- May 10 2014 | - Read More →
We all have certain fantasies we let play out in our minds throughout our life. They’re often prompted by one of our senses being sparked in just the right way.
One I often see in my wandering mind is where myself sitting on the top of a mountain and watching a storm roll through the range, watching it develop and travel until I am enveloped inside it. If you’ve ever experienced anything like this, you know how exciting it can be. I like to attribute that to what I call weather’s “unpredictable inevitability”. You know when you see a dark gray cloud ‘drip’, for lack of a better term, down towards the earth, like a torn piece of dress that drags along the ground. You know it’s raining there, under that cloud, this seems inevitable. But how long until it reaches you? How much is it actually raining, and how long will it last? This is unpredictable.
Why is this a fantasy, if many of us (including myself) have actually experienced it? Because in my fantasy, I’m sitting on top of that mountain hundreds or thousands of years ago, before technology and collective understanding of such things would inform my watching a storm pass.
I was working at Cornell University today when my girlfriend, who was working across town, texted me, “there’s a big storm coming from the west”. She knew I live for this kind of thing. I instantly sprung from my chair and left my basement, windowless office with phone in hand. I wasn’t being all that productive at the moment anyway.
I walked to the other side of Uris Library, where I figured I had the best view. The geography of Ithaca, New York is spectacularly fascinating and certainly my favorite aspect of life here. Cornell sits on east hill, above the downtown area which is also surrounded by the south and west by large hills. To the north lies Lake Cayuga, the big Finger Lake. From any of the hills you have an encompassing view of the other two hills, the downtown area, and nearly half the forty-mile lake, before it turns slightly westward. But I had another advantage from my view: the long shallow valley that runs south between the south and west hill and out of town. This is where the storm was coming from.
I knew the storm was coming from the southwest for two reasons. One, I could see it. Layers of dark clouds were spilling over the west hill to fill in the valley. Two, I had a smartphone, and instinctively pulled it out and opened my favorite app, NOAA radar, which shows up-to-the-minute accurate radar for anywhere in the country. From the app, I could see that this storm was just one island in a small, isolated archipelago of tiny circles of “red” that were quickly migrating across central New York.
I stood there, overlooking some several dozens of square miles, just like in my fantasy. I pulled out my phone and snapped a few HDR pictures, some panoramas, and a couple short videos. I posted these to various social media, standing there, on top of the hill.
The storm was moving now, I could see it fill in the west-end of downtown where my girlfriend was working. “should start raining there in 4 minutes”, I confidently texted her based on my supreme vantage point, unscientific calculations, and ego. She texted back two minutes later “just started raining”.
Though my prediction was only slightly off, it immediately changed my relationship of trust with the NOAA radar app. How accurate could it be, I thought? Use the force, I thought.
The torn fabric of the cloud was dragging over the south hill, where lies my alma mater, Ithaca College. I imagined being over there at this moment, rushing from building to building, sloshing through new puddles, trying to at once enjoy the storm and stay dry.
Back on my hill, I guessed how long it would be until the storm inevitably dumped its heavy weight over me. Ten minutes, maybe?
In about three minutes, I felt a few miniscule drops hit my arm. These first drops are always exciting and enticing, part of the front line of the storm, and you can’t help but be proud of them for forging the way for their large extended family behind them.
I had to amend my prediction. Two more minutes. I suddenly realized I’d have to get under shelter to avoid this storm, but I wanted to keep watching it. Being relatively new to the campus, I couldn’t think of anywhere that would provide as good a view and keep me dry, until I saw a covered hallway down the hill.
It started raining. Then it started pouring. I quickly made my way about 300 feet to the covered hallway. I knew I would be stranded here until the storm passed. Suddenly, it was in control, not I… even with my smartphone.
I stood there leaning between the arches of the hallway to keep tabs on the storm. I tried to video some of the lightning to no avail. I tried to record some of the thunder, to no avail.
Various people rushed in from the rain into the hallway. Some of them stopped to better prepare themselves for the rest of their walk through the unexpected storm, some of them noticed me and kept walking. Only a few over the next half hour saw me and, inspired or having the same idea all along, posted up in the hallway and experienced the storm, ignoring their to-do list and schedule.
But I was getting bored. My view wasn’t as good as before, and the storm seemed to become less interesting, less changing. I also felt validated by the positive responses to the various pictures I posted online, so in a weird way I felt like my work was done.
Still, I couldn’t leave. So I used my app to predict when the storm would pass. The time lapse video of the radar showed that yes, the storm had now enveloped east hill. This was obvious even without the app. But only given the past and present pictures, I again had to estimate the traveling speed of this storm. It had seemed to move rather fast across the region, so I thought I’d stay another fifteen minutes until it passed, at most.
But the Cornell clock tower rang two more quarter-hour increment jingles. And then a third. I gave up, slightly defeated, sort-of let down, and decidedly underwhelmed by the anticlimax I’d just experienced and trudged through the persisting dull rain back up the steep hill into my basement, windowless office. I don’t know when the storm finally passed, and I don’t really care.
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