Sometimes when you’re driving in the West, you see a thunderstorm. It’s far off, still nascent, an indistinct dark smudge on the horizon perhaps a hundred miles away.
In the East, you don’t see a storm so far ahead. That’s because you can’t see the fullness of the storm until it’s literally over your head. In the East, the sky is smaller — topography, tall buildings, and trees obscure the horizon.
In the West, you keep driving toward that still-small gray mass. You look to the side through the driver’s window and see blue sky dotted with puffy cumulus clouds. You look out the passenger window; you see the same pastoral placidity. There’s psychological comfort in those little white pearls floating in the blue sky beside you. But in front of you?
You keep driving, 75 miles per hour, straight ahead, and there’s the storm, darker, grayer — waiting for you. You see the developing, wispy scud clouds, dancing erratically around the base of the fattening cumulonimbus clouds.
The distance to the storm gives you time to fret. But not too much at first. You can see rain falling, but it’s not hitting the ground. The dry air keeps the storm at bay, you think.
You look out the driver’s window again. You see fewer puffy cumulus clouds. You look out the passenger window. Blue sky is threaded with increasing gray.
The storm inexorably grows to fill the view out the windshield. The storm swells and punches upward — big, black, Brobdingnagian cumulonimbus clouds arc above you.
The first drops of rain patter politely against the windshield, then insistently and incessantly. Suddenly you are inside the storm; you are enveloped by darkness; you feel … trapped. You wonder, is this it?
Spray from passing big rigs adds to the torrent of water assaulting your windshield. Rain falls so heavily the wipers at high speed fail to cope. You look for escape. Sheets of rain obscure the highway’s shoulder. There’s no exit ahead. There’s no rest area to dart into. There’s no place to turn off the highway.
Headlights are on in both directions. Your eyes ache from trying to see and follow the red tail lights of the car in front of you. You pray that car remains on the highway.
Snow suddenly supplants rain. It clogs the wipers. A drumming commences — hail. You look up from the highway. You can see dark bomblets descending from the gray and targeting the windshield, then loudly smashing against it. Fierce winds, unimpeded by topography, buffet you. It’s damn scary.
Then … it’s over. You see see a slit of blue ahead, growing under the black and gray. You exhale. What seemed like an hour was less than a few minutes.
Soon the highway’s clear and dry. The storm has passed. You keep driving west at 75 mph, chewing up the miles.
Then, in the distant haze, you see darker clouds looming …
top photo: I-80 westbound in southern Wyoming.
middle photo: Route 93 north of Ely, Nevada.
bottom photo: Route 50 west of Ely, Nevada.