nov 2021

[ performed at the Climate Changemakers in Health symposium ]
[ part of the Weather Stories project ]

It is 2020 and we are in a sea-side town in California. Kate enters the air-conditioned mini-market on the main street. It is a hot and sunny day and Kate is badly in need of something to drink. In front of the fridge she looks from the diet coke to the regular coke and back. She grabs the regular one, because whatever.
With the can in her hand Kate walks towards the checkout counter. Behind is the gray-haired shop owner watching TV. It appears to be a news-item on the fires in Australia.
‘Crazy ey’, the gray man says. ‘Happen to know someone there?’
‘Yes’, Kate says, ‘I do, or I did. It’s my dad you know.’

And she starts to tell him: ‘You know how here November is the start of winter, well, in Australia it is the start of summer. But last year it was as if the summer had already started. The weather people said it was because of a negative Annular Mode. Which is that the winds that usually blow over the southern ocean, were now up north, hitting Australia in the west, blowing thousands of miles over the interior continent, and exiting in the east. By the time that wind was at my dad’s place, it was dry as dust.’

‘So last year, even earlier than expected, the fires began. People left their homes. I started following the news, and called my dad from time to time... He said that he and others were prepared. With the usual stuff. Cutting down bushes close to the house. Filling up the water tanks. He said: “Some evenings, I can see the orange glow at the horizon, and it scares me. But then I just get used to it.” And I was just really happy that my father’s area was somehow spared, you know.’

‘But then one day a neighboring fire became very large. Like a chimney, it sucked the air in from below, heated it and lifted it way into the sky. Such torrents of hot air and glowing embers can become thousands of meters high. Up there, once the lifting stops, the embers travel with the wind and start to fall out. Of course the weather people keep a good eye on such plumes, but when my father went to bed, no one knew that at the top of that chimney, a wind shift was occurring.’

‘Because in the tropical ocean earlier that day, around the island of Java, a storm cloud bumped into a mountain range, and was lifted a bit higher into the atmosphere. The storm grew and its vertical motion stood not by itself, because everywhere in the region the air was moist and hot, and about to move. The single storm triggered multiple, and before long a whole system was moving eastwards, and pressure patterns as far as in Australia started to re-arrange themselves.’

‘I often dream of him now, and I see the embers quietly falling through the night sky, like tiny yellow lights making their way towards the earth’s surface. It is quite beautiful really. But then, minutes later, I dream of my father waking up. Flames have caught the trees outside the house, and are making loud cracking sounds. He is scared shitless, and already too late.’
‘They found my father’s corpse 20 meters from the house, suggesting he might have tried to escape. But there was no end to the fire. He was just grilled, alive.’

‘So yes, I know someone there. And I’m not sure if he had to die.’

Kate pays for the coke and steps into the blistering heat outside the shop. Things are getting crazy here too. It is another tropical disturbance letting itself be known, and nobody can cool it down. Especially not, if you’re a woman just out to buy a coke.

Because what can she do, when nature is the one flipping the coins?
What can she do when it is raining burning embers?
What can she do for a father who might not have died, but then did?

In the immeasurable heat she remembers:
Forests are not the only things burning in this world.
I’m burning too.
I burn for him, for others. So better do something with that.
And with that thought Kate steps into her car, and quietly slips into the moving traffic.

[ the Weather Stories project investigates how our personal lives and the weather intertwine. We know that both can be turbulent, but often have a hard time accepting any lack of control. Can we use their narrative combination to better grasp uncertainty? ]