Soundtrack in my head: The Flaming Lips, “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, Pt. 1”
The repetitive nature of the storms still sweeping southern Wisconsin just beg for alliteration. This has been a freaky summer. Ever since the EF2 and EF3 tornadoes came through a couple weeks ago, wild wet, windy weather has repeatedly barrelled through the bottom of the Badger State.
Two nights ago around midnight, we and our neighbors were jolted awake by loud clap of thunder that accompanied a lightning strike. A little while later, I saw fire engines pulling up on the next block–at least two or three of them. Apparently a house only 200 feet from us or less was struck by lightning, which caused a basement fire and $40,000 in damage. Luckily no one was hurt. We learned the next day that a tornado apparently hit counties to the west of Madison.
But Mother Nature was not through with us yet with her storms. As I was driving my taxicab yesterday, I heard radio programs repeatedly interrupted by National Weather Service warnings. A severe thunderstorm and tornado watch gave way to a severe thunderstorm warning around 4:00 and a tornado warning roughly 45 minutes later. The warning was based on some rotation spotted in the storm clouds that could easily spawn tornadoes, though none were reported.
What we did get, however, was quite the soaking. I was driving from a few blocks west of the Capitol to a few blocks east of the Capitol to pick up someone. Traffic has been extremely congested on Johnson Street and nearby streets due to high-rise construction and the replacement of water and sewer mains nearly a century old. So traffic was already at a standstill when the clouds broken open. In some ways, this wasn’t a bad place to have blinding rain, as traffic really wasn’t moving anyway.
The guy I picked up at Butler and East Washington had been trying to get home from his workplace in Middleton, some seven or eight miles west of downtown Madison. He was taking the bus, but the Madison Metrobuses stopped and pulled over due to the severe weather. He had just about two miles to go.
Butler Street is about two thirds of the way up the steep hill that leads from the East Side to the Capitol, and so I was driving him down the hill along East Washington. I noticed starting at about Blair Street (roughly at the foot of the hill) some puddles that were probably six inches deep. The Prius that I was driving, with its low center of gravity, seemed to hold its own quite well, but I was worried about the effect the deep puddles might have on the sensitive electronics in the car. The puddles were usually the deepest between the intersections. At one point I pulled off East Wash (that’s what we usually call it, and the name did seem appropriate in this case) to the lot of the Octopus Car Wash because I didn’t feel comfortable driving in water which now seemed to be almost a foot deep and going over the curb. But after observing other cars and noticing they weren’t really having much trouble, I decided to hit the road again and I eventually made it past Baldwin, after which we hit higher ground again.
I took a 20-minute break and then decided to take more fares. I was offered one that would take me back to Capitol Square and then back through areas of the Near East Side that might still be flooded. I started heading east, but I could go no more than two blocks beyond Baldwin until I realized that I didn’t feel comfortable driving back through those deep puddles, regardless of how the other cars seemed to be doing. So I called my dispatcher and told him I didn’t feel comfortable running this fare under the circumstances. He understood, and gave me a different order instead which would take me further east away from the Capitol. I ended up picking up a woman whose Honda Insight stalled and got damaged by flooding near East Towne Mall. The Insight has an even lower center of gravity than the Prius and while other cars seemed to be handling the deep water just fine, the Insight wasn’t so lucky. So I ended up giving her a cab ride home, for which she was grateful.
I’m sure there is at least one person somewhere in Wisconsin who believes that these storms sweeping southern Wisconsin hitting Madison’s East Side are somehow punishment for its residents for being, well, liberals. If that’s the case, God must really have it in for those flaming liberal bastions of Texas and Oklahoma.
A number of years ago I was in Oklahoma City doing advance work for the Global Walk and staying with a defense attorney who had a knack for politically incorrect jokes. Apparently he was on the outskirts of the city where the tornado sirens couldn’t reach and he had a NOAA weather radio with its own siren on it. I didn’t discover this until 3 a.m. when the thing went off–on the mantle just two feet above my head in the pitch black guest bedroom. My host came into the bedroom, moved the weather radio into the hallway, and kindly peeled me off the ceiling, Given that this particular station covered the middle third of Oklahoma, the darn thing was going off three times a day in the June heat. During one such warning, we were watching the approaching storm and a neighbor’s dog was barking loudly and repetitively. He jokingly speculated what would happen if the tornado happened to pick up the dog and he began to talk about the impact that the Doppler Effect might have on the dog’s bark.
The next day, three of us were driving a van when a sudden cloudburst hit. I misjudged the depth of the water as I approached a viaduct and the van immediately stalled. One member of my party got out to run into the nearby Denny’s restaurant and call the AAA Motor Club while the two of us waited inside. A few minutes later our friend came outside but just stood there at the edge of the road in the pouring rain and stared at us. We were wondering why he was just standing there when we noticed that while he was standing up straight, he somehow seemed to be floating backwards. Then we suddenly realized that it was us floating backwards, so we scampered out the van and trudged through knee-deep water to get out of the road. We ate at the Denny’s and waited for the storm to pass. Eventually it did so, and the water subsided, but the engine still wouldn’t start. We called our host to ask him where we could find a good mechanic. He told us to have the van towed to his house. Some of his clients, which he referred to as “his convicts” would occasionally pay off their bills by doing some work for him and two of them were good mechanics.
The next morning, the mechanics opened the hood of the van and found a live garter snake hanging from the radiator hose. Apparently it found our van during the flood, and since it was a warm and apparently protected place, he decided to make his home there.