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Friday, April 16, 2010

Today In An ATM Alcove ...

I'm humming the Reba McIntyre TV theme song "I'm A Survivor" in my head because I am, indeed, a survivor ... barely.

Today, at approximately 3:03 p.m. EST, I was making my way through a small shopping plaza. I knew there was a pedestrian galleria adjacent with a handy ATM. I wanted some cash to make my wallet feel less lonely. I parked within a quarter block. The weather report had predicted thunderstorms but the sky was quiet ... actually, too quiet. The air had the feel of an approaching storm, but there were no ominous clouds rolling in. And the sky was not blackening ... it was an odd pearly gray color. Flat, like a lifeless curtain waiting for a breeze. The wait, as it turns out, would not be long.

I entered one of the area's three little paved "alleys" with shops and small businesses. No one was in line at the ATM so I quickly entered the boxy Plexiglas enclosure, plugged in my card, and punched the appropriate buttons to get the transaction started. It was my right ankle, badly broken in a childhood boy-meets-big-hill accident and funny about humidity ever since, that first warned me that something was up. Before I had fully turned my head toward the "mouth" of the walkway, a blast of wind and rain came blasting my way, running parallel to the ground. It was like a special effect in a big-budget movie, this undulating slash of form and movement rocketing my way. Bits of grit, twigs, and mulch flew in the wind's path, shooting into the two-foot gap where the vestibule's walls ended about 18 inches from the ground. There was hail and rain gusting against my back, and water was rapidly collecting on the cobblestones, too much for the nearby drain to handle. I felt like one of those game show contestants in the glass box, but instead of grabbing for swirling fives and tens, I was huddled in a smoked-glass hemistructure being pelted by botanical bullets. I could see the wind, a darker, meaner shade of gray hit the dead end wall of the alley not 25 feet to my right. Anything and everything not nailed down came down the funnel of the little shopping side street and hit that wall like nature's shrapnel.

It didn't even last three minutes. The ATM was trying to get my attention, wanting to know which of my accounts to debit the withdrawal against. I finished up my banking and looked up the alley. All was still again, and it wasn't grey out anymore ... more like a sickly yellow. Two pieces of shingled siding had torn loose from the opposite wall ... I think it's the back of a Greek take-out place. Water and mud climbed past the soles of my sneakers, the drain to my side choked and ineffective with debris. Where the shopping artery met the plaza proper, a dentist's hanging placard lay in ruin. My car and all those around it were covered with these helicopter rotor-like leaf pods, but I didn't see any real hail damage. Loose branches and twigs were everywhere.

As I drove out of the shopping center, I saw that very large trees had been downed ... some appeared to have just snapped off in the wind. The temporary nursery tent ... one of those early spring businesses that sell mulch, top soil, gardening paraphernalia, Memorial Day wreaths, potted flowers, and seed sets ... was torn to hell. Clean up in aisles 1 through 100.

All the way home, dodging larger tree limbs in the road, I just wanted to put a name to the strange weather that had flashed through the area ... and had caused my life to flash before me for just a second or two of panic. Now, tornados are a common occurrence all over the U.S. In fact, tornadoes ... rotating columns of air that bridge clouds to ground and spin at anywhere between 60 mph and 300+ mph ... occur on every continent except Antarctica. What I experienced wasn't a tornado.

Hurricanes are tropical cyclones out over water that affect thousands of square miles in and around the western North Atlantic area and limited Pacific Ocean regions. Often named (alternating masculine and feminine monikers), these storms develop intense thunderstorm-ridden central "eyes" and produce damaging winds generally in the 100 mph to 150 mph range ... gusts of 200+ mph are also common. Similarly, typhoons are tropical storms that primarily affect the northwestern Atlantic Ocean and areas from coastal China to the international dateline. A typhoon produces damaging winds in the same range as hurricanes (80 mph to 180 mph), but these storms often produce more destructive waves. Since my ATM was squarely landlocked, I ruled out a mini-hurricane or tiny typhoon.

Now a monsoon showed promise. Monsoons, often called "rainy seasons" by area inhabitants, are disturbances in normal weather patterns where wind direction generally reverses and large amounts of rain and sustained damaging winds (40 mph to 100 mph) are produced. Monsoons are often driven by differing heating and cooling patterns between large land masses and adjacent bodies of water. Monsoons are typically associated with areas of Asia, western Africa, and Indonesia.

I think I experienced a hybrid "monphoon" weather system. Or I was hit by a freak "phoonado." Whatever it was, area emergency services needs to program an appropriate alert into the sirens.

POINT OF RANT: Never feel safe just because you have an umbrella at home, at the office, and in the trunk of your car.

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