This is a fine time of year to be outside in the Midwest. The high temperature hits the 70s, and conditions tend toward dry and sunny. But if you’d like to enjoy that weather by reading a good book in our backyard, you’d better bring along your hard hat—just in case.
We’ve got a tree back there—a black walnut, maybe?—that drops these little green bombs, some of which are shown in the photo above, on the unsuspecting. The green pellets are just under the size of a tennis ball and solid, with the green casing covering a black nut underneath. If you’re sitting outside, they drop unexpectedly from the tree branches far overhead, first rustling the leaves and then hitting the ground with a noticeable thump. It’s unnerving. The green casing then dissolves, leaving the nut underneath to be enjoyed by the neighborhood squirrels.
I haven’t been hit—yet—by one of the green projectiles, but this time of year I tend to stick to the screened-in porch, just in case.
Tonight the rain clouds finally moved through, and as we walked to dinner the clouds were piled on top of each other to the east as the setting sun backlit the boats from the west. The gathered cloud banks seemed to stack up to the very top of the sky. It was spectacular.
And all the time I was thinking I would have a cheeseburger for dinner.
It rained for most of the day yesterday, rained some more throughout the night, and is raining still this morning. As this look down our road/driveway shows, my walk today is going to be a wet one.
I don’t mind a wet walk. In fact, I appreciate them as a real change of pace. You’ve got to adjust your mindset for a wet walk, because you’ll need to really pay attention to what you’re doing. I don’t wear my earbuds and listen to music on the wet walks, because I want to stay actively engaged with my surroundings. No wool gathering is permitted. You’ve got puddles to dodge, and an umbrella to maneuver against the windblown raindrops, and potential splashes from passing pickups to watch out for.
But once you get out into all that rain and wetness and puddled terrain, you find things to like. The road has a special shine to it. The rain makes drumming and popping sounds against the fabric of the umbrella and the leaves on the trees and the surface of the puddles. The wet air almost seems to hug you, and the watery breeze smells fresh and clean and good. And when you get back, wetter than when you left, you feel pretty good about going out at all.
We’ve had multiple tropical storms move up through New England this summer, but Ida–which blew through last night and today–was by far the most memorable. The remnants of the storm brought high winds and sheets of rain that dumped multiple inches of water on our community. And that impact doesn’t even compare to the chaos that Ida produced in New York City, according to news reports.
The amount of rain associated with tropical storms is impressive. I can’t find an official announcement of just how much rain fell in Stonington over the last 24 hours, but it was enough to totally flood our down yard, submerging the beds I’ve created and turning some of the lupines and ferns into underwater greenery, and to convert the drainage ditch on the northern border of our property, which normally carries a small trickle down its narrow channel, into a loud, raging torrent of whitewater.
Fortunately, the ferns and lupines that are planted in the flooded area are hardy and capable of withstanding a water onslaught. It’s going to take a while for the yard to dry out from today’s drenching, however.
The mercury climbed up to about 80 yesterday, which constitutes “extreme heat” conditions on Deer Isle. There was only one viable heat relief option in an area where no one has air conditioning: join dozens of other residents at Lily’s Pond for a refreshing swim.
I dog paddled out into the pond, dodging the two older women chatting in the shallows, the kid who was using a beach ball and a circular float to play a kind of water basketball, and the new mother who had her baby out in the water. By the time I got to more open water I floated happily, listening to some teenagers play Marco Polo and marveling at the water temperature differences you can experience in natural bodies of water, with warm sections right next to cold spots—just one of the things that distinguish pond swimming from pool swimming. By the time I emerged to towel off it was as if my internal body temperature had readjusted, and the outdoor heat felt a lot more endurable. A nice breeze ruffled the leaves overhead and completed the cooling process.
And as I sat and enjoyed the day I pondered the age-old question: why did the name of an Italian merchant and explorer from the 13th century become the key element of a game of water hide and seek?
Our weather app advises that, for now at least, tropical storm Henri is supposed to make landfall somewhere in southern New England, several hundred miles below Deer Isle. We’re forecast to get three days of rain as the remnants of Henri pass through, but are supposed to avoid the high winds and storm surge that would accompany a direct hit.
As we’ve heard about the path of Henri over the last few days, I’ve wondered why they would name a tropical storm “Henri” in the first place. I know that, long ago, we stopped giving exclusively women’s names to hurricanes and tropical storms, but now we seem to have crossed the threshold into foreign name territory, which opens up an entirely new realm of possibilities. To my mind, “Henri” isn’t a particularly threatening name for a potentially devastating storm; instead, it conjures up images of annoying French mimes and suggests that you should welcome the arrival of the storm with some brie, pate, and a good Bordeaux. It also causes those of us who took French in high school–the “language of diplomacy,” as our French teacher constantly reminded us–to dig deep into the lingering remnants of our French vocabulary and work on our pronunciation skills.
In my view, tropical storms should be given names that encourage feelings of fear and concern, in order to incentivize people to take the storm seriously, prepare for the worst, and evacuate if necessary. Hurricane Genghis would do that, or tropical storm Rasputin. I think Hurricane Svetlana would be a good choice, too.
I’d forgotten the awesome majesty of a Midwestern summer storm. I’m not talking about a rain cloud or two that brings casual showers. No, I speak of the real golly whoppers, the kind that bring banks of huge, dark, enormous clouds rolling in from the west, piled on top of each of each other until the clouds seem the reach up to the very heavens, turning the sunny skies into an angry canvas streaked with black and charcoal and an ugly yellow. The kind of storms that filter the sunlight into a dim twilight and leave the air feeling heavy and almost electrically charged.
I’ve experienced these storms walking to and from work this week, and it’s brought back some of those Midwestern reflexes. You scan the skies and listen for the low rumble of thunder and try to figure out how far away the real storm and rain really is. You’re especially sensitive to the wind, knowing that an abrupt change in temperature or direction or velocity might be a harbinger of a drenching. You keep an eye out for places where you might seek shelter when the storm really hits, understanding that even the sturdiest umbrella is going to provide no meaningful protection when you are pelted with a blanket of raindrops the size of a baby’s fist, blown sideways by a gale. And above all, you watch for flashes of lightning and count until you hear the crack, knowing that lightning means you’d better seriously pick up the pace.
I’ve been splattered a few times this morning, and yesterday morning I was doused into drowned rat territory when the heavens opened and produced a gullywasher when I was a mere two blocks from the office. Even so, I’ve enjoyed being reintroduced to Midwestern summer storms. They really are quite a spectacle.
The weather apps in our phones not only have changed the ways we check the weather, they also are a source of amusement—and amazement.
In the olden, pre-app days, you’d check the weather by looking out the window, or maybe watching the local news for tomorrow’s forecast. But the weather apps give you seven days of weather at a glance, with icons and scientific-seeming percentages about the chance of rain. And when you live in Columbus, or Stonington, or anywhere but Arizona, there’s always rain somewhere in the forecast.
The entertainment value comes from wondering how they develop those awesomely precise percentages, and then watching them change repeatedly. What distinguishes a 30 percent chance of rain five days from now from a 40, or 50, or 60 percent chance? What factors do the apps consider in assigning those values? And the frequency of change makes you wonder why you pay attention to the long-term forecasts in the first place. In the few hours since the screen shot above was taken, Thursday has gone from 50 percent chance of rain to the unblocked total sun icon. What titanic movement of massive weather fronts caused that abrupt change?
The weather apps, like some of our politicians, are frequently wrong—but never in doubt.
We’ve had a lot of rain in Stonington recently, and it seems to have done its work. The showers have rinsed the air clean of the smoky haze we were experiencing only a few days ago—leaving everything crisp and sharp this morning.
On clear mornings like this, where the skies are blue and sun is shining, the reflection of the light on the water’s surface is so bright that you cannot look at it without donning sunglasses. The photo above doesn’t really capture it. But when the air is cool and the sunshine is warm and dazzling, it is a great time for a walk, and the motivation to get out and do something is overwhelming.
Some Mainers say their state is like “America’s tailpipe.” With prevailing winds blowing from the west, the exhaust fumes from daily life in other states head east and often find their way to the skies above Maine before spilling out over the Atlantic.
We had evidence of the “tailpipe” experience last night, when photo above was taken. We suspect that some of the smoke billowing from the enormous Bootleg wildfires in California, Oregon, and Washington has been blown to our neck of the woods in coastal Maine, creating a dense layer of haze that shrouded the sun. The sun was like an orange pumpkin in the sky; you could look directly at it, and it cast an orange shimmer on the ocean waters below. The haze was so thick that at the horizon, where the filter of haze was the greatest, the sunset was entirely blocked from view.
“America’s tailpipe” is subject to an air advisory today, with an AQI of 101, which means the air is unsafe for specific sensitive groups. Our experience with haze shows how we are all connected by virtue of the environment, and why wildfire problems out west should concern us all.
I’m a born and bred Midwesterner, and the hardy survivor of dozens and dozens of Ohio summers. And yet, it didn’t take many COVID-caused summer days in Maine for me to forget just how that brutal combination of heat and moisture made the Midwestern air feel—until I came back to Columbus a few days ago and was smacked in the face by July.
In a Stonington summer, the temperature rarely exceeds 70 degrees, and if it touches 80 it’s a heat wave for the ages. It’s always cool at night, and a gentle, crisp breeze is usually blowing. It makes a walk on a summer morning a pleasant and invigorating experience.
But in the Midwest the steamy summer air descends on you as soon as you leave your air-conditioned space and clings to you like a living thing. It makes even a predawn walk a sweaty, sapping experience, and there’s really nothing you can do about it. Even a severe thunderstorm won’t cool off the air for more than a few moments.
Some refined Midwesterners say things like “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity” when complaining about this kind of broiling summer weather. I always thought the word “muggy” was more apt, though, because the weather is akin to a mugging, where combination of heat and moisture are like a physical assault and rob you of your cool and calm demeanor, leaving you damp and bedraggled.
Midwestern summers are the reason air conditioning was invented.
Elsa arrived in Stonington yesterday and proved that even a depleted tropical storm can still pack a wallop. High winds rattled the windows, shook the trees, left our side yard covered with downed tree branches and twigs, and—as feared—broke off two of our towering delphinium flower stalks.
The storm also showed that I don’t have a future as a drainage engineer. Despite my best efforts to remove rocks and take other actions to discourage the pooling of water in the down yard, this morning’s sunrise illuminated a large new pond in the low-lying area, as shown below. In fairness to my drainage promotion efforts, Elsa brought so much rain in such a short period of time—between three and four inches in the space of a few hours—I’m guessing that even professional efforts would have been overwhelmed. The downpour left some of the lupines and ferns I’ve been trying to grow in the area partially submerged, and only time will tell if they survive the dunking.
Gardening and yard work projects are always subject to the whims of Mother Nature, and all you can do is accept her consequences and move forward. One positive in all this, though, is that Stonington had been experiencing a drought. After yesterday, I think there is a drought no longer.
Lobsters can get hot. When they are fresh from the lobster pot, steam cascading from their shells just after being deposited from the pot onto a lobster trap, you need to let those bad boys cool before you begin cracking shells and dealing with the boiling water to be found in every crack and crevice.
Fortunately there is a pretty scene, looking out over the islands off of Burnt Cove, as you wait for the steam to dissipate and the lobsters to cool. You take a sip of your wine—more than one, actually—and revel in the setting sun before you start to crush those shells and extricate the tender, succulent lobster meat. You see the setting sun carve a fiery torch into the surface of the salt water, and you wonder why anyone would want to be anywhere else at this special moment in time.
Then the sun sinks lower, and you understand Homer’s reference to the wine dark sea, and you relish the taste of the absolutely fresh, steaming lobster meat, and you hope that this summer will last forever, even as your conscious mind knows that it cannot.
Hail is one of those meteorological phenomena that is on the weird edge of the spectrum of weather. A storm rolls through, you hear the rumble of thunder and the crash of lightning and the patter of rain drumming on the roof and windows–and then suddenly the patter becomes a sharp, loud rattle because the rain has turned into hail. You look out your door to see what’s going on and are shocked to find that your patio and yard are covered with pea-sized icy pellets, even though the temperature is far about freezing.
“Hailstones are formed by layers of water attaching and freezing in a large cloud. A frozen droplet begins to fall from a cloud during a storm, but is pushed back up into the cloud by a strong updraft of wind. When the hailstone is lifted, it hits liquid water droplets. Those droplets then freeze to the hailstone, adding another layer to it. The hailstone eventually falls to Earth when it becomes too heavy to remain in the cloud, or when the updraft stops or slows down.”
Even small hailstones can cause a lot of damage to cars and roofs, and really bad hailstorms can be deadly: the National Geographic piece linked above notes that 250 people were killed in a hailstorm in India in 1888. If you’ve been in a bad hailstorm, it’s not hard to see how that could happen. If you’re outside when baseball-sized chunks of solid ice start hurtling down from the skies and one of them has your name on it, there’s not much you can do about it.
All of this is to explain why I was interested when I saw this story this week about the hailstone, pictured above, that set the record for the largest recorded hailstone ever to fall in Texas. This whopper, which fell near Hondo, Texas on April 28, weighed in at a hefty 1.26 pounds and was at least the size of small football when it crashed through a tree on its way to the ground. Fortunately, it didn’t hit a house, car, animal, or person.
It just goes to show you that things are bigger in Texas. And it also shows you why, during the thunderstorm season on the Great Plains and Midwestern United States, you want to be sure not to be caught outside when a bad thunderstorm rolls through.
Like much of the rest of the country, Maine generally, and Stonington specifically, is experiencing a heat wave, with temperatures in the 80s in the coastal areas and 90s inland. But unlike the rest of the country, Maine isn’t really equipped to deal with high heat. None of the houses in our area are equipped with central air conditioning, for example, because there is absolutely no need for it during a typical summer, when you expect highs in the 70s during the day and lows in the 50s at night.
That means Mainers deal with the heat using the techniques many of us remember from our pre-air conditioning childhood. A heat wave is a time for wide open windows and ceiling fans, and wishful hopes for a hint of a cool breeze to sweep through the room. It’s a time to stay outside a bit later as the sun goes down, until the mosquitoes drive you indoors. It’s also a time to savor the early morning moments of cooler air before the sun rises and the heat is cranked up again. And the views just before 5 a.m. aren’t bad, either.
Heat waves are a challenge up here, but eventually they end. In the meantime, the ice cream shop downtown is making a killing.