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DIANE MAKAR MURPHY Sweetening the storms with a touch of care



Published: Thu, April 18, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



In Arizona, you run if just one raindrop hits you. You take it as a warning and skedaddle, fast!

This amazed me when I lived there, having grown up near Cleveland. In Ohio, the approach of a storm is lazy. Drops lead to drizzles, followed by rolling thunder that warns of slowly approaching showers. How many times have you said, "It's just drizzling"?

I recall having to run from a storm only once in my youth; a wind came out of nowhere, picked up papers in the street and tossed them across my path, and then was immediately joined by a downpour. But this was weird enough to make my heart skip and my feet scramble toward home -- typically, there was plenty of fair warning.

A sudden deluge

In Tucson, on the other hand, a raindrop doesn't travel alone. It brings lots of friends not interested in dilly-dallying. Arizonans call it "The Monsoons." In July, water floods suddenly from the morning sky, makes rivers out of normally dry washes and disappears as quickly by early afternoon -- like a light switch flicked on and off.

Oddly enough, the overcast sky in Arizona, rare as it is, is a welcome sight to the displaced Midwesterner. The unusual gloom always gave me a nostalgic, homesick feeling. But here, as spring approaches, rain is hardly rare. And it's not always welcome, either.

My daughter, for one, has some thunderstorm concerns. I blame meteorology for this.

We were never warned of thunderstorms, or floods or tornadoes. We were told about them post facto. "God's bowling," someone was sure to crack as distant rumbling got closer. "One-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand ..." That's how WE knew how soon a thunderstorm was coming.

Banishing clouds of fear

In a children's book, "Thundercake," by Patricia Polacco, a grandmother hears the roll of thunder and looks at the fearful face of her granddaughter. "Quick!" she commands, taking bowls and cake pans from the cupboard. There's barely enough time to make a thundercake! Fear is replaced by activity as the cake is mixed, poured and baked, hopefully in time to enjoy as the lightning is crackling nearby.

Pretty quaint idea these days, as we are bombarded with forecasts -- little maps on the television screen, or electronic ticker-tape that follows the progression of a storm from county to county, or actual meteorologists standing in the wind and rain. Quick! Thundercake!

Hannah isn't alone in worrying about storms. A friend of mine, also transplanted to Arizona, quickly removed all clips from her and her daughters' hair whenever a thunderclap sounded.

"Lightning rods!" she warned. (You might like to try this -- remove all the hair clips from your friends' hair next time it thunders, and yell "Lightning rods!")

Unlike Hannah, I love thunderstorms. I attribute this to my mother, who turned them into an adventure. If the lights went out, we burned lots of candles, and she stood them in front of a mirror. She then told the story of the doctor who likewise had lost his electricity and used a mirror to reflect candlelight so he could operate. (I never tired of that story.) Then we would play board games by the flickering flames.

The devastating power

In 1974, I had a little reality check. That's the year Xenia lost 1,600 buildings and 33 people to a tornado three football fields to a mile long.

Now, I live in a house with a tornado shelter (coincidentally, of course). Well, to be honest, it is a bomb shelter. Built during the Cold War, our house has a bunker with foot-thick concrete walls and ceiling in a corner of the basement. My son is turning it into a photo lab, but it will still have those walls and ceiling.

It gives one a good, Auntie Em-like feeling, owning a tornado shelter -- maybe a place to eat a thundercake and play a board game (or wear a metal clip in one's hair)? Let the rain begin ...

murphy@vindy.com




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