The Thinker

Unnatural weather

The Great Flood must have started this way: huge dark rolling clouds skittering quickly across the sky, choking off the sun, and almost hugging the terrain. While outside, I felt an overwhelming stickiness all over my body, even though the temperature was in the low 70s. I also felt vaguely apprehensive, but did not know why. Then in the distance, I heard it: the first peal of thunder. At first, the rain was almost a mist, and then it spat droplets on my windshield. The thunder grew louder and sounds came closer together. I sensed lightning, but was not sure where it was coming from. Sometimes the bolts reached the ground, and at other times, they just illuminated the clouds. The droplets turned to drops, then came closer together, and then cascaded across the pavement. They seemed alive and anxious to leave the loud and turbulent troposphere where they have been hiding. Sheets of rain followed, hitting the ground with an unnatural intensity, splattered off the pavement and recoiling inches up into the air. The gutters were quickly overwhelmed. The dry pond filled up and threatened to overflow. Images of my basement flooding coursed through my mind. I wondered if the sump pump still worked.

That’s how it started last Friday night and except for a few couple hour breaks that’s how it has been here in the metropolitan Washington area ever since. I would like to say it feels like Oregon, but Oregon does not get thunderstorms, or so a resident who lives there told me. This is the rain we needed during the spring but mostly never received. It has arrived, finally. And yes basements were flooded, although mine was not. The low spot in my backyard, however, resembles something of a pond. Birds are enjoying playing in it. All over the metropolitan area there is flooding. Trees are down, including a large elm tree on the White House grounds. Storm waters lifted cars off the pavement on Constitution Avenue. Blocks were closed to traffic until the water could recede. In the building where I worked, the water covered the cafeteria. The janitorial staff worked overtime with the wet/dry vacuums during the weekend to remove the water. The tile floor looked scuffed and damaged.

Around midnight early Saturday a huge storm hit, keeping my wife and me up half the night. Even with my ears plugged with silicone, I could not tune it out. Saturday morning found me bleary eyed in the kitchen. The storm had receded for a few hours but it was soon back. Boom. BOOM. More shake, rattle and roll. The dry pond, which had nearly drained, was now close to overflowing again. More waves of rain danced for our amusement on the pavement in front of our house.

Sunday, it was more of the same. By Sunday, it was no longer fun. In fact, what we were experienced seemed unnatural. Having lived in Florida I knew my thunderstorms. At least they went away and disappeared until late in the afternoon the following day. There was some relief. Here in Northern Virginia, there was little in the way of relief. If you had to go somewhere, a sturdy umbrella was a prerequisite.

Today at work from my fifth floor office, I found it difficult to concentrate. My eyes kept being drawn outside the window. There were more very ominous clouds in the southwest. The rain for a while had receded, but there was no sunshine, just another ominous feeling again. Boom! Flashes of lightning. I am not sure where the wind came from, but somehow the flag in front of my building was moving in the wind, despite a torrential downpour. My boss stopped by my office to marvel at this long lasting natural oddity. Was that hail? No, they were just megadrops cascading off the roof, and dancing on the concrete ledge outside my office window. Even from five floors up, you could feel the intensity of the storm.

Water cooler conversation was dominated by the weather. Some federal buildings were shutting down. You know it is serious when the Office of Personnel Management is issuing statements that it is okay for employees to take unscheduled leave. The basement of the National Archives was flooded. Local news reported numerous stories of people stuck in surging waters, only to find themselves trapped. Fortunately, I have not yet heard any story of a fatality. However, there were reports of many rescues.

It is now Monday evening. For the first time in days, the pavement is beginning to look dry. The skies do not look so ominous. There is no peal of thunder in the air. Perhaps the worst is over. On the other hand, perhaps not. More showers and thunderstorms are forecast for tonight, as well as additional localized flooding. A flood watch remains in effect through tomorrow night. Showers and thunderstorms are expected tomorrow too. It is not until Wednesday that skies are forecast to clear, at least partially. Perhaps then, our umbrellas will have a chance to dry out. Perhaps I will sleep through the night again. Perhaps I will not need to build the ark in my backyard after all.


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