It wasn't pretty.
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 lightening 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 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.
This had been your garden-variety storm.
Our region had just gone through a record heat wave, with a week of temperatures in the mid to high '90s, with one day nudging into three digits. 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-"and houses--all over the tri-county area had been damaged by trees and branches.
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 that this was no ordinary 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.
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 air cons, making it feel like spring in July in their homes and offices. And in Washington, the political class is worked up about"stem cells and interstate travel by teens seeking legal abortions. How is it that politicians can get in a panic about an alleged Social Security crisis that won't hit until 2075, but continue to ignore a crisis that is liable to swallow up New York's financial district and half of the Florida peninsula--not to mention Shanghai, most of Bangladesh, and a fair number of Pacific nations--well before that?
That dark cloud I saw last week, and the near-death experience it provided 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 promises to be as disastrous for the human race as a surprise comet was for the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago.