One rightfully could call this year’s spring and summer weather in the Flathead fickle. While local long-timers know June is considered “the rainy month,” this year glorious dry June weekends jump-started our warm-weather recreating.
July, however, was a house of cards. The days began peacefully and pleasant only to deteriorate into unpredicted storm fronts with wind rolling through like a locomotive.
I’d left the house one morning in late July on my bike commute under sunny skies and calm winds. A mere 15% chance of rain with light and variable winds was forecast for the day. Yet, on my route were telltale signs of an overnight shower — nothing had shown on radar or been predicted by the half dozen weather apps I monitor. I knew temps on the ride home would be hovering around 90 degrees, but all other variables — wind, rain, thunderstorms — were not in the forecast, so I expected an uneventful ride home.
While at work, by 4:30 p.m. the skies began darkening to the northwest, my direction home — yet, no wind. Shouldn’t be a fast-moving front.
A half hour later the northern sky was a solid slab of slate gray. Weather warnings indicated a storm 30 miles east of Libby, moving 30 miles per hour with penny-sized hail. Nothing of note was forecast for the Flathead.
Around 5 p.m. I headed for home under warm, windless (yet suspect) conditions; the potential existed I could get caught in an unpredicted storm.
I did call my husband before I left work to ask if he’d spotted any lightning (my biggest safety concern). He was driving home from Whitefish and offered to meet me on my route in case a storm whipped up.
About halfway home (6 miles) he pulled up next to me in his pickup, rolled down the passenger window and as I pedaled on I said, “Wait for me at the cemetery.”
The irony of my words echoed in the still air.
I’ve been caught in storms before, but never headed out into one by choice. Toward the end of one long ride several years ago in the Pioneer Mountains near Dillon my cycling companion and I experienced a spectacular trifecta of thunderstorms, which can only be described as apocalyptic. Lightning struck around us on three sides, the gales nearly blew us off our bikes and the only refuge was under the shallow eave of someone’s garage.
But here I was with my husband shadowing me so I could still get in my evening commute. What is it said about suffering fools gladly?
At the cemetery, I rolled by my husband in his parked pickup saying, “Head for the old fire hall and then Clark Drive. If I make it that far, I’ll see you at home.”
Jim cautioned, “Radar shows lighting is just 4.6 miles away. You shouldn’t be out here.”
I may have seen a tiny lightning flash. OK, maybe two. But I was scanning the horizon for a full-on threat ... and then I realized I wasn’t aware of what was going on behind me.
We both pulled in the driveway amid multiple cellphone weather app warnings and ducked into the house just as the first big raindrops clattered down, the wind began to howl and lightning strikes flashed.
I may have been bold; I may have been foolish. But I made it home safe and dry.
But without my wingman, I promise to play it safer down the road.
… I also re-educated myself on thunder and lightning metrics. For the meteorologically curious, learn more on the National Weather Service website: www.nssl.noaa.gov/education/svrwx101/lightning/
Community Editor Carol Marino may be reached at 758-4440 or firstname.lastname@example.org.