Dust in the Night

The storms rolled through to the south, turning the southern sky a deep blue-black that heralded heavy weather for someone. The wind out of the south carried a hint of moisture, but not much. By six in the evening, you could see paler grey clouds cutting across the sky to the north, darkening to the east, and virga veils starting to drift down. In the west, a large gap of clear or cirrus draped sky warned that no one should get their hopes up. The evening walkers stayed close to home, just in case, and every few minutes, a gust of wind bearing a tantalizing hint of rain-wet and damp dirt smell crossed the city. Drier puffs always followed. The virga failed to touch ground. The dry line staggered back and forth before draping itself on a frustrating diagonal northeast to southwest across the Panhandle.

A few thunderstorms lingered to the southwest of town, but failed to come closer. The sun disappeared into a clear western sky and that seemed to be the end of any chance of rain. Perhaps tomorrow.

But then a line of storms began marching up the highway toward town. They held together, perhaps even growing just a touch stronger on radar as they drew closer. But would it rain? It should, if the radar proved true. But perhaps not. In the darkness, the wind went calm, then seemed to shift a touch to the north, heralding a cold front. But it swung again as the storms drew closer, pumping moisture up the plains, raising thew dew point and adding fuel for the approaching storms. People rolled up car windows and moved potted plants that might suffer from hail. There had been golf-ball hail to the south.

The storm line arrived with 70 mph winds and a wall of dust. Dust in the darkness can’t be seen, only tasted and felt, blasting in through open windows and under doors with tired weather-stripping. The street light at the end of the block disappeared for a few minutes, reappearing slowly. Dust churned, darkening the darkness, coating everything. Garbage cans rolled downwind clanging and thumping in protest, patio furniture flipped over, sheds tipped on their sides, and a few buildings and carports shed their sheet-metal roofs. Tree limbs blew across the street, tattered leaves traveling further to slap against windows as the wind roared in the night.

And five drops of mud fell.

Dust hung in the air until after midnight. The air felt like a bitter trick played by an especially mean wind god. The coolness tempted people to open windows, and the dust flowed in as well.

And so spring raced across the High Plains.