¬†¬†¬†¬† One night last week I was awakened¬†by¬†crashing¬†thunder.¬† Rain lashed against the windows, surging with the wind, as if¬†trying to break them.
¬†¬†¬†¬† I got out of bed to take a look.¬† The sky, which should have been fully dark at this hour, was instead only intermittently dark.¬† Lightning flashed so frequently that the sky¬†was mostly light.¬†¬†Although I’m usually¬†one to enjoy a good thunderstorm (from indoors, that is), this storm made me a little nervous.¬† It was battering the house and bending the trees with a fury I have seldom witnessed.¬† For the first time ever, I wondered if we were safe in our upstairs bedroom.¬† Should we sleep downstairs instead, in case a tree might come crashing through the roof?
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†But by morning, all was calm.¬† The sun¬†shone,¬†and¬†the sky was¬†bright.¬† I stepped outdoors and was pleasantly surprised to see how normal everything looked.¬† A few small branches lay scattered about¬†the driveway, but nothing substantial.¬†¬† I marveled that the dogwood blossoms were still fastened to the trees, that the little pansies in¬†my¬†window boxes had made it through.¬† How could¬†such fragile little flowers survive¬†such a beating?
¬†¬†¬†¬† Sometime during the storm, the electricity had gone out.¬†¬†We were cut off from our usual sources of news, so¬†all¬†I knew of what was going on in the world was what I could see around me.¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† Later that morning, I decided to go out for a run.¬† I stopped to talk to a neighbor who told me that a tornado had swept up and over our ridge druing the night, uprooting trees, flattening chicken houses and a barn.¬†¬†About a half-mile down the road I talked to another neighbor who had actually heard the tornado charge past at about 3 am.¬† “It sounded just like they say it¬†does,” he explained.¬† “Just like a freight train, only without the whistle.¬† And it¬†lasted¬†only¬†a few seconds.”
¬†¬†¬†¬† I ran on.¬† Before long, the scene¬†became dramatic, chaotic.¬† Trees, some of them large, lay across the road.¬† A crown of new, green leaves at one end, exposed roots covered with fresh soil¬†at the other end.¬†¬†Some trees still stood, but their trunks had been snapped in the middle.¬†¬†Jagged splinters protruded from the still rooted¬†trunk.¬† And the top portion¬†was folded over,¬†its¬†topmost branches and twigs crushed against the ground next to the rest of the tree.¬†¬†The sweet smell of¬†freshly cut wood seemed out of place;¬† it doesn’t belong in a mature forest.
¬†¬†¬†¬† All around¬†was a mess, but an intrepid neighbor was¬†working to make the road passable again.¬† Cutting through the trunks and branches that blocked the road,¬†he admitted he was tired, having been out there with his Bobcat since first light.
¬†¬†¬†¬† Three days later, my husband Andy and I took a walk along¬†the ridge in a different direction, and then down one of our smaller country roads.¬† We’d heard from a neighbor that funnel clouds had touched down there as well.¬† And soon we came upon the evidence.¬†¬†Uprooted trees and severed limbs, thrown by the storm¬†into the road, had been pushed aside and were now resting against the grassy¬†slopes lining the road.¬†¬†Here and there¬†trees stood,¬†minus tops that the storm had torn away.¬†¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† Here, it was more than trees that had been damaged.¬† A barn, neat and tidy-looking just a few days before, was now¬†collapsed and spread over the grass.¬† Pieces of it were caught in nearby–and not so nearby–trees.¬†¬†Fortunately, the tornadoes caused no human deaths,¬†even though we later learned that the system churned its way up the valley a distance of¬†more than 20 miles.
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Since the tornadoes swept through our area, I have heard neighbors commenting about the power of nature and acts of God.¬† But¬†it seems clear to me that these terms no longer fully capture the¬†state of¬†our situation, because now, even our weather is partly man-made.¬† At an accelerating rate, over¬†the last two centuries we have been changing the atmosphere of our planet.¬† And climate scientists have been telling us that the effects of these changes, especially the near doubling of the proportion of carbon in our atmosphere, would¬†result not just in warming, but¬†in an increase of extreme weather events as well.¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† Over the course of the last year, we have seen¬†many examples of extreme weather.¬† Two of the most dramatic were the crippling drought in Russia and¬†devastating floods in Pakistan.¬† And last week’s storm is part of this picture.¬† Our little tornadoes in Virginia were a piece of a southern regionwide tornado system that killed more than 300 people.¬† It was a storm the likes of which¬†have not been seen in North America in 40 years.¬† No, the weather is not what it used to be.–April Moore