We had some cracking good weather in Columbia County this week, which is another way of saying we had very bad weather.
Call me a masochist, but I might have a perverse love of destructive weather events. I had to add “might” in there because the claim seems like the famous last words uttered 20 minutes into every disaster movie (“Are you sure we’re far enough away from the lava?” “It can’t touch us here – just look at the beautiful glow!”) and the weather gods might view it as the perfect chance to correct the hubris of humanity by sucking me up in a funnel cloud as soon as I hit ‘publish.’
When the thunder started booming across the Hudson River Tuesday, I jettisoned my schedule for the next hour and giddily ran onto the porch.
The squall was just to my north, splitting the sky with retina-damaging lighting strikes. A particularly intense fork materialized not a half-mile away, letting out a crack-crack-BOOM loud enough to make me wonder if it hit a propane tank.
Yes, thunderstorm season is upon us, known by most as ‘summer.’ It bests hurricane season (fall), blizzard season (winter), and certainly constant-drizzle season (spring).
See, most people talk about the weather when there is nothing else to talk about. I, on the other hand, genuinely enjoy discussing it. I would probably rather be talking about the weather than whatever topic you’re talking to me about.
Growing up, I wanted to be a meteorologist. My hero was Jim Cantore from the Weather Channel, a man possessed by a love for destructive weather. I would watch him obsessively during Hurricane Season, when he would jet to the location of the predicted landfall, then tensely yell into his mic about storm surge heights while being pelted by rain.
It was epic television.
I did not have cable television during the two worst weather events in recent New York history, Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Irene, so I had to rely on own my personal observations.
I lived in New Paltz during Sandy, and the reports suggested we were really gonna get smashed in the Hudson Valley. I thought it had been blown out of proportion when all I experienced was some gusty winds, but woke up the next day to see New York City was underwater.
Irene was tragic for a lot of people in the Hudson Valley and the Catskills. I knew people who lived in Phoenicia at the time and their homes were wrecked. The fact that my experience during Irene was much more hilarious should not detract from all the people impacted by the storm, but instead should serve as a counter-balance.
I lived south of Kingston about a mile from the Wallkill River at the time. One Saturday night, blitzed off corn whiskey, my friend Omar and I made the Huckleberry Finn-inspired decision to build a raft completely from garbage we found around town.
It took a few weeks of collecting and assembling, but we did it (well, mostly Omar). However, we realized too late the whole thing would basically have to be dissembled to get it into our friend’s pick-up truck to transport it to the Wallkill River. Plus we didn’t have a friend with a pick-up.
However, in ruining the lives of thousands of people, the weather gods delivered a small joy. We awoke the day after Irene to see the Wallkill had morphed from a river of about 50 feet in width to a monster almost a mile wide, stretching itself to within a few hundred feet of where the raft lay.
We walked the raft to the river and set off, Omar furiously scooping at the water with our one tiny paddle. While doing this we observed:
-A man inexplicably wearing a suit who came to retrieve his golf clubs from the Wallkill. He made fun of our raft, which was probably just a way of deflecting from the fact his golf clubs were in the trunk of his submerged car.
-A bunch of insane people hanging out of a giant pick-up. They drove up to the river’s edge, then slowly backed up, while Omar and I and a couple police officers on the Wallkill’s opposite side stared disbelievingly. They revved the engine and charged, sending sheets of water fanning out from the tires as they hit the water. They made it about a fifth of the way across before the truck stopped, then started to drift downstream. The guys in the truck whooped joyously, jumped out, and swam away. To this day, I have not figured out what exactly was going on here.
I think one of them was Jim Cantore.