BY MADONNA HAMEL
In Saskatchewan, we just have weather. The bad is implied, it comes without saying and certainly without beckoning. Everybody around here’s got a weather story. And now I’ve got one too. A storm story so significant I can call it “The hailstorm of 2018”. But here’s how it unfolded for me:
I was walking back from the store with a pack of smokes for Dell, one of my characters, a woman pilot. She was about to take the stage, the next night in fact, at the Lyric Theatre. I was in the midst of rehearsing, getting all my lines down, when I thought I’d get a cigarette in her hand, for effect.
The sky was up to its own special effects on my walk home. Besides the hot wind sucking my breath out of me, the clouds overhead were turning green. They reminded me of the one tornado I got caught in Memphis in ’91. A house near me was cleaved in two by a fallen tree. I was walking at that time, as well, and a flash flood rushed around my knees on Overton Ave, carrying red rushing muddy water and a broken beer bottle.
In the storm of 2018 in Val Marie, I was slow to cotton to how bad things could be. I was immersed in my rehearsing and hadn’t seen or heard any of the broadcast storm warnings. When I finally got a text from a friend saying she was headed to the basement I thought she was joking- besides, who would do that and miss the spectacular free show shaping up outside?
When it started to rain hard drops all I thought was: ahhhhh a good cooling off at last. Til the drops turned to dimes and my thoughts turned to the farmers. I stopped, but only long enough for the vacuum suction of the supercell altocumulus to haul those raindrops back into it, like a hungry beast or a riptide, it sucked them back until they got so heavy with ice they returned in the size of golf balls. They fell nosily and hurriedly and I ran out then to collect some for my freezer.
When it stopped for another three minutes it was just gathering steam for its next big pummeling. Baseballs were hurled by the hand of a drunken pitcher with a solid arm. They came vertically, horizontally, noisily and at high velocity. Branches too were falling everywhere, breaking what the hail missed. Birds were clipped on their wings and spun into and under trees.
Somewhere inside the mayhem, I was miffed at how this turn of meteorological events was breaking my concentration, taking me off script: Do you mind? I am trying to memorize this story about pioneer women lost in storms, with no one to call, text, email, nor drive to for help! With no one to even know they are out there, trapped by circumstance and weather! “Raise your voices to weather and men!” goes one of my lines. But I was whimpering at the inconvenience and expense.
It stopped, only to be followed by a whirlwind, a blur passing around and over me. It seemed everything went one colour, dark grey, and the rush of wind was even louder than the crashing hailstones. I kept thinking of Dorothy’s house lifting into the sky and I wondered where I would land. Then it was over. The sun came out and the rattled birdies sang and the air was perfect, eerily still. After the deluge farmers wryly commented: Well, we got some rain. I went collecting baseballs. Every one of them left a dent in the ground leaving lawns looking like putting greens.
While our stones were noteworthy, the largest hailstone ever collected in 2003 when a stone the size of a soccer ball in Nevada. And it sits in a freezer at the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Boulder Colorado. Put that on your bucket list. The largest officially recorded hailstone to land in Canada was in Cedoux Saskatchewan, weighing in at 290 grams and resembling a grapefruit. Unfortunately, 63,000 birds were killed.
You wonder, when the monstroculumuls super sucking cloud cell is sucking rain and hail up and down like a yo-yo, does it suck birds and bugs up with it too? And all those lost gardening gloves and tools? If I were to wander further afield would I find them dropped and mangled in a heap?
In Bangladesh 2000 cows and 60 people were killed in a hailstorm in 1986.
I still drive with plastic on my back window. I’m painting hailstone sized daisies in every dent in my car. “That’ll affect your resale value”, the adjuster cautioned. “Good one!” I laughed.
And I learned a few other lessons too, lessons from the old-timers and indigenous locals: They called it ‘The Knowing’.
Know that: it’s tornados that cause hail. We were catching the tornado’s skirts or shirt tails as it swept through the south.
Know to: Listen for the sound of a freight train. In Herbert, where I was performing this piece freight trains pass through regularly. Also, the sound of a train whistle changes as the air changes.
Know your bones and your body: those joints, corns, and bunions are feeling the pressure of air against them as it shifts from positive to negatively charged moisture, giving you less room in your shoes.
Know the subtle listening of your child and animal self. Vegetation starts whispering, discharging electricity. You can hear it in the calm before a storm. And look at the poplars, they show their silver side of their leaves and notice how the cows are all lie down in the field, tails to the west, where the weather is best. And heed the bees- making a beeline to the hive because they know as a storm is on is the way.
If there’s a big halo around the sun or moon it means a storm is coming SOON! Flowers will close their blooms- right in front of you, like my pot of gentians at the front door. Heliotropes follow the sun- and when rain is on the way they face straight upward so they can catch every drop. And hair, the biggest give away, gets unmanageable. (For me that’s not much of a help. I struggle with its wayward behaviour every day.)
Seems stormy weather keeps us all together, telling stories till the end of time.