Since the launch of such terms as lake effect snow and black ice (a misnomer for the transparent veneer of ice atop dew or water) on the general public, I have suspected that meteorologists secretly yearn to be poets, but the recent storm to hit the area confirms it: a violent dercho hammered the DC area on June 29. The straight-line winds of this widespread, severe thunderstorm knocked down trees and left millions without power. And first thing the morning after, the weather people on all the TV stations were explaining the term, derecho, in poetic detail (to those of us still with power, that is, but that is another story). Say the word–de/rech/cho–day-RAY-cho. It is beautiful. It rolls off the tongue. It invites you to intone it again and again.
We often have big thunderstorms that cause similar damage–two years ago, I returned from cool, cold San Francisco to a house without power for four days (and the power lines are underground in my neighborhood!), and years ago, a series of microbursts left Chevy Chase buried under the destruction of its lush foliage. But I never heard the term derecho until last week. The weather poet unleashed.
Think of the other terms–even an old, familiar one, Alberta Clipper, carries wonderful images of a great sailing ship moving fast upon a sea of cold air. And we all enjoy the beauty of an Indian summer–the words conjure up a special warm day in November that feels like summer but with the aging light of year’s end. A quick search of weather terms at NOAA.gov (http://www.erh.noaa.gov/box/glossary.htm) yields other gems of weather poetry: anvil clouds and chinook winds and any of those marvelous cloud terms we learned in lower or middle school, such as the glorious cumulonimbus. Freshet refers to the rise of streams in spring as snow melts. Laminar means smooth, non-turbulent and feels laminar on the tongue. Morning Glory is an elongated cloud band seen typically in morning hours. Fractus, ragged fragments of detached clouds, sounds like something from a Lewis Carroll poem or perfectly describes how one feels at the end of a interminable day of meetings and interruptions.
We survived the derecho. I never lost power, so my house became the family refuge since everyone else went without power from Friday night until early Thursday morning. Of course, irony never wanders far: my kitchen was mid-renovation, so we had no sink or counters, just newly installed, empty cabinets and piles of kitchen stuffing the dining and living rooms. But we persevered rather comfortably, given the alternative on the wretchedly hot days. My brother, the scoutmaster, set up a Boy Scout washing station on the deck–three tubs of increasingly less soapy water. We foraged at Balducci’s daily for sandwiches and drinks. Mercifully, the refrigerator was still on, so ice cream remained plentiful. We watched Olympic trials and mysteries. And I, at least, had the comfort of a new pretty word.