Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Alberta Reports - Number Three

July 2, 1998

The rain seems to have stopped for now. There’s some flooding in southern parts of the province but everything’s fine up here. In fact, the gullies, sloughs and ditches have no run-off in them, even though it rained for about 48 hours straight. The ground is so dry that it has just sucked the fallen precipitation right in. Bernie was saying that this was the first really good rainfall in about 18 months.

This week the markets start up, so the work really begins. The Saturday Market in Prince Albert is the big one, but they have other markets on Wednesday (in Sherwood Park) and Thursday (I’m not sure where). Monday and Tuesday are the sort of days off around here, so I’m going to rest up for the big week ahead. Friday is “pick till you drop” day. You start as early as you can and go until you pass out. Can’t wait. Hee haw.

And now a report on an on-going scientific experiment. Last Sunday, I went to my friend Michelle’s place in Edmonton. She had a few friends over, one of whom brought along her seven year-old son Michael. Now Michael had met most everyone at the home before, but immediately gravitated to me and his first words to me were (I swear this is true), “Can you tell me a joke, John?” Before long, Michael and I were exchanging jokes back and forth like crazy (although his always had a punch line that involved “boogers”: “Why did the chicken cross the road?” “’Cause it had too many boogers!”) He insisted on sitting beside me on the couch. As his mother was leaving, he grabbed my arm as if he didn’t want to leave. He did, reluctantly. And on Tuesday, a friend visited Paula and brought her five year-old son. When he declared he needed to go to the bathroom, Paula asked him if he knew where it was. “Sure,” he replied, “it’s right next to this guy!” and he poked me in the back. So Stephanie’s hypothesis continues to hold true: kids find me both irresistible and harmless.

The weather is still being goofy. Tuesday afternoon saw our first tornado watch of the season. Severe thunderstorms were in the area, although we only got one good crack overhead. A small tornado did touch down just south of Edmonton, but no harm done.

On Wednesday, we went to a nearby farm for grain. Their barn cat had recently had a litter of kittens and there were four or five little ones running around the place. There was one kitten who was that mottled black and orange colour, but had an amazing face. It was black, save for a perfect stripe of orange running down the middle of its face, from the top of its head, right down the nose and down its chin. IT’S GORGEROUS. I wonder how my cat Linus will react if I bring it home.
They also had a big, bloated dead cow lying around. It wasn’t nearly as much fun as the kittens.

Wednesday afternoon, the weather turned ugly. Working in the fields, we watched a nasty and dark storm front bear down on us from the north. It looked like it was going to pass us to the west, but it suddenly swerved and came down right over top of us. We scrambled back to the houses, helpless witnesses to Mother Nature in one of her really foul moods.
As the thunder rumbled overhead, we realized that we were standing dead centre at the meeting place of two weather fronts. The nasty, dark clouds from the north were slamming into a front coming in from the east. Cold, moist air was mixing violently with warm air. And swirling.
Bernie saw it first. Above the field across the road, maybe a couple of hundred yards away, the air was turning. A small group of clouds had broken off and you could watch them spin. Paula quickly ran back to the house to call the Severe Storm Hotline. Bernie, who had never seen the sky look like this before, shouted to everyone that if we had to, we drop everything and run to the small house. I ran to the small house to grab my camera. “Might as well make some money in case I die,” I shouted. As I returned outside with my camera, I looked up. There was another swirl directly over our heads. We were standing at ground zero of a tornado birth.
The clouds above were swirling, whirling and twisting. They weren’t puffy, fluffy clouds; they were malevolent smears and hellish shadows. Whorls, eddies and backwash argued and fought. The clouds were living demons. This wasn’t a storm, it was a maelstrom. Suddenly the wind simply stopped. Dead calm.
Bernie and I looked at each other, each sharing the same feeling. Twenty per cent of us was going, “Wow! This is neat! Something really cool might happen!”, while the other eighty per cent was going “Oh, shit, we might be in major trouble….”
The wind swiftly returned, and the clouds continued roiling. The twisters never developed, but we all felt it was a close thing – too close a thing. The storm continued south and smashed into the north side of Edmonton, dropping a ton of rain, flooding underpasses, stopping the LRT, and causing havoc. By the time it reached the southern side of town, the rains had stopped and the clouds had dissipated. The storm was gone.

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