Experiencing Extreme Weather

Please reassure me that I’m not alone here. When I’m nervous, I will talk to myself in an effort to calm my jitters. On our last trip to El Salvador, my inner voice was pretty darn active. “Well, AT LEAST it isn’t a hurricane like the 2005 and 2009 events causing loss of life to hundreds of people in El Salvador,” I optimistically attempted to comfort myself while witnessing a major tropical storm. Meanwhile I was convinced at any given moment the windows and doors would come crashing inside and closing my eyes didn’t prevent the lightning from penetrating through my eyelids.

A few days later my inner voice was at work again trying to comfort me. “At LEAST it wasn’t the devastating earthquake of 2001 that measured 7.6 on the Richter scale that did massive damage which the folks still talk about.” (This was my first earthquake.)

Living most of my life in northern U.S. states, I am accustomed to experiencing weather patterns of four seasons a year – snowstorms in winter, wind and rain in spring, heat and occasional hailstorms in summer, and dropping temperatures (and leaves) in fall. The older I get the less I enjoy raking fall leaves and shoveling snow. I’m known to complain about it and wistfully pine to live in the tropics year-round.

Traveling in the tropics presents an entirely different set of weather experiences. First, places like El Salvador have only two seasons: dry season and rainy season. They are both HOT, so winter is a misnomer as I know it. Winter in El Salvador means the rainy season, and summer means the dry season. It requires some adjustment to adapt. Knowing we were traveling there during the rainy season on this trip, I naturally assumed it would be comparable to our rain and packed an umbrella and raincoat. Silly me! I quickly discovered you need neither a raincoat nor an umbrella during the tropical rainy season. Why? Because the rains occur mostly overnight. Even when it did rain during the day, rain consisted of intermittent showers not requiring a raincoat which only clung to a hot, sweaty body trapping the heat. We did see umbrellas used but not for rain. Umbrellas are used during the heat of the day as a shield over women’s heads to protect them from the direct sun. Unlike our rains in the northern hemisphere which tend to cool things down, the tropical rains only add to the heat and humidity. Looking at photos of myself taken during or after rains, my cheeks are bright red – hardly the look of being refreshed. (I deleted most of them from the 826 photos taken.)

As I sit writing this now, a gentle summer rain falls outside the window. I wouldn’t even know it is happening unless I look out the window and see the drops on the pavement below. It is quiet without thunder or lightning. Granted, that is not always the case, but more often than not it is. In the tropics, particularly during unsettled tropical weather systems, storms can be severe, knocking out power and doing major structural damage to homes and infrastructure with little or no warning. We’ve experienced a few of them, not hurricanes, thankfully, but tropical storms that have left homes and businesses stranded like islands as water moves in to surround them in minutes. One evening a few years ago we had an appointment in the city to interview someone at her home. When we arrived, no evidence of a storm existed. During the interview a sudden storm brewed and was so loud that it was difficult to decipher the taped interview words later when it was time to transcribe them. When we left to climb into the taxi, water was up over the curb and flowed like a river. I nearly lost a sandal in its current! During the night of the storm on our recent trip, the sounds and sights were so intense that it was more than a little frightening. The sky lit up constantly with lightning bolts suspended in mid-air for several seconds at a time. This was a free pyrotechnic show of color and zigzagging lightning stripes. (One person who got caught outside in it was telling us the next day that he happened to get a photo of his daughter playing her flute while a huge lightning bolt lit up the background sky). The power kept flicking off and on. WiFi was off for an entire week, and no one at the establishment where we stayed seemed overly concerned or surprised. Apparently, this is common this time of year.

Another time that we visited during the dry season it became unexpectedly cool and windy as Santa Ana winds lingered over the city for a week. I had taken along one sweater (for the plane) and ended up wearing it the entire week. It seems it just blew the city pollution right inside the windows. The dry, cold wind gave us all (including our guest house owner) bad colds and made us miserable. It didn’t help that this happened to be the season for sugar cane burning which resulted in all that nasty black soot blowing inside constantly.

On this last trip one night at midnight I was jolted out of bed by a loud CRACK! The earth literally lifted straight up in the air and then let go straight down with a BANG! I knew instantly it was an earthquake. This was a new experience for me, and the only way I could describe it to people back home is to say it was like someone suddenly opened a large window and then dropped it down quickly. (Actually, at some amusement parks there is a ride called “Demon’s Drop” where the car you are sitting in high on a track suddenly drops from the top to the bottom in seconds without warning. I’d compare it to that). It lasted maybe 5 seconds. I looked outside to be sure the asphalt on the street hadn’t buckled or that I needed to get out of the house. Everything seemed okay other than the cat on the stoop acting a little confused going in circles. I returned to bed seeing no one out there panicking and assumed this was routine action. However, the next day every person we encountered from the guest house owner to the taxi driver to the CEO of the company we visited were all excitedly talking about how weird and unusual that particular earthquake was. They each explained that the typical earthquake has more lateral quivering and shaking, NOT a vertical drop like we had. That kind is far more unusual, and they were definitely jolted. It registered 6.1 on the Richter scale. While we were sitting in the office of a friend talking about it, his son shouted, “Quake!” watching the water in the water cooler beside us moving from side to side for several seconds. Although I didn’t feel anything, it was a residual tremor from last night’s earthquake.

Maybe raking the fall leaves and shoveling winter snow is not so bad after all. I will simply enjoy VISITING tropical climates. My inner voice is much quieter when life settles into a predictable routine.

(photos – courtesy of google)


    Afflicted with Hope / embracingelsalvador.org is one of many outreach ministries at
    Saint Stephen Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA)
    30 West Main Street, PO Box 266
    New Kingstown, PA 17072

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