|Photo by Mark Reinholt|
LUCY BURDETTE: A very fast storm clipped Key West last week. We were out to dinner, on a porch overlooking a dock, when the sky grew intensely dark, and then a waterspout took shape. We barely had time to grab our plates and run inside. (The photo was taken by a friend, an incredible photographer—isn’t it ominous?)
Anyway, this got me thinking about severe weather in general, and how I tried to use it to up the ante for the characters in my upcoming KILLER TAKEOUT. When I meet a long-time resident of the island, one of my first questions is: What do you do about hurricanes? Stay or go? Leaving is no picnic, because there’s only one road off the islands and the congestion can be overwhelming. Besides, how do you know where the storm’s headed next? The hard-bitten native conchs just hunker down and hope for the best. But there are lots of horror stories about staying too—Hurricane Wilma for example, didn’t do a great deal of damage, but the storm surge after was very destructive.
I haven’t lived through a hurricane in Key West and I hope to skip that experience. We have lived through Hurricanes Irene and Sandy while in Connecticut, and that was no picnic. Let’s face it, I’m a weather wienie!
Reds, what’s the worst weather you’ve experienced? Do you enjoy the pageantry of nature or would you rather skip it? How have you used weather in your writing?
HALLIE EPHRON: A waterspout? Yikes. That same night in Boston we had high winds, rain and lightning that went on booming and crashing for hours. I unplugged the computer, stuffed my ears with Kleenex and tried to sleep, because what can you do except survey the damage in the morning? Fortunately all we lost was a tree limb and it didn’t fall on the car.
|Outside Hallie's House|
SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: My family and I were caught on a bus in Park Slope, Brooklyn, in a tornado! Toto, we're in Brooklyn, Not Kansas! Someone recorded it and put it on YouTube—here's the link: It was surreal — green, murky, insane winds. We saw a hundred-year-old tree ripped right out of the ground from the bus window.
|Overwash by Don McCullough|
We also weathered Hurricane Sandy in Brooklyn. That was less scary, personally, because we live at a high elevation (so no flooding) and also in a sturdy Victorian brick building. Still we taped up our windows, just like the Brits did during the Blitz, and I prayed for everyone affected—and also that our oversized windows would hold. Which they did. Afterwards, gave blood, took blankets and canned food to a relief center a few blocks from us (the local YMCA). It was a crazy storm and people in the hardest-hit areas are still in recovery.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Massachusetts! Where there's never a dull weather moment. I've covered hurricanes on Cape Cod, certainly, where the winds are more than 90 mph, and the sand hits your face like a million straight pins. And ice storms, where the trees, and everything, are completely coated. Beautiful, and deadly. And yes, last year the snow was so high it was over the cars--seriously, there were cars parked on the streets and you couldn't see them. But a few days ago, I woke up to HOWLING winds. And I thought, wow, we're going to have some fallen branches. Woke up the next morning to see Jonathan standing over me. He said, "Sweetheart, we have a situation." Our back fence had blown down! Like--WHAM. Flattened.
RHYS BOWEN: We lived in south Texas for three years where weather was always dramatic. Summer thunderstorms spawning tornadoes, hurricanes, lightning that lit up the whole sky and brought all four kids scurrying into our bed at night. I once flew into Chicago after a blizzard and the snow was taller than me beside the road. Didn't like that much, either. I'm currently in Arizona where we've had perfect temps and sunshine for weeks. My kind of weather! But I have to agree, Lucy, bad weather can enhance the drama and suspense in a novel.
|Photo by Paul VanDerWerf|
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Hank, I love "We have a situation." Such a calm way to introduce major property damage! I'm pretty well known for the bad weather in my books - I maintain there's nothing like nature's fury to elevate the suspense and the stakes. After all, didn't Dame Agatha trap everyone on the island with bad weather in Ten Little Indians?
Spending my teen years in upstate New York's snowbelt and my adult life here in Maine, all my bad weather is snow, ice and cold. There was the Christmas eve when we left midnight mass to discover two feet of snow had fallen and my dad had to wait for a plow to follow to get us all home. There was the time Ross and the kids and I left Hudson Falls, NY with a light scattering of flakes that turned into a blizzard as we we drove through the Green Mountains. Snowpocalype '14 - '15 was unrelievedly awful; we had something like 100 inches of snow and the coldest February since 1895. But for me, personally, the WORST weather was the ice storm of '98. Power lines down everywhere, roads impassible, walking on glare ice outside and we were without power on my street for NINE days. Nine days with no running water, no phone service (we didn't have a cell phone until '02) no electric lights, no heat except the fireplaces and woodstoves, and two kids, four and five, underfoot. The silver lining? I used an ice storm just like it is as the background for my last book, THROUGH THE EVIL DAYS.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: On the day after Christmas this year, we had nine tornadoes sighted in the DFW area. NINE! The strongest struck the town of Garland, just a few miles to the east of us, and was rated an EF4--the first EF4 since a tornado struck Lancaster, south of Dallas, in 1994. This was the first EF4 tornado reported in the United States since 2000. There were eleven fatalities and the damage was staggering. Here's a photo of just one of the tornadoes.
We live in tornado country--we know this can happen. We have go-bags and a safe spot and a plan, but, really, you're never prepared. This time, we thought the storms were coming straight for us, but at the last minute they shifted direction. I spent an anxious hour huddled in our hall bathroom with flashlight, phone, radio, and the two German shepherds. Then we spent the rest of the evening watching the terrible damage reports on the news as they came in.
I much prefer my weather in books. I think my favorite use of it was the snowstorm that traps my characters in Crystal Palace in south London in The Sound of Broken Glass.
But I think my personal "scariest weather ever" moment was about twenty years ago, when I drove halfway across England in a hurricane. I hope never, ever, to do anything like that again.
LUCY: Yes, Julia, you are a master at using the weather to best advantage, starting with the first line of your first book! It was one hell of a night to throw away a baby.
Reds, tell about the worst weather you survived--or a book you remember using bad weather to great effect...