More than anything, the sound resembled an explosion.
But what was its origin?
Had lightning struck the house directly? Was the roof torn open, admitting the pounding rain?
Then the terrible crash was repeated.
The distant rumble of thunder increased to a nearer roar.
Outside the bedroom window the storm flung down its brilliant electrical spears.
And awake in the darkness, imagining the worst, what came to mind was fire.
Nasty weather had targeted our neighborhood before. Twice the wooden shingles on our house’s eaves were set ablaze, but the problem was discovered before any serious damage was done.
The elderly occupant of the house two doors west of ours was less lucky. If another neighbor gathering up storm debris that night in his yard hadn’t noticed smoke and a shower of sparks, that woman’s house almost surely would have burned to the ground, and likely taken the one next door with it.
Despite the awful racket it made, this latest unpleasantness did less damage — to us at least. Our only real loss was a single tree, a large soft maple favored by the squirrels.
More important is a towering black walnut whose major branch overhangs both our garage and two neighbors’ fences — which luckily were spared.
The main surprise the morning after the tempest was to find that the lights throughout the house, our television, the microwave, my computer and all other electrical appliances were working perfectly — this despite the fact that half the elm was lying on wires between the utility pole and the house, and some even appeared to have been pulled loose from their connection.
I remember well a different weather crisis in a previous season — November of our first year in our present home.
The winter sky that day let drop an inch-thick burden of ice that coated every branch and twig, every not-yet-fallen bit of foliage. And by evening’s end the entire city had gone dark.
“But we have a fireplace,” I thought. “We surely won’t suffer much.”
Then I went out to bring in kindling and logs for the fire.
But what had been an orderly woodpile just hours before was now a single large, solid object, all welded together inside a frozen heap.
An ax was useless. I had no proper gloves. And as the pallid sun went out, the house began to cool. The furnace, deprived of electrical power, was no longer firing.
The gas stove in the kitchen made possible the boiling of water for coffee and the warming of soup. And a Coleman lantern from the basement closet of camping gear gave comforting light, and a little encouragement.
But the news we could get on our battery-powered radio was not promising. We weren’t alone in our discomfort.
Far from it. In fact our whole city — and an area extending much beyond its limits — was smitten.
Power lines were down. Utility crews were out in force, trying to restore service. But the scale of the problem was too great. The best hope of relief would be from repair teams trucked in from regions less affected than ours.
Some of those were far away. The wait could be days.
Meantime, stored food would spoil. Plumbing pipes in walls and floors would freeze, break and spill their contents to worsen the nightmare.
Nine days, I seem to remember the ordeal lasted.
But we survived — the four of us: my wife and I and our daughters, ages 2 and 3 — all scrunched together in one double-size sleeping bag, glad for the shared warmth.
It ended as abruptly as it had begun — just as surely as this emergency will. At some point in the final night we woke to an upstairs radio blaring a country tune. Every light was shining. And from the basement we could hear the hum of a furnace restored to life.
For several years after, every time a likely storm blew in, our girls confessed their hope for another such adventure. But for us, one was quite enough.