White hot lightning illuminates the night sky just as I prepare for bed. Bolts flash silently but bright and frequent. Hopefully, this threat will pass. Under a sleep mask, I close my eyes and begin …
White hot lightning illuminates the night sky just as I prepare for bed. Bolts flash silently but bright and frequent. Hopefully, this threat will pass. Under a sleep mask, I close my eyes and begin to drift into that magical place just before pure slumber where total abandonment of self happens.
Then, all of a sudden, an almighty crack whips the sky. It wakes me with a jolt and I quickly sit upright. I wait for the relief of a downpour to settle my heart, but our humble home is pounded instead by what feels like small cannonballs; the sound of it, like a herd of goats having a fine time on our roof. I ask my husband to check it out but he doesn’t move.
“It’s hail,” he says.
“Hail in July?” I ask, “That’s preposterous!” I slur the word because I’m ‘drunk tired’ at this point.
“Yes,” he says, “It happens every summer.” Huh? I’ve also lived here for over twenty years and can’t recall a single instance of summertime hail, and I’m not that sound of a sleeper.
An internet search reveals that, indeed, hail happens in summertime all over the world. According to www.metoffice.gov.uk, “It forms within strong thunderstorms at high levels where the temperature is always below freezing, even during July.” Blame it on the cumulonimbus clouds—“menacing looking, multi-level clouds that extend high into the sky in towers or plumes.
More commonly known as thunderclouds, cumulonimbus is the only cloud type that can produce hail, thunder and lightning.” I also discover that because of these thunderclouds, it actually can hail more frequently in summer “as these clouds are more likely to form in moist atmospheres, both the moist atmosphere and development of cumulonimbus clouds can lead to more hailstorms.”
And then my husband adds, “But not in Queens.”
“No hail in the summertime in Queens? That’s even more preposterous,” I say now that I’m fully awake. Am I to believe this? My husband, who grew up in Rego Park, NY, is straightaway claiming it never hails there in the summertime. Perhaps there’s a song in that…It Never Hails in Rego Park?
“You know there are people who go around the country repairing vehicles after hail storms,” he adds.
“Really? Is that something you’d like to do?”
“Hell, no,” says my Personal Trainer husband.
“But what about Queens?” I ask adding, “Why are there no July hailstorms in Queens? There’s the Botanical Garden. There’s Flushing Meadows Park. There’s bird watching, the zoo, the Astoria Pool and even a wildlife refuge in Jamaica. Don’t you think Queens would want a summertime hail?”
Our own National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) warns us that “hail can damage aircraft, homes and cars, and can be deadly to livestock and people.” Perhaps the people who run Queens are smarter than the rest of us and know how to keep the hailstorms out of their region. Further investigation tells us that “although Florida has the most thunderstorms, Nebraska, Colorado, and Wyoming usually have the most hailstorms. The area where these three states meet – “hail alley” – averages seven to nine hail days per year. Other parts of the world that have damaging hailstorms include China, Russia, India and northern Italy.” On April 30, 1888, a hail event in India with hailstones as large as ‘cricket balls’ killed as many as 246 people. And yet every cloud has a silver lining, even thunderclouds.
Hail has the same effect on the environment as rain water. When it melts it replenishing lakes, rivers, streams and other water reservoirs. It also sustains plant, animal and human life. Too bad for Queens.
I ask, “Why do you think that Queens has no hailstorms?” He smiles and says, “Because I was a kid and probably didn’t notice. I was unconcerned about the house I lived in back then and overly concerned about our house now.”
Even though there’s no mention by the NSSL of hail storms in Queens or the Delaware River valley, I hear the low rumblings of a distant thunderstorm coming closer and closer, and it’s rolling in fast. My husband, fresh from his denial of Queens’ hailstorms but expert in the ones in our area, frets the pummeling of our sweet home while I try falling into sweet slumber by convincing myself that the sound of hail, like the pitter-patter of rain, is comforting and beautiful.
But it doesn’t work. Instead, I float into dreamland on a wing and a prayer: Let it hail, let it hail, let it hail but please, never too severely on our homes or vehicles and never ever on our animals or us! Amen!
RAMONA JAN is the Founder and Director of Yarnslingers, a storytelling group that tells tales both fantastic and true. She is also the roving historian for Callicoon, NY and is often seen giving tours around town. You can email her at email@example.com.