When you live in places where you can see weather coming, sometimes for hours before it finally reaches you, you develop an appreciation for clouds and storms or wanna-be-storms seen from below. I enjoy weaving around cloud towers in the air, so long as I have a way out and they stay towers, not “Oh dear, that’s a wall with hail streamers, I do believe I’m in trouble.” And I’d just as soon be under a roof when the weather starts producing 50 kt winds, sideways rain, and Things Hiding In the Dark (aka rain-wrapped tornadoes at night).
This past week graced the High Plains with a variety of weather. It started with south-southeast winds, the like that pump moisture up from the Gulf of Mexico and that mean the odds of rain are increasing by the hour. While Denver got so much hail they had to snow-plow the baseball stadium in order to play, down here we had thunderstorms, or just sticky wind with increasing numbers of thick, grey-bottomed clouds. Tuesday evening, the clouds had grown thick enough to hide the sun, streaming in from the west as anvils blew out ahead of the storms.
Rain came overnight in Amarillo and the central panhandle, with some noise and light around 0300 local time. I woke up enough to notice the cat burrowing in, and the flashes. I’d unplugged the computers and moved my back-up drives to a safe location, so I just rolled over and went back to sleep. I drove to work under grey, spittering clouds. They had relatively high bases, so I could see clear gaps around the rain. By noon, when I went to get something hot to drink (the biiiiig coffee pot was empty) the clouds had developed into layers and building towers. A second storm-stirrer was approaching, a cold front from the northwest, and showers had started bubbling. You caught glimpses of them between breaks in the lower level as you waited for traffic to pass, if you looked up. Grey-blue below, then painfully bright white, the white I imagine angels must be like, and almost turquoise sky above, with hints of ice clouds in the stratosphere, somewhere up in the heights. By late afternoon, showers trailed their blue-grey skirts across the clean, green grasslands, and the rich, spicy smell of damp shortgrass filled the afternoon air. All was right with the world, at least for me.
Sunset was undershot pink and orange, with more storms meandering through over night. Thursday dawned with cloud towers in the east, and then fog swept in just after dawn, hiding the moon and everything else, swirling and dissolving the edges of the plains. By noon, when I quit for the day (OK. When I finished grading and checked out for the day,) a few more showers were forming, or acted as if they wanted to form. Then the grey returned until just before sunset. The clouds turned pink and lavender, then that brilliant pink and red that looks so tacky anywhere else. The different layers and heights of cloud caught the colors, sending them back and forth, slowly shifting to purple-grey and then moon-washed grey-white.
The High Plains and Llano Estacado don’t have the dramatic physical landscape of the Front Range, or the craggy coastlines in Oregon, Washington, and northern California. You don’t see jagged teeth of mountains looming, like the Alps loom over southern Bavaria*. 95% of the time, you have to look up in order to see a dramatic world. Unless there’s a range fire.
*When I finally saw the Alps from the north, on a chilly late June afternoon with clouds snagging their peaks, I understood in my gut why people dreaded the mountains for so long. They were not pretty. They were scary, a scary, sharp wall, cold-looking under fresh snow.