Maybe it’s a tribal thing or instinct, but when a blogger friend from Bristol warned me of heavy winds forecast for where we’re staying in western Scotland, I snapped into action. I pulled my wife aside, who was in another room homeschooling the other kid, and said I don’t want to make a big deal of this, but can we talk for a minute?
It’s a Code Amber they just announced, with gusts up to 90 mph, lightning, thunder, coastal flooding, travel interruptions, snow in the mountains and power cuts through Friday evening. And I was kind of thrilled by it to be honest, felt more like a man than I have in a while as I said to my wife, I’m going out.
I walked to the store and felt it kicking up, but here in these small towns in Scotland the wind and rain don’t really faze people. They’re hooded and still sucking back cigarettes, squinting: the guy at the tourist’s office says you just develop a stance against the wind — and demonstrates by clenching his fists and squatting like a sumo wrestler: it’s all about the centre of gravity and curling your guts into a knot then making a face like you’re on the toilet.
The store has that before-the-storm urgency that’s made worse by the sound of the scanners and the clerks restocking the shelves — or maybe it’s just me, cutting people off, weaving across implied lanes, loading up on candles, trying to get to the other side of the alcohol aisle that’s more clogged than you’d think it would be on a Thursday afternoon.
And I get back to the flat but realise I’ve forgotten the carrots, it’s a kind of improvised leek soup, and though it seems ridiculous to go back out now I have to, because for 18 pence worth of loose carrots I might come home with a story, worth a lot more than loose change.
And the pot in the flat isn’t big enough for the soup so I have to traverse down to our car that’s in a long term parking lot by the ferry terminal, for the Le Creuset dutch oven we hauled here from Germany, that earthenware material that’s heavier than any earthly material, seems impossible for even hurricanes to affect it.
And as I round a turn and the wind blows me back I’m invigorated by it, recalling times on glaciers in the Pacific Northwest it didn’t make sense for me to be there but I had to, and it filled my soul in ways it doesn’t quite watching the same scenes onscreen in an IMAX, or on the TV.
She sells sanctuary
I grew up with the Weather Channel when it started in the early 80s, its business model to provide localised weather by gathering forecasts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with forecasts scrolling across the screen once every seven minutes or so, all in capitals, terrible mis-spellings for reasons I don’t know or care about, sometimes yielding results like, SNOT, HEAVY AT TIMES…ACCUMULATIONS 1 To 3 INCHES.
It was coverage of 1989’s Hurricane Hugo that landed TWC the Golden CableACE award by the National Academy of Cable Programming — 10 years later, they hit 1MM viewers, their largest single day audience, for coverage of Hurricane Bret. And by 2002, 85MM households were watching it — today, about 200MM via TV, mobile and web*.
Why? Is it a Y2K ‘better-get-prepared’ instinct it arouses in us, mostly men, aged +40 — or is weather the new soft core porn, impossible to believe it could really happen that way, impossible to stop watching once you start?
I’ll confess to being a weather checker addict, and there’s no better time to get tweets or break-through announcements on your ham radio than when a life-threatening storm is coming on, when you feel it’s just you and the full magnitude of nature, and your smartphone.
Or is it the same reason we slow down at car accidents to watch, to catch a glimpse of something truly terrible? And why, so we can say we saw it?
It Could Happen Tomorrow
After the debut of its first primetime programme “Storm Stories,” TWC launched a new series in 2005, It Could Happen Tomorrow, the font blood red against a spidery backdrop — a phrase that promises a lot of prophesy by saying a lot and not at the same time, kind of can’t go wrong threatening IT could happen tomorrow, because IT likely will, whatever you think IT might be, coming off 911 and Anthrax, or whatever else is crawling around in your sheets.
And it’s around this time the film The Day After Tomorrow debuts, 2004, about a superstorm that cripples all of Earth from what I can tell by the trailer — it made me so fucking scared I wet myself — and soon, we’ve started proactively naming winter storms, as the Met Office has done here in the UK recently, to track and talk about them more easily — but also to personify the storms, because any good villain needs a good name to really take form, to get inside you.
And it is quite sinister how the radar renders the storm as it creeps closer, spinning its feelers over the whole of the UK, devouring it — and the smart anchorman who’s describing it has a wee glint of mischief in his eyes as he smiles and talks about the potential impacts, the damages, and it stops Dawn dead in her tracks, and we replay it.
The disasters make for great footage to be sure, and we can sit back with our remotes and think those poor bastards, I’m glad it didn’t happen to me.
Here in Oban, on the west coast of Scotland, we had a brief rattle of lightning and hail just now, the power dipped, and I turned up the heat on the soup in case the power cuts so we’ll have something to eat later. Dawn and I are quite excited to be sure, it feels like something’s really happening. Part of me will be disappointed if it doesn’t.
* Weather Channel references here.