That was some storm a week ago Monday night-the second powerful storm this summer, the third powerful storm in a year (remember last August?). Unusual, you might say. A sign of something perhaps. Climate change?
“Oh, it was just a storm,” the climate-change naysayers will say. “Don’t get hysterical.”
OK, I won’t get hysterical. How about historical? According to the front page of the Tribune, 90,000 lightning strikes were detected across northern Illinois. It usually takes six months, they said, to register such numbers. At its peak, the storm generated 800 strikes per minute.
But you don’t need statistics to tell you that storm was different. It wasn’t just unusual. It was unprecedented. I’ve never witnessed that kind of lightning frequency, and I’m both 56 years old and a longtime connoisseur of thunderstorms.
As it happens, Thomas Friedman had an interesting column in the N.Y. Times that week about the residents of Greenland, where the results of climate change are particularly noticeable and measurable. Friedman says their new “climate-speak” consists of three phrases that come up more and more often:
1) “Just a few years ago …”
2) “I’ve never seen that before …”
3) “Well, usually … but now I don’t know anymore.”
On Aug. 4, residents of the Chicago area experienced #2. None of us have seen that before. Not even close. By the way, in Greenland, which is above the Arctic Circle, it rained this past December and January. No. 2 indeed.
Occasionally, this area gets pelted by powerful storms. There was one in August of 1990 (remember the tornados ripping through Plainfield?). In August of 1987, we had a deluge of biblical proportions. These things happen infrequently enough so they’re pretty easy to remember. A violent windstorm swept through Oak Park, ironically, on Ernest Hemingway’s 100th birthday (July 21, 1999). That’s three big storms in 12 years.
We’ve now had three in a 12-month period that exceeded those in intensity. Welcome to #3.
You can scoff all you want, but the climate is definitely changing.
Last Sunday, on the other hand, the weather was just about as perfect as it could be for August-cool, low humidity, spectacular cumulus cloudscapes, a breeze that swept over you like tonic. If we had weather like that more often, human beings would probably be much more productive. Either that or we’d never do a lick of work.
Speaking of which, I’ve been pretty sedentary this summer, spending more of my “spare” time reading. Traditionally, summer reading is supposed to be light, fun, appropriate for lounging around outside as you while away the hours, a good method for savoring the season.
This summer, I was more intentional about reading lighter, plunging in and out of the alternate reality of page-turners, starting with Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, Chandler‘s first novel and my first Chandler, so I feel as if I’ve lost my literary virginity (again). Chandler is fabulous, everything he’s cracked up to be-Marlowe, the tarnished knight with few illusions, an honorable man, working the dark side of the street.
I breezed through Carl Hiaasen’s latest madcap caper set in Florida, Nature Girl. Not one of his best but still fun. I’m waiting for him to bring back my favorite character, Clinton Tyree, the half-mad, former governor who resigned from office and fled to the Everglades, where he operates as an avenging angel, dispensing justice and defending natural Florida against the incursions of rapacious capitalists (who always get their comeuppance big time-very therapeutic).
Currently, I’m in the middle of Bill Bryson’s entertaining memoir of growing up in Des Moines, Iowa, in the 1950s and ’60s, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. Very funny and a worthwhile nostalgia trip for all Baby Boomers–or those seeking to understand them.
Still to come: Two Tony Hillerman mysteries, “The Shape Shifter” and “The First Eagle,” set in Navajo country. I read my first one (“Thief of Time”) back in the winter (a nice escape from Midwestern snow and cold). Hillerman offers the added escape of entering an alternate culture.
At the public library’s annual used book sale Aug. 2, I picked up Contact by Carl Sagan. Saw the movie, always admired Sagan, and haven’t read much science fiction lately (though I enjoy it). I’m a sucker for anything involving contact with alien (and, we all hope, superior) intelligence. A messianic longing, I suppose. My favorite movie along these lines is 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Read any good books lately? Send me your recommendations.
Check out Ken Trainor’s blog, “Just Wandering,” most Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays at WednesdayJournalOnline.com.