken the running shoes a couple miles in every direction, in the still breathable morning hours — chunks of tree standing on their heads in the road, hammocked on power lines, blasted apart in intersections. The split wood is white and twisted, not dead wood snapped but young wood wrenched apart by main force.
9-1-1 has been sketchy right through today, the cell networks aren’t working, the land line phones went when the power did. A million and some electric power customers went dark. My lights came back on around five today; there are still a few hundred thousand households dark, and needless to say the air is like dog-breath or a dragon’s colon.
It’s not all bad reading Robert Graves with a pocket LED and luxuriating in the absence of telemarketer calls; crap, no place I lived had air conditioning till I was eight. Yuppie men’s groups wouldn’t be flocking to do sweat lodges if we all had to face an annual rendering over the grill of a Washington summer.
But if anyone ever manages to do to us what we did to Baghdad, we’re screwed. Just sayin’.