This weekend, most of the state of South Carolina lived through three months’ worth of rain in three days, like some kind of time-compressing movie montage gone awry. I realize that all the post-apocalyptic shows and novels I’ve consumed in the course of my lifetime really paid off for me, because when the weatherman said the storm would bring “life-threatening conditions,” I, for one, sat up and took note. Because if nothing else, that genre has taught me how quickly civilization’s fragile infrastructure can disintegrate when just a handful of germs or aliens or zombies or precipitation are set loose upon it.
There were those amongst the ranks who scoffed, not believing the hype, clearly lacking my gift for imagining terrifying, end-of-days outcomes, and those people said things like, “A little water can’t keep us away from the Clemson game.” The weather predictions for the second half and after-game timeframe were dire, but my husband had scored tickets—really good tickets that even came with the option of staying in a sheltered area of the stadium.
I’m pretty new to this whole crazy college football phenomenon since my alma mater has no team (our Quidditch team, though, is a force to be reckoned with). This Clemson-Notre Dame matchup was a big, featured ESPN Saturday night game, it had long been sold out, and College Game Day was filming on campus. It dawned on me early Saturday morning that the chance of the powers-that-be postponing the game due to the impending severe weather were about on par with the odds of the mayor of that town in Jaws closing the beach down during high tourist season because of one pesky fish.
Before we even left town, I started to picture how this game was going to go. You know that historic tiger cutout at the top of the scoreboard with the eyes that flash when Clemson scores? I could just see it getting ripped loose in the high winds and squashing a bunch of students on the Hill. The heavy downpours would cause the jumbo-trons to short out and electrocute the entire west end zone. There would be mass panic and trampling as Death Valley filled with water and finally earned its nickname in a literal way. A decade from now, people would be watching History Channel shows about the deadly Clemson-Notre Dame game of 2015 and shaking their heads in remorse over the massive destruction and loss of life.
Spoiler alert to those of you completely cut off from the news and social media (but, inexplicably, not from this blog): none of that happened. (Also, I kind of doubt the History Channel will still be around in ten years.)
It rained all during the game, but not heavily. The worst bands of the storm stayed south of us and the only drama, mayhem, and heartache we experienced were during the game’s aftermath, and it was the usual, predictable, hellish melee created when 82,000 humans all try to leave the same place at the same time.
So when we made it onto a shuttle, through the slow ride to our car, then to Anderson to my husband’s cousin’s house, and at last into the soft, welcoming arms of dry clothing and warm blankets, I let myself relax, acknowledging that my husband was right when he kept telling me, “You’re gonna live.” It hadn’t been that bad, and the worst was over.
What I didn’t think to worry about was 7 am the next morning, having to drive toward that weatherman’s worst-case scenario, which, instead of drifting toward the stadium, was locked firmly in place and dumping fire-hose levels of water on the state’s capitol, the very place we had to get my stepson by 10 am, so that he could volunteer on a theatre project. We were fairly certain this event was going to get cancelled, but the organizers said they would make an decision by 8:00.
My smart phone was my curse and my blessing as it clearly showed me that, if we instead headed north and just took him to our house and bailed on the event, it would be a pleasant drive through light rain, but that heading south was going to be two to three hours of treacherous downpours on the interstate. But shows must go on, so toward Columbia we headed. So as not to get too nervous, I tried not to look at the radar or at the road ahead, just focus out the side window, where you can’t tell how poor the visibility is or how much water is collecting on the road.
Smart phones being what they are, I couldn’t keep myself from looking at it for long. As we traveled, it revealed one ugly bit of news after another. Family members started texting me heads-ups about flash floods. Not what I wanted to hear, but to be expected. But we figured that would just be the back roads.
Then word came of a dam failure in Columbia. Then another. Sections of major interstates—the ones we would need to travel on to get to this appointment—suddenly were impassable. Someone on Facebook posted a picture of the road beside my stepson’s high school, except it was not so much a road now as a Class III river. We were only maybe 30 miles from Columbia at that point.
I whined, I wheedled, I had a minor panic attack in which I went from being so hot I couldn’t breathe to shivering with cold over the course of ten minutes, and finally I talked my husband into backtracking and retreating home. About fifteen minutes later (and almost an hour past the time they promised they would send out the notification), my stepson got word that his event was cancelled. Theatre people clearly aren’t any better at mentally practicing their apocalyptic protocols than football fans.
By the time we made it home, the following occurred:
- Giant sinkholes formed in major roads in a matter of minutes
- Bridges crumbled
- Sharks cruised down Ocean Drive in North Myrtle Beach
- Alligators were sighted in a park in the state capitol
- Fire ants were joining into spherical formations in order to be able to float and make a new home wherever they land when the flood waters recede
- Motherbleeping snakes were swimming down the motherbleeping street. (Y’all know one of these copperhead jerks bit me three years ago, right? I continue to be surprised and angered by their buoyancy.)
- Complete idiots are claiming this flood is God’s revenge on the state for taking down the Confederate flag
I mean holy cow. If all that isn’t end times, I don’t know what is. “A little water” is no joke, I tell ya.
In short, I think it’s safe to say I was right to be concerned and to urge my squad to stand down from that mission of doom. So today, I proudly bestow upon myself the Weather Wimp Award. You see, I always get nervous driving in heavy rainstorms. My husband teases me that I need a thunder shirt.
I don’t disagree. I am a cowardly Chicken Little. But this time, the sky really was falling, and I believe my little snit in the car may have saved three lives. Or, more likely, saved us a few hours of driving fruitlessly around Columbia, having to turn back from one flooded road after another in a futile attempt to navigate from one side of the city to the other.
But that in itself is something. I don’t know how many hours I’m going to get on this earth, but I know it’s a limited number, and that’s not how I want to spend any of them.
So today, I take pride in my meekness. I am winning because of my natural tendency to run for cover. I shake my fist at those of you who shake your fist at Mother Nature, and I say, “I know the weatherman is 90% hype, but 10% of the time he is on point, so buy those batteries and milk sandwiches and hunker down when he tells you to, and do it with no shame.”
Today, my hyper-developed flight instinct has me alive and thriving.
And possibly even MORE afraid of driving in a storm than before. That thunder shirt is going on my Christmas wish list.