The Imperfect Storm
That Crazy Smell
It was not just the stillness of the evening that got me so edgy it was the smell. I noticed it out in the meadow and could feel my hair begin to stand up. A strange occurrence down in a deep canyon. It is the precursor and near opposite of petrichor that dusty type smell just after a rain on dirt. I seem to recall that the smell before the rain was something to do with ionization of moisture in the air. But it was not normal and it for sure signaled a lightning strike. If you have never seen a lightning strike with no rain take my word for it, it is freaky all powerful stuff. It is as if whatever it is in contact with implodes from within and if you are that close to see it, sound and light happen simultaneously.
Well the land and plants are bone dry. Everything around would be tinder for a fire started from lightning. And if it happens here, it will be happening elsewhere. So a rapid response from firemen will not happen.
So I sit on the front porch of the Cabin my Dad and Grandpa built nearly 60 years ago. My father was pretty much a genius. And my grandpa by then had been a master carpenter since just after World War 1. So they designed a house out of ammo boxes. About ten inches high and five feet long and 12 inches across. The wood was about an inch thick. Let us face it, they were built to carry explosives from the US to battlegrounds of WWII. They were very well built so they just stacked them up like Legos and built a quite large cabin. In the late 90’s we put a metal roof on the cabin. Not flammable and more safe and lighter than shingles. But now here I was sitting under a metal roof when the fact of lightning happening was certain.
Come to look back on it, I was nervous like just before you jump off a perfectly fine 50 ft cliff into the creek below. Kind of a rush really and one I loved in my youth and try to avoid in my dotage. Well OK I am still sort of an adrenaline junky, so edgy and nervous felt pretty good.
Best Song About Storms
Storms Come in Pieces
So the stage was set. Pop a beer, get some popcorn and sit down to enjoy the storm. Then it hit an up canyon wind coming in at 50 miles an hour the canyon acting like a funnel that squeezes the wind through it. 60 ft. trees start to whip violently back and forth some going almost 30 ft. sideways with the wind. You can hear the cracking of the wood and for sure a branch or two breaks off and probably one tree will get uprooted before this is over. Now we are directly under a huge Thunder Cloud that most clearly a couple miles wide or more and at least two miles high. Enough water in that to nearly completely fill this 10 mile canyon.
So we have highly probable lightning, very nasty strong winds. But still no rain right here. I should feel safe from flooding right? That ain’t how canyons work. On the eastern side is a canyon wall fairly steep and about a half a mile high. The top plateau is probably a hundred square mile watershed and it drains right off the top of the cliffs into the canyon. One drainage goes right next to the house. In one hour the runoff can deposit more than 100 metric meters off red topsoil, it isn’t the water that gets you bad it is the deposit of this fine sand on things. So that is off the one side. Double it off the other side. And then of course the water from up canyon, just probable flooding and we are away from it in safe fashion, unless something blocks the normal flow of water like a mud/land/rock slide off one of the canyon walls.
There is something cool about all this. I could not do a damn thing to prevent the damage at all. Sand bags are totally useless unless you could stack them fifty feet high and for about a mile. But I never heard of them working in a deep canyon.
So down canyon we can see about 40 miles of sky. And therefore 40 miles of storm coming at us. And then wow a lightning strikes down canyon – count 220.127.116.11.5.6. and BOOM thunder sound waves intensify as the get into that funnel of space down in the canyon. So that lightning strike is about 6 miles away and headed my way. There still is no rain. It is strange, my ears are like when I drop about 800 ft. in elevation air pressure is that much effected by the massive Thunder Cloud above us. That electric smell is far more intense.
Maybe Storms Only Seem to Last
60 Miles of Sky
All of the sudden, I see no lightning yet I hear a kind of thunder real dull more like a freight train coming. It is a flash flood. You can hear the boulders rolling off the sidewalls, like the water carrying them down is angry. Near panic because this sound means a very big one. Listen, listen and listen. It is no longer getting closer. It is from the Western side of the canyon and the creek channel/bed is between us and it is a little bit down canyon from us. As my son would say “time to go wipe your but because you were just scared shitless” very crude but somewhat accurate ;-)
That is it. The massive cloud above is moving up canyon and then just at the end a bolt just causes a 70 year old Cottonwood tree to just explode, like throw wood 40 feet in the air. OMG which way will it fall and will it keep burning. It is a good fifty feet tall and 30 feet from the cabin. And then it just collapses into itself like how they implode old building to tear them down. Remarkable like it is just disintegrating before my eyes, chips just flying all the way to the cabin as I get flat on the floor and avert my eyes. Still no rain and a fire is starting to spread. I got no choice I have got to hose that baby down.
And of course the explosion knocked out the power. Start the gas powered water pump for just such an occasion. OK OK OK I can do this. Oh crap what if I can’t? Three pulls on the starter pulley in quick succession. Breathe and to it again. No go. Calm down boy and pull slower but quicker between pulls. Thank you Lord Jesus the bastard starts up and then to get hoses right and suction going properly.
It was not like I felt a sprinkle it was more like some jerk dumped a five gallon bucket of water on my head and then the wind came up. It was raining so hard and blowing so consistently that I had to turn from the wind and bend down to get air. Yahoo fire out, pump turned off and covered and the dash back to the cabin. I pull up short and take time to thank mother earth and our creator for giving me the finest show on earth.
I hope I related this experience well enough that you got a blessing from it. I dedicate this to my friend who got injured and paralyzed in this very canyon which lead to his early passing to greet the Lord. Thanks for being my friend Paul Boothe.