Saturday, December 10, 2011

Why I watch the Weather

Here is something I wrote back in January, I made minor changes as I learned more about storms and weather history.  This is a personal account, and that I am lucky to be alive to write this.

The first time I seen unusually strong weather was when I lived in Glenside in the late '70s. I was about 11 years old, I was just home from school with my brother and we noticed that the sky turned dark very quickly. The winds gradually picked up from a normal 5 or 10 miles an hour to the point that you can hear whistling sounds and eventually the sound turned to a freight train noise. The house literally shook and when I looked out the living room window, I saw arcing wires outside just from the winds that hit our house. The noise got so bad that we were shouting in fear.  When the event ended, we wandered outside and did not see damage to our house, but we looked two houses over and saw that a large branch from a nearby tree fell on a work van in their driveway.  A little later we spoke to a friend who told us that there was more damage about 5 blocks away.  I jump on my bike to get there and saw a huge maple tree had fallen on top of a station wagon that was parked on the driveway.  As you can imagine, the car was heavily damaged from this large tree.

I would like to find old records of the event, but I am absolutely sure that this was the result of a small funnel cloud. I am sure the winds had to top 70 miles per, I have checked online and cannot find a recorded event of a EF-0 in Glenside around 1978-1979.  I think about what happened now and how we were really lucky that this was not worse than it was, but it seems that the mini twister followed a chaotic path, that touched the ground then would lift up again then touch down with more force a few blocks away.

The second event that happened to me was when I lived in Guayaquil Ecuador (South America).  I did not have internet access at time, and I was looking for a new job.  I had a former co-worker that was one of my basic Photoshop students, he referred me to the owner of an Ad Agency.  The day I went to the job interview  was a day of typical tropic warmth and bright but somewhat normally cloudy skies.  I was hired and told when to report to the job. (YES!)  Then first day of the job was a nightmare it was the first time I witnessed the effects of “El Niño Southern Oscillation.  I never heard about “El Niño” before then, and that it was forming that week off the coast of Ecuador and Peru in the Pacific Ocean.  My first day on the job and the two months that followed was a life altering event. That day I had witnessed about four feet of water on flooded streets. Torrential rains that looked like the clouds reached 400% relative humidity. I only made it to work safely because I got lost driving to work. By some crazy luck, I took higher ground. I instinctively drove to up hills and did make it to work. When I got to work I had found the owner was on the phone speaking to some of his employees who could not make it in, they were stranded on the flooded roads that were shut down by high water. The crazy “Gringo” (me)  and two other people made it to work that day.  After that, I was of course in shock. I did run into more problems, the rain did not stop. I think it rained without ending for about 4 days or more at a time. It got so bad from driving in deep water that the brakes on my car slowly disintegrated. I then had to take the bus to get to work for about a week. I then got my car back, new brakes I was happy. However my car started to smell bad from flooded water that would seep into the car. That was not the end of my troubles, I was driving home one night and it started to rain again but this time it was much stronger than before. I was on the final stretch of road getting near the house. I noticed that my windshield wipers failed to clean off the glass fast enough to aid my vision. I was driving about 30-35 mph and just started to slow down. The water on the road started to pond, I wanted to avoid hydroplaning so I gradually slowed down, but then the car felt like it quickly fell  downward. Like the feeling you get when you fall in a very large pothole. I could no longer see the road from the blinding rain and dense low clouds.  I guided myself by trees and the brush lining the left edge highway divider and on the right side was driving near a slight embankment that did not have a barrier. When the car fell, it bottomed out violently, two things occurred. The brake line under the car snapped off and the engine stalled from the impact. I tried to hit the brakes and restart the vehicle but the brake pedal sank to the floor board.  I did not panic, I let the car roll and started it, then I down shifted into second to let the engine slow the car down to then again downshift again into first gear.  At that point I was driving my VW Beetle in first gear, (12 mpg?) my wipers were useless and no brakes.  Imagine driving a car blind with no brakes. Yes I did make it home safe, I was the only nut on that flooded road.  I went through 3 sets of brake shoes, and two headlights as they were destroyed by water. After the first rains I padded the spark plug wires with rubber cement and the car did not fail to start after that. At times I was driving around with about four of more inches of water sloshing around inside the car.

I did see other weather events, 3 foot snowstorms, glancing blows from passing hurricanes, and ice storms, but now after seeing all this I have to say that you learn to have a great respect of the forces of nature.

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