The Weather Aboveground

Weather predictions are an old New Hampshire joke. Start talking about weather predictions, and everyone has a story. The time when we were kids that the weather channel, for weeks, ran a picture of a sun with a raincloud over it and snow falling (this was in August). The time the weather station accidentally predicted tornadoes for a week of what turned out to be sunshine (no one was even the slightest bit alarmed and the locals generally went about their daily business undisturbed). My dad says that when they were kids, every other state finally got its own weather channel, while New Hampshire got an old grumpy man on the television who kept insisting that, “if you want to know the weather, look outside.” And – my father adds – he was right.

If the weather channel is stubborn and obstinate in the face of New Hampshire, it is hopeless in the face of Kentucky in a way that verges on tragic. It wants so badly to help here, you see. It is so sure that it can help, and it is here, every day, clipboards and utterly useless advice at the ready. It insists it will rain for a week straight, whereupon it is ceaselessly, relentlessly sunny, and there I am carrying around a bright yellow umbrella. It predicts sun, and my day by the pool is ruined by intermittent rain. The best course of action on any given day is to plan to stay inside, while being simultaneously prepared at any moment to dash into the great outdoors and enjoy the good weather while it lasts, in increments ranging from 30 seconds to 4 days at a time, generally, before the next unpredictable shift.

I thought of this last night particularly because the predictions called for thunderstorms. I love sleeping to the sound of rain, and have always loved night storms. As a kid, they downed trees and sometimes took out the power, but they were gentle giants, scary in the same delicious way as reading a ghost story with friends in the tent you made in the living room out of blankets and pillows. Here, less so. That storm a few weeks ago that shook the entire building is a good metric for the experiential shift along the coast. Storms rage here. They threaten. They shake their fists violently not at the sky, but from it; not with human fragility and futility, but with a scope and scale that successfully reminds us how small we are. At home in New England, when a big storm was coming, we stocked up on candles. Here, I simply make sure to be home long before it may start, and wait by the phone in case Ben should still be driving.

Yesterday, the predictions were fantastically wrong, as is their wont. I went grocery shopping early so I could get home, and overhead, the sky was mostly blue, and the clouds were huge and wet and stacked atop one another, creating oblong shapes with no geometric name, and would have been white, but where the sun was setting, and the light shining through, they were pink in some places, peach and orange in others. And those clouds – those big, bizarre, bumbling, oversized structures – those clouds contained lightning.

As soon as I realized what was happening, I froze in the parking lot, gaping. Every few seconds the clouds would light up from within, flashing and burning, and then fade out just as quickly. No lightning ever emerged, none ever touched down, and the clouds moved on and with them, the threat of the storm. As a researcher, I’m tempted to learn all about them – what clouds like that are called, whether it is really possible for the One Cloud to Rule Them All to contain, within itself, an entire storm, and how or why such a thing would work – but between tornadoes and flash floods and other threats that suggest to me, for the first time, that I am out in the middle and very much at the mercy of nature, I am opting for now to just remain, respectfully, in awe.