Frightening at night.
Arizona is known primarily for one thing: its brutally hot summers. To be fair, it’s only 110°F + for a few months and only in the lower elevations of the state. The rest of the state has much milder weather — at least in the summer. In the winter, places like Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon can get the same kinds of winter storms that caused me to flee the New York metro area years ago.
Our house in Wickenburg is at a slightly higher elevation than Phoenix: 2200 feet vs. 1000 feet in the Valley. Because of this, we get just about the same weather as Phoenix, although we tend to run 5°F cooler year-round. (This is one of the reasons I escape to northern Arizona or Washington State every summer.)
The autumn, winter, and spring weather, in general, is a monotony of perfectly clear sunny days. In the height of winter, nighttime temperatures might dip to below freezing, but it general climbs back up to the 60s or even 70s once the sun rises high into the cloudless sky. Rain is a welcome treat. Storms are a rarity.
We had a storm yesterday, however. A low came in from the Pacific coast, dragging along tons of moisture as it moved in from the southwest. We had low clouds all day long — it was one of the 10 or so days each year when it’s impossible to fly VFR. The rain came and went — a good, soaking rain that the desert really needs. The radar showed various shades of green throughout our area, with pink and blue (icy mix and snow) in higher elevations just 10 miles north.
It got dark and the rain continued into the night. Then the wind started. The weather forecast warned of a Wind Advisory with winds gusting as high as 58 mph throughout the area. It even suggested that vehicles stay off of I-10, which runs from the Los Angeles area through Phoenix and then south to Tucson before turning east again toward New Mexico.
I was alone at home last night with Jack the Dog and Alex the Bird. Jack wanted no part of the outdoors yesterday and it was tough just getting him out there long enough to do his business. We closed up the house around 7 PM, shutting off the lights downstairs so Alex could sleep. I watched a movie on our DVR while the wind started to whip up around the house. By the time I climbed into bed to read, the storm was in full swing.
It was the sound of the wind that prompted me to write this. I want to remember, in the future, how it sounded, so I figured I’d write it down in my journal — after all, that’s what this blog really is.
The wind had an otherworldly sound. It was the low frequency moan of a male voice, almost ghostly, rising and falling in pitch as as the wind’s intensity rose and fell. Rain pelted the flat roof and big windows. All this noise was accompanied by the rattling of the french doors that lead from our bedroom to upstairs patio and the pulsating of the window panes. More than once, I got up to check the doors to make sure they wouldn’t suddenly blow open.
Sometimes I heard a deep rumbling sound off in the distance. I’ve read time and time again that tornadoes sound like freight trains. I wondered whether there was any danger of that. Nothing in the forecast; I told myself not to worry.
Occasionally, the house shook on its foundation. It made me wonder what the wind speed really was. I dialed up the AWOS for Wickenburg Municipal Airport (E25) and listened to the automatically generated recording. Winds from 220 at 26 gusting to 39. I thought about how hurricane force winds would sound and feel against the house. I resolved yet again not to move into an area likely to get hurricanes or tornadoes.
I grew tired of reading and turned out the light. But I lay awake for a long time, listening to the sounds around me, comforted by the steady drone of the heat pump keeping the upstairs warm until its set-back time at 11 PM. Just as I was thinking about how unusual it was that we hadn’t lost power, the power failed. The heat-pump went quiet and the ambient light from my neighbor’s yard went dark. Now the only thing to hear and feel was the wind and the vibrations on the house.
I fell asleep a while later and slept remarkably well until 4 or 5 am. I woke suddenly and looked out the bedroom door toward the big window facing southeast. A bright splash of moonlight illuminated the shelves and floor there. The storm had cleared out. The waning moon, approaching its last quarter, was shining like a beacon over the desert.
Outside, the wind still howled. I fell back to sleep.