Friday, April 19, 2013

Rainy Days

During the past week, rain has drenched the Midwest -- and a great deal of the entire country. Today is the first day with no rain so far… but the sky gives the appearance that the status could change at any moment.

I love rain. It has a huge comfort factor, evoking memories of home-cooked meals and playing indoors unexpectedly. There is a certain atmosphere in the pleasant rainy day experience not to be found elsewhere.

Growing up in the Midwest, we could depend upon rain with some degree of regularity. We needed water to drink, to wash and to survive. The local farmers needed rain to make the crops grow. Irrigation was something that I didn't encounter until moving to Arizona in 1960. So most people were pleased when rain would arrive. I recall one drought period in my childhood when men in small planes flew over our town to "seed" the clouds and help make it rain. (I don't think this worked but at least someone tried.)

There were often storms that involved a lot more than rainfall. Winds, hail and even a few tornadoes occurred that caused us to take shelter in the basement. But millions of folks living smack dab in the middle of the country are used to occasional weather interruptions. They have learned to roll with whatever punches happen along.

The recent rain has been extraordinary. Somewhere a man or two must have contemplated building an ark. April so far has been quite wet, many of the still-dormant fields turning into ponds, unpaved roads nearly impassable. On the evening news tonight, there was footage in a nearby town of people paddling a canoe down Main Street, with water reaching the bottom of a red stop sign. In that particular town, the already-rising creeks and rivers had spilled over their banks and sent residents fleeing to higher ground.  Local emergency shelters were opened.

This local water surplus is nothing compared to major flooding that occurs along the Mississippi River every few years or so. Despite flood protection and steps to avoid serious damage, residents in low-lying areas near many large rivers often experience flooding. So our local troubles dim by comparison.

Rain remains an ally and is welcome. The past couple of years have been extremely dry. Last year, farmers across the Midwest routinely appeared in the press lamenting the drought conditions. Yields were down on many crops. Lake levels were much lower, revealing visible high water marks along the shore.

Of course, it is too soon to predict whether we have seen the end of water problems. A few days of heavy rain, although certainly needed, is hardly a sign that drought is on the wane. It may be only a brief respite and only time will tell.

 Remember that "April showers will bring May flowers." April is traditionally a month when rain arrives. We usually are so busy with preparing for summer fun that we overlook the inconvenience of carrying an umbrella. After all, the seasons have changed and we will soon be splashing and playing all day long. Why worry about a little drizzle?

During the 30 years that I lived in Arizona, I had a very awkward relationship with rain. Naturally, there were many days of sun with only a few weeks where predictable "bad weather" occurred in the form of strong winds and dust storms. These storms were referred to as "monsoons," a term that conjures up scenes right out of The Rains of Ranchipur. But what falls from the clouds over Arizona hardly passes for rain. Perhaps accompanied by a few droplets of moisture, dust descends to fill swimming pools, pelting people who are outdoors and turning day into night. The winds gather debris and dust from miles around and redistributes them haphazardly. The result is a mess.

Those moments were not warm and fuzzy memories that one likes to recall.

So when I hear people whine about how a day is cloudy, overcast or threatening to rain, I try to take it all with a grain of salt. Rain is nice, provided, of course, that we don't get washed away.

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