I had never seen an electrical storm until I moved down South. Growing up in Ohio, we had thunder, rain, and even tornadoes.Nasty tornadoes. I had seen green skies and taken refuge in the bathtub. When I was very small, lightning shot into the window of our farmhouse past my metal high chair to strike the telephone and arc across the room and blast the refrigerator. But none of those things hold a candle to the weather I’ve experienced down here.
Of course, it helps that I was extremely small when the lightning nearly hit me. I only remember the sound it made on contact with the phone. Mom is the one who remembers what it looked like shooting around the kitchen like while she tried to get to her baby.
Even Florida’s storms can’t have anything on Alabama. Down in Naples, dark clouds come in from the Gulf every afternoon. Sometimes, you can set your clocks not by the tides, but by the afternoon thunder bumpers. The sky blows purple and the rain cascades down. I used to look out the windows with my grandparents and talk fishing with Poppa while it blew over.
But since we’ve moved to Montgomery, I’ve seen lightning strike the ground over and over in a circular pattern in the middle of the day. I’ve watched the sky turn slate gray between the time I left for an appointment and the time I arrived at my destination. I’ve felt the hair on my arms stand up and smelled ozone. I’ve sat at stoplights wishing there was some way to just get off the road.
Ironic that we’ve been in a season of drought down here.
Today, taking Caroline to therapy, one of those endless storms unleashed. It started with rain while I was loading her into the car. By the time we pulled out of the parking lot, the thunder was grumbling. And by the time we got to the therapy center, I was having that stoplight problem. Lightning struck earth again and again, blinding like an incessantly flashing camera, and every time I rolled to a stop under a power line, I held my breath and willed the light’s cycle to hurry up and go to green.
I dropped Caroline at the hospital’s covered entrance, telling her to hurry into the therapy center and tell them I’d be in once I parked. But by the time I parked, the rain was blowing sideways, rocking the new car with each gust. I waited in the car for a few minutes, to see if things would settle down. But I couldn’t find my phone to call in and tell the folks indoors that I was in good shape. I knew Caroline would worry. So I finally grabbed my purse and headed in.
I didn’t have an umbrella, but it wouldn’t have mattered. The wind would have collapsed and shredded it. I was drenched before I’d closed the door, and I had to hold my purse in front of me and look at the ground so I could see. Water ran down my forehead and into my eyes, blowing in around my glasses like I didn’t have them on. I was using my spare arm to hold them on my face by the time I reached the door. It was a short walk, but it took me nearly two soaking minutes to get there.
I walked through the sliding glass doors, and four nurses stopped and stared. “Are you going to…?” one of them asked.
“She means, are you trying to visit…?” another continued.
“Therapy center.” I said. “I let my daughter in under the archway, but I had to park and come back.
“Oh, good,” said the first nurse. “I mean … not good…”
“She means they have towels in there,” the second nurse cut in. They would have made a great Abbot and Costello routine. She meant that I would terrify anybody unlucky enough to receive me as a guest or ride up the elevator by my side. But her friend covered nicely, and the promise of towels sounded like heaven. In fact, the therapists took one look at me raining on their floor and offered me my choice of hospital gowns and scrubs while they dried my clothes. They were terribly concerned for my modesty, and I got to hang out in what I suppose would have been a patient cubicle, complete
with a hospital bed that they invited me to lie down in.
And after an hour alone in a hospital strength dryer, my clothes were still not totally dry. I was that wet. They offered to let me take the scrubs home with me, but I was happy
enough to be damp rather than swimming, and it wasn’t like I was going out to a
day filled with sunshine and bluebirds.
Because Alabama storms don’t typically just blow over the way Florida’s Gulf Coast ones do. In Alabama, the dark clouds stay overhead for hours afterwards, and the weather has to make its ponderous way elsewhere. In other parts of the city, the rain was not so bad. This was an isolated explosion, like so many are in this state. It’s not uncommon for half the city to be wet and the other half to be dry. Or for someone
standing outside to hear the rain approaching up the street and have time to
run and get the mail on the way indoors. Or for the rain-line on the road to mark clearly the point where the clouds began their water delivery.
But the lightning strikes Caroline and I saw while driving knocked out power to at least an entire block. The hospital lights flickered before backup power kicked in, and I can only hope the surgery rooms were better protected against such fluctuation. Many of the stores in the nearby shopping plaza (I refuse to call Eastchase a mall, since it lacks a roof, which I consider essential to the definition of mall) remained without power when
Caroline and I tried to reward ourselves with a smoothie some thirty minutes after it had stopped actually raining.
I’m beginning to understand why they call this section of the country “tornado alley”, and I hope madly to never find out on a more personal level than this exactly how bad it can get here.