It wasn't pretty.
I was driving my son Jed to his karate class and noticed that the sky in the west where we were heading was incredibly dark. Since the sun was setting in that direction, the darkness of the clouds was particularly ominous.
I switched on the radio and heard an alert about severe thunderstorms in a broad front that was moving quickly across the eastern U.S. from Virginia up into New York.
At that point, the lightning began in the distance: huge bolts, in rapid succession. Then large drops of rain and hail the size of nickels began to pelt the car, and a severe wind began whipping the trees that lined the road and that stretched over us.
I had just decided that visibility was deteriorating to the point that I should slow down, when a large dead tree fell from the left side of the road right across the street in front of my path. I barely had time to swerve to the right, missing the most substantial part of the trunk, but driving right over the mass of branches in front of me. There was a loud bang of something hitting the left side of my van and a lot of thumping as the wheels bounced over the branches.
I pulled over to the side of the road and got out. My door popped as I opened it. Clearly the front end had been pushed back into the door. I also saw that a branch had hit my left mirror, shattering the glass, which I later learned had sprayed in tiny pieces through the open window of the car. Luckily, no major damage had occurred, and I continue on, The next five miles were littered with fallen trees, many of them much larger than the one that had landed in front of me. It looked like a tornado had passed through, but it turned out later that the damage was much more widespread than a tornado. On our 15-mile return ride home, we had to search out alternate routes several times because so many roads were closed by fallen trees. All the traffic signals were out, because of downed lines.
This had been no ordinary storm.
Our region, along with the entire continental U.S., was going through a record heat wave, with a week of temperatures in the mid to high '90s, with one day nudging into three digits (in the western U.S., temperatures were in the triple digits, and as high as 115 in some spots. The summer itself has been the hottest on record.
At the body shop the next day, I learned that it had been a great day for the collision repair industry, but a bad day for the insurance industry. Cars all over the tri-county area had been hit by trees and branches. Mine sustained $1000 in damage.
Now I've lived in the Northeast all my life, and I can state with half a century's experience that this has been no ordinary summer, and this was no garden-variety storm.
We're clearly experiencing the beginning of something new. Flowers are blooming out of season, some deciduous trees are showing signs of distress, their leaves yellowing in the intense heat. Other plants, like the poison ivy that is engulfing my property, seem to be growing at a pace way beyond what might be expected, the result of much higher concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere.
We're in for it folks.
The world is getting noticeably warmer, and the soaring carbon content in the atmosphere guarantees that it's only going to get worse-much worse.
You'd think that people would get it, that there'd be a national clamor for drastic measures to do something about it, if only for our children and grandchildren, but no. People keep driving too fast, wasting gas, even at $3.20 a gallon. People keep driving half a mile to do an errand instead of walking or riding a bike. People keep buying oversized cars that get half the miles per gallon that a smaller vehicle might get. And people keep cranking up the aircons, making it feel like spring in July in their homes and offices. Worse yet, in Washington, the political class is worked up about...stem cells and interstate travel to get legal abortions.
That dark cloud I saw last week, and the near-death experience it dealt me and my son, was more than just a nasty frontal system. It, and the sweltering summer that has been setting heat records across the U.S., Europe, and much of the northern hemisphere, is a warning that we'd all better start getting serious about a crisis that threatens to be as disastrous for the human race as a surprise comet was for the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago.