The Panhandle spent Tuesday waiting. Storms were coming. Everyone knew it, felt it, you could smell the water in the wind. But when would they come? How bad would they be?
Thick clouds kept the morning cold, with a strong south wind pumping even more moisture into the area. Then the wind swung, dropping the temperature. By ten AM, I could not see the pasture fence ten yards from my classroom window. And radar showed storms to the west, moving northeast at a brisk pace. The line seemed to be filling in to the south, and moving east, but when? And how strong? With the temperature in the upper 50s, tornadoes and large hail wouldn’t be a concern, but what hid in the thick, swirling grey fog and twilight-dark sky?
Just before noon the first wave reached the school with a snarl of wind and roaring on the roof and western wall. A few patters of drops turned into a moderately loud pounding and gush-ing. The visibility lifted to half a mile, and a hawk fought the storm, chasing something in the pasture, a dark shape against only slightly paler sky and rain. The wind sang around the corners of the roof, and at times the roar of the most intense showers momentarily drowned out student conversations in the lunch room and gym, where the insulation under the metal roof is thinnest.
Just after one thirty thunder bellowed from overhead. The students jumped, ducking a little and looking to see if anyone else had reacted. The lights didn’t flicker, but I had already turned off the other computer, just in case. The one on “my” desk has the newer surge protector. Outside the window, puddles formed on the dirt road behind the school, but the bar ditch remained empty.
The main storm line passed by 1545, although drips and spitters still fell, or rather blew, from the grey lumps of cloud racing south, now chased by a raw north wind. Hints of blue sky appeared between the low, tattered stratus. The clouds had an almost furtive air about them, as if they did not want to be noticed now that their work was done. Or were they fleeing, chased by something stronger to the north, hurrying ahead of the main storm? Farther east, tornadoes danced up and down, tapping the broken lands of the Red River drainage before rising back into the storm.
Heavy, soaking, tropical rain returned overnight, blown against the school by ferocious north winds that cut through insulated coats, tore at hats, and slapped the building as if frustrated that something dared stand in their way. The constant drumming on the roof hesitated only when a strong gust swirled, breaking the rhythm. Two or three times the patter turned to a hiss, and the soft plink plink of sneet and ice on my window made the morning feel even colder. I wished I had a big, hot Indian chai to sip on as I graded, but that would entail going into the storm. Instead I pulled my wool jacket tighter. I knew no wind got into the classroom, and the heater kept things at sixty-eight degrees, but the sound of ice and rain against the wall…
By noon the ditch had filled up, the puddles combined to form a waterway, and the bulk of the rain began shifting away. When I left at 1545, only a faint cold mist followed the biting wind, not so cold as strong. It whipped the tails of my long insulated duster raincoat, tried to blow my hat away despite ear flaps and chin strap, hurled hapless sparrows like shuttlecocks until they could find a perch, and discouraged loitering.
Sunset that evening sprayed the sky pink and crimson, throwing waves of color onto high sheets of cirrus clouds, and touching the low shreds of stratus with accents of rose, gold, and Wedgwood blue. Over two and a half inches of rain had soaked much of the Panhandle, all but the southwest corner and northwest tip.
Thursday the fresh-washed world looked clean, colors brighter than before, the sky bluer, the birds more vocal. As King David said: “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God. And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain.” (2 Samuel 23: 3-4) (For the musical setting by Randall Thompson, fast forward to 1:00)