Oh…That’s Not A Good Sound
Last evening, I sat curled up in the corner of my comfy couch, sleeping feline nearby, laptop lid up, idly surfing about, catching up on the news of the day. The Good Man did something similar in the next room. Giants baseball on the radio, the sounds of Duane Kuiper calling the game.
From out of nowhere, the lights flickered, and then went out. The instant it went dark, a loud whining sound could be heard outside. The unmistakable sound of a power transformer under extreme strain. It went on for a long time. Stopped, then started again.
And I slipped back into memory. It was the early 1990’s. My folks were living in Carlsbad and I was home for a few weeks between summer school and the start of the regular school year at NMSU.
It was a beautiful, clear summer day. I decided to take a long walk and get some exercise in before my folks came home from work. I left the house about 3:30 in the afternoon and walked down long country roads. My folks were living on the outskirts of Carlsbad at that time (if you’re from there, it was out on Cherry Lane near the CARC farm).
The first half of the walk was great. It was a gorgeous New Mexico day. On my return trip, things started to get ominous. In August in the southeastern part of the state, storms come in fast and furious. Emphasis on furious. Carlsbad is at the tail end of tornado alley, but being at the tail end doesn’t mean the tornados are any less frequent.
As I walked a little faster, the sky turned deep black, and then green. The clouds started to boil. This was bad. Very, very bad.
The rain came quickly and the temperature dropped twenty degrees. The powerful winds whipped raindrops into my bare legs and arms. Then the hail started. Small icy bits at first, then growing larger.
My whole body shuddered when I heard the sirens I’d come to both fear and hate. Tornado sirens. That meant a tornado had been spotted and all we could do was wait.
I was still about a mile from home, on foot, and in the center of the storm.
I picked up the pace a lot more. I ran off and on, but as I’m not a runner, I had to slow down so I could catch my breath.
Already drenched, I groaned when the rain picked up intensity. Thunder shook the ground, the trees, the terrified girl by the side of the road.
Lightning cracked out of the sky and hit a power pole across the street and ahead a bit.
That’s when I heard that sound. A power transformer under strain.
The power transformer exploded, sending flames and sparks into the sky.
I dove headfirst into a now very soaked alfalfa field, remembering my early training on “get low when lightning is around,” and lay as flat as possible, hugging mother earth while lightning struck all around.
Soon the heart of the storm moved on and I could hear the thunder a couple miles away, counting “one Mississippi, two Mississippi” between lightning strikes and thunderclaps.
When it seemed I was safe, I leapt up and ran for my folk’s home as fast as I could. I got home safely. I called my mom (a no-no in the storm, but I needed my mommy!) and since we had no tornado shelter, she recommended that I stay to the center of the house and if a tornado was coming to get into the bathtub and hunker down.
“Get ready to leave the house!” The Good Man commanded sharply, snapping me from my reverie. I was back in Northern California and that transformer sound had stopped.
I jumped to action, running to get the cat carrier out of the closet and once The Feline was secure (she loves the cat carrier and walks right in with no complaint) I ran room to room and unplugged every device that was attached to a socket. The Good Man was on the phone with PG&E advising them of the situation.
We dashed outside to see what was going on and the neighbors were all outside too, talking over what they saw and heard. Soon the sirens of a fire engine came racing toward us and the firemen let us know a powerline was down two streets over but no explanation as to why the powerline came down on a quiet evening. PG&E were on their way and we should go back inside.
We lit candles and got out flashlights and settled back into the couch. Safe. On that summer day back when in Carlsbad, I was also safe. Tornados did touch down, but several miles away.
This past April when an earthquake came along and the house and ground shook, The Good Man, a longtime veteran of the Bay Area, commanded “Get in a doorway!” and I did.
I’m grateful to have a partner who is the epitome of grace under fire, and I’m grateful for my Mom’s wise support from two decades ago, too. Mostly, I’m just grateful when there is someone strong and wise to guide me through a crisis.
That makes me feel safe.
Image from Ring Electric’s blog.
Whew! I’m glad all is ok. Tornadoes are scary, no matter what. And to be caught outside during one as a kid must have been really terrifying! What a story.
Lynn – It’s amazing how a sound or smell can evoke memories. Thanks for the comment!
Great story! I could totally see and feel that as it was happening.