I was water-skiing with my children in a light drizzle off Hyannis, Mass., last month when a sudden, fierce storm plunged us into a melee of towering waves, raking rain, painful hail and midday darkness broken by blinding flashes of lightning. As I hurried to get my children out of the water and back to the dock, I shouted over the roaring wind, "This is some kind of tornado."
The fog consolidated and a waterspout hundreds of feet high rose from the white ocean and darted across its surface, landing for a moment on a moored outboard to spin it like a top, moving toward a distant shore where it briefly became a sand funnel, and then diffusing into the atmosphere as it rained down bits of beach on the harbor. For 24 hours, a light show of violent storms illuminated the coastline, accompanied by booming thunder. My dog was so undone by the display that she kept us all awake with her terrified whining. That same day, two waterspouts appeared on Long Island Sound.
Those odd climatological phenomena led me to reflect on the rapidly changing weather patterns that are altering the way we live. Lightning storms and strikes have tripled just since the beginning of the decade on Cape Cod. In the 1960s, we rarely saw lightning or heard thunder on the Massachusetts coast. I associate electrical storms with McLean, Va., where I spent the school year when I was growing up.