Enough rain to change an attitude

BY RANDALL RIGSBEE, News + Record Staff
Posted 4/19/19

Thunder! Lightning! Rain!

None of it troubles me much. I sleep like a baby through most bad nighttime storms, which could be more indicative of ignorance than grit.

But I know weather can pack …

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Enough rain to change an attitude

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Thunder! Lightning! Rain!

None of it troubles me much. I sleep like a baby through most bad nighttime storms, which could be more indicative of ignorance than grit.

But I know weather can pack a life-changing punch. As a reporter, I’ve written about a lot of catastrophic weather events — tornadoes, straight-line winds, hurricanes and floods — and been lucky enough not to be in the direct path of the damage.

And in my personal life I’ve experienced a few unsettling weather moments, the two most memorable occurring in the early 1970s, when we had rotary telephones that didn’t receive routine weather alerts.

One early spring afternoon, sitting in a classroom at Hillandale School in Durham, my second-grade classmates and I watched as the sun disappeared, usurped by ominous dark clouds just before the arrival of an intense, fast-moving, thunderstorm.

Before our eyes (the ground-floor classroom offered an unobstructed view through its windows of the school’s playground) we were all turned to watch when a thunderbolt struck the tallest tree on the school property, hitting it with an intense boom and instantly carving a big gash into the tree’s trunk before running along the ground, forging a narrow, rough trench in the dirt eight or 10 feet long.

The violent storm left as quickly as it arrived and after the sun re-emerged and the roomful of fear-struck students regained composure, our teacher allowed us to go outside and inspect the damage. I remember all of us running our hands along the splintered tree trunk, examining the trench that, 15 minutes earlier hadn’t existed, and marveling at the power of a thunderbolt.

The second happened when I was a couple of years older. In a fashion similar to the first, a sunny day — this time it was on a weekend and I was home with my family — turned dark quickly and before any of us knew what was happening, we were in the midst of heavy thunder and lightning. With my parents and siblings, we gathered in the kitchen to marvel at the conditions outdoors, when without warning lightning struck one of the tall pines in our backyard, before running along the ground about 20 feet toward our house and blowing open the back door to the kitchen, where we all stood.

The part I’ll never forget is what happened after the door blew open. Something I can only describe as a fireball — it was an orb of intense white light about eight inches in diameter — hung mid-air, about eye-level in our kitchen for a moment, maybe a second or two, before exploding with a loud pop and vanishing.

I freaked out, running for cover into another room and screaming as I went. But in my defense, I was 9 years old.

As an adult, I’ve handled storms and related weather events with far more calm than I demonstrated when faced with menacing thunderbolts as a kid, but something far more subtle than a fireball still managed to shake me a bit in the aftermath of last Friday’s heavy rainfall.

Inspecting the results of the Friday afternoon storm in my backyard, I observed that so much rain had fallen so quickly that standing water had risen to an all-time new high.

A distinct new waterline was visible on trees and furniture and, on close inspection, I noticed that water had risen to the floor of my outdoor tool shed, which is built on a foundation the height of two stacked cinderblocks.

It’s a genuine first, standing rain never before coming close to that level in that location. This is due, I’m sure, to the complete saturation of our soil from months of near-daily rainfall.

I don’t doubt I’ll continue to sleep soundly during storms, but as we get more and more rain, I’m growing more uneasy about what I may find on the ground when I wake up.


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