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2005-05-11 - 6:03 p.m.

Update: GOOD LORD! All of my fears have been confirmed! I'm calling in the next time it storms. Read this. But not until after you've read the rest of the entry or you might be confused.

No Fear?

I'm scared of lightning. Not thunderstorms, not tornados (well, outside of a healthy, realistic fear that gets me the hell in the basement when necessary), but lightning. My husband has a masters degree in meteorology, so I've had more than my share of exposure to the science behind storms. I've even gone storm chasing. (It was a spectacular bust that day. We could barely see the tops of some boring thunderstorms off to the north. All of the pieces were in place for a cool chase that day, but sometimes it just doesn't pan out.) I understand the attraction of powerful, violent forces of nature. But I know too much about lightning. It can hit anyone at any time. It can hit something TEN MILES away from the actual thunderstorm. It can leave you perfectly fine or alive with horrific injuries or dead in the space of a fraction of a second.

I know how to protect myself in most cases. I try to stay inside houses or cars*, I avoid large flat fields, I don't stand under trees. But today I was stuck. A huge storm was rolling in from the southwest suburbs. I left my houes at about 6:45am, and waited for the bus in light (though overcast), dry weather. By the time the bus rolled up to the Halsted Orange Line stop, it was as dark as if it were 3am and not 7am. It was starting to rain, and I was seeing far more lightning than I'm really comfortable with.

The el came, and I stared at it for a minute. What has always seemed like a safe and (generally) reliable method of transportation suddenly seemed like a death trap. Each car looked like a large tin can pounded flat on the sides with connecting pieces of metal. I got in and saw more metal. Everywhere. (Metal) bars coming down from the (metal) roof. About an eighth of an inch of plastic covering (metal) seats. But I sat down because I'm tough! And it's only a 10 minute ride! And for crying out loud, no one has ever been killed by lightning on the el, so I'm not going to be the first.

About three quarters of the way from Halsted to Roosevelt, the train stopped. There's a right angle curve there where the train goes from eastbound to northbound. The inbound trains are on a track curve higher than the outbound trains, and the track is higher than most buildings in the immediate (30-50 feet or so) area. And we stopped on the curve. Then we sat. The train operator was surprisingly understandable and it was very nice to hear an update as she came on and said, "We're sorry for the inconvenience, but we're going to have to wait here for a little bit due to the storm." Right at that moment, one of those taller condo buildings in the South Loop -- one about 50 feet away from us -- got struck by lightning. Have you felt the crack when lightning hits that close to you? And then the immediate incredibly loud thunder? How about the little tin can you're riding in start wobbling back and forth on the track?

At this point, I was pretty scared. I'm not usually one to panic, but I did do some deep-breathing with my eyes closed. A few more lightning strikes later (it hit a couple other buildings right around me as well as Soldier Field) (which was actually pretty cool even though I was scared), we started moving again.

I made it to work, didn't wet my pants, and didn't die. All in all, it was a pretty successful commute.

*Weather Myths Debunked:

Myth - A car is the safest place to be during a thunderstorm because the rubber tires prevent the lightning from grounding.
Reality - Yes, a car is the safest place to be. But it has nothing to do with the rubber tires. It's all because the metal of the car's body shunts the electricity around the inside of the car and into the ground. Instead of through your body and into the ground.

Myth - If you see a tornado coming and you're in your car, find an overpass and hide under it.
Reality - This has been popularized by a very famous storm chase video in which some dumb people did this and surived. They survived because the tornado was barely strong enough to blow a mobile home over, and their video caused many deaths when people in Moore, Oklahoma tried to do the same thing. A huge traffic jam on a major interstate with a tornado bearing down fast isn't very useful. Also, most of the people who managed to get out of their cars and under the overpass in time were killed by flying debris. A tornado can put a two-by-four through a tree at right angles. Your body isn't going to stand a chance. If you ever do find yourself in this situation, get out of the car and flat in the lowest possible place. Ditches are good. But don't leave your car blocking an interstate so that no one else can escape the tornado.

Myth - You should open the windows of your house to allow the pressure to equalize so the windows don't blow out.
Reality - The pressure has nothing to do with your windows blowing out. They're going to break because debris (branches, parts of cars and buildings, fenceposts) are going to fly through them. Don't waste time opening the window, just get into your basement as fast as you can.

Myth - The safest place to be is the southwest corner of your basement.
Reality - This myth was started because most tornadoes come from the southwest. The problem is that they're swirling around in a circle, so their debris is going to collect in the southwest corner of the basement if your house gets knocked down. And you don't want to be in the middle of that. Instead, get in the middle of the basement or (ideally) in a basement bathroom (the most structurally sound room in the house -- I think because the pipes act like a reinforcement).

Bits 'n' Pieces

Mmm... Random letters replaced by apostrophes...

-My jaw and teeth have been hurting me since I work up. I hope I just ground my teeth too much last night, but I have a horrible fear that my (very very slow) wisdom teeth are coming in sideways and pushing my (very very expensively straightened) other teeth into weird positions. Dentist appointment tomorrow, but until then I can't really focus on anything because I'm in so much pain. It took me all day working in 5 minute increments to write that story above.

-The Cubs just won two games in a row. Someone call the papers. Oh wait, they already know.

-I just got this book to feed my baseball obsession. I can't wait to start reading it except for one thing -- the cover reminds me of a lobotomy. I don't want to think about lobotomies when I'm in the mood for baseball. Or ever, really.

-Also speaking of baseball -- my little site with the small-but-loyal readership has been getting at least one google hit per day from someone looking for my page on keeping score. All have been variations on "keeping score scorecard baseball softball". I feel kinda bad for just referring them to another site who covers the basics, but I stand by the fact that my hints and tips are good ones.

-My mouth hurts. So here's a picture of something completely unrelated. Mmm... Eventual beer.....

beer trailer - mash

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