Washington, D.C. was recently described as “a marble-encased griddle” in the summer months, according to a blogger my Engineer follows.
The thing is, it’s not the heat, as the old saw goes. Arizona is a griddle. Nevada is a griddle.
Washington is an industrial steamer. In the words of the longtime columnist Henry Allen, breathing its summer air is like giving artificial respiration to an old bathing suit, like trying to suck-start the outside exhaust vent on a Chinese restaurant.
The Washington Post’s “Capital Weather Gang” rose to the occasion earlier today with the best goddam humidity/dew-point rating scale I have ever seen in my born days.
Apparently in meteorology, “bomb” means something distinctive and specific:
The particularly intense nor’easter that spawned this blizzard has officially entered ‘bomb’ territory–a technical meteorological definition meaning a rapid deepening of a low pressure system by more than 24 millibars in 24 hours (also, designed to frighten little children into a lifetime of snowy terror). Our blizzard-y friend achieved this mark with room to spare, intensifying from 1012 millibars Thursday morning to 986 millibars at press time, a mere 20 hours later. (Daily Beast)
This is why, all yesterday, I felt like dried turkey crap, recapitulating a history of injuries and subsiding into a weepy yet self-aware slough of depression by around midnight. If the Day of Judgment involves cyclones and tornadoes, I will be in a position to predict it. I knew pretty much why I felt like I did, I just didn’t realize a bomb was involved.
Some people are just walking barometers. It isn’t all about the air pressure; electrical valence participates in our subjective experience. (Jeebus. If dogs crap in line with the earth’s magnetic field — see previous post — is it preposterous that atmospheric forces affect how we feel?)
Sometime during my college years, my father, the hornplayer, got drafted for a local run of Haydn’s Creation, the first time I believe he had actually performed in that piece, and in his letter — those quaint things we exchanged in the days before the Internet — he commented of the opening performance: “God was late.” He meant the principal trombonist whose office was to form the backbone of the orchestral response to the Biblical injunction: “Let there be light,” but I had to wait until Christmas vacation to have it explained.
God was late. Well, Dominion Virginia Power really. It’s been a long goddam fifty hours without light, heat, phones, or Internet, but at least I have a gas stove and water heater, I was able to find enough batteries to keep a small emergency radio working, nothing so far has fallen on the house and I don’t live on the Jersey Shore.
Lacking a trombone, or the embouchure required to operate one, I stepped out on the porch with my gong when the lights came back on, and rang it.
A couple of minutes ago, after a day of clear or at the most hazy skies, an actinic flash zapped the darkness outside my dining room window, the thunder waiting just long enough for me to wonder: blown transformer down the block? Nuclear attack?
(I once mistook one for the other; as a sprout, I was drilled so often in the ritual of diving under your classroom desk to kiss your ass good-bye that my first reaction to a kamikaze squirrel shorting a transformer, right outside my childhood home, was to duck and cover. If you live a handful of miles from the Capitol you get a sort of belle indifference about these things, with time, but the reflexes stay.)
I didn’t expect thunder tonight, at the end of a crisp and fairly sunny day. I have a sort of mystical fascination with it. Age and homeownership complicate my feelings with worries about the unhealthy-looking oak next door or power outages, but as a kid, when other girls wanted to be Barbie or Liz Taylor in “National Velvet,” I wanted to be Thor. (I got terribly excited when a character in Abraham Merritt’s Moon Poolwas named Thora, but she was a throwaway walk-on. Damn.) I listened to the Ring Cycle avidly, but Donner’s appearance in the end of Rheingold is frankly disappointing. Fellow Wagner lovers and detractors alike may disagree, but it is too damn polite.
He needs to be swinging that thing, and I mean in the music not just one particular staging. This is something composers are always trying to do and it usually escapes them.
Honest to God Rossini had a better handle on it — still too foursquare rhythmic to be real, but the relentless thing was there. About 1:00 here.
Beethoven took a shot. It wasn’t bad.
Strauss actually seems to have done it best. He understood chaos. But still, you know: More Timpani.
I miss those days when I didn’t think about gutter damage or downed trees. I wanted to be a big creature made of cloud, slamming the thick lower air with a phantom hammer half as big as the world. I’ve had the good fortune to be twenty yards or so away from three lightning strikes in my time, the kind where the thunder is simultaneous. Everyone would prefer to order up their own death: I’ll take that one, if I can get it.
A few years ago when I made my misbegotten foray into political work I was issued a four-pound maul, for hammering in sign stakes. I seized the black permanent marker we used to ink the campaign’s permit number on the signs and wrote gravely on the handle: MJOLLNIR.
My Albino Ex was addicted to all sorts of emergencies and kept a fire and emergency scanner going in the bedroom pretty much 24/7, plus he had one of those emergency weather radio setups on top of the refrigerator that would sound a loud klaxon and alert you if there was a flood, thunderstorm, tornado watch. I finally persuaded him to kill the channel that warned of tidal surges (since we are miles from the coast or even the banks of the Potomac) but the whole thing rubbed off on me a bit, and these days I am hooked on the Capital Weather Gang blog and twitter feed.
Yesterday afternoon, after a week of crouching in hundred-degree heat (it was starting to feel normal; I clocked three hours trimming bushes on Saturday, dragging a water keg as I worked) we got socked. I hunted through three weather radars before I found one that would give me a decent image. It looked like a huge homicidal croissant bearing down on the DC area from the northwest. (Because of the Oak of Damocles, I obsessively check wind direction at times like this.)
The Weather Gang confirms that this evil parabola is called a bow radar echo, a weather form known for association with tornadoes and destructive gusts.
this kinda thing, only redder
The roughest part of it hit north of town. A lot of people are still waiting to get the power back on (so far this summer I’ve been pretty lucky on that count; the only power outage came out of a quiet night sky when some transformer south of me went tits-up for no obvious reason.) I just got a complete window washing and gutter integrity check.
What’s the nastiest kind of weather phenom in your area?
Eche ground the higher that it was and nearer to the Skie,
The sooner was it set on fire, and made therewith so drie
That every where it gan to chinke. The Medes and Pastures greene
Did seare away: and with the leaves, the trees were burned cleene. … Ovid, Metamorphoses (Golding translation, 1567)
I’m not the only one to ask where all the climate change skeptics are — you know, the ones that declared global warming theory to be refuted by a winter of punishing blizzards. If the blizzards were an argument, what’s this? 85 degrees Fahrenheit at 11 PM isn’t just strange; it’s perverted.
Watching those cracks open in the dirt: you try not to step too close to them, because you get the feeling something might yank you straight down to Hell. Although in Hell, it might be cooler.
I know there are places on earth where it gets a lot hotter, and to be fair, it’s been up over 100 degrees on the Atlantic seaboard now and then in my lifetime; I remember the heat wave of 1975, when I was in Boston, and wouldn’t come out of the library. The day the wind changed you could smell Boston Harbor exhaling inland, and no one cared. This has been a drier heat; there was an actual pleasure in working out in the yard, at least with cold water available, up till the point about fifteen minutes after dinner when it became apparent that the day’s metabolism had been used up and no more would be available till morning.
Still, I have had this insane urge to fill a huge cooler with beer and drive past the poor bastards doing road construction in this already over-asphalted commonwealth, flinging frosty bottles out the windows as I go.
This morning it started raining, gently and steadily, shortly before dawn. By the time I could lace up my shoes and get on the road the gutters were chuckling with braids of racing water.
They are finally admitting that you could get your ass killed by underestimating weather like this. The local governments have pulled plows off the roads, power companies are ordering work crews to shelter in their vehicles, and Baltimore is ticketing and fining ANY private vehicle they catch on the road.
The only guy the Washington Post could find out shoveling, earlier, was from Wisconsin.
8:59 a.m. Winds whip Wisconsin native, too
The wind has picked up dramatically, blowing snow into a haze that has reduced visibility to a few blocks.
Streets in the Chevy Chase D.C. neighborhood are deserted except for “fools” like Lee Schoenecker, 71, a retired urban planner who lives in the 5500 block of 30th Place.
“Just shoveling to keep up with it,” he said as he paused, his eyeglasses covered with snow. “Shovel early. Shovel a lot.”
“Right now it’s blizzard conditions,” he said. “When I first came out here about a half hour ago it wasn’t.”
“I’ve lived here for 30 years. I grew up in southern Wisconsin. This snow in accumulation, December, last couple days is as bad as I’ve ever seen in southern Wisconsin. Absolutely. And that includes some pretty big snows.”
“That’s serious winter weather,” he said.
Wind whipped snow around him as he spoke. The rain gutters on the house next door had collapsed.
Amid the eerie quiet, the only sound was the muffled ringing of a set of windchimes.
–Michael E. Ruane
A local blogger who is yea better with a camera than I am sent this link to the newspaper’s weather blog.
The D. C. Mayor is on record as calling the conditions “outrageous,” rather suggesting that he feels this is just another indignity arbitrarily visited on his city, like lack of home rule.
The only people who don’t seem to get the picture are my cats, who are clamoring for another outing on the glassed-in sun porch. They will come in grouchily from merely cold or rainy weather, but the spectacle of enormous flocks of birds, staying on the wing to keep warm, I imagine, has them riveted. The poor little bastards are all fluffed up to retain heat and must look particularly juicy and crunchable.
After a while I started to feel bad for them, the birds I mean. I usually find birds kind of irritating, but I realized on reflection that it is because Sweet Tender Girls are supposed to like the Pretty Chirpy Birds and I spent the first couple decades of my life enduring people’s attempts to force me to be a Sweet Tender Girl when I was really kind of a leathery bitch from the get-go.
There’s no sense in the birds suffering for that, so I got a big glob of peanut butter and stuck it on a chopstick and went out and jammed the chopstick in a plant pot at the top of the back steps where they are periodically flying in to shelter and give the cats fits. It’s pretty lame and I have no idea if they’ll go for it but it’s something.
The wedge of black in the center of the picture is a few inches of the car my New Best Friend still has parked in my driveway. Nothing is moving out there but a dogsled.