Hurricane in the desert

The first time I brought my family to the Coachella Valley, temperatures soared over 120 degrees. We used lots of sun block, drank lots of water, got up early and stayed inside during the hottest part of the afternoon. We adapted. And we loved it so much that we moved here.

The desert can be harsh and unforgiving, and I knew we’d have to make concessions. I planned for heat, and drought, and earthquakes.

But I never imagined that living here would put us in the path of a hurricane.


I like to get stuff done. Most days I’m up by 5:30A and I’m pretty good about compartmentalizing. I’m not on social media and I manage my news consumption. I keep lists.

But it’s hard to concentrate and complete projects when the sky turns science fiction.

I’ve lived in Southern California my whole life. I can tell when there’s a fire by the sun’s reflection on the sidewalk. Friday afternoon, when the light in the house felt extra weird, I looked into the backyard expecting the familiar muddy amber smoke screen.

Everything was a beautiful, strange shade of orange sherbet I’d never seen before.

Photo: David Preston ©2023. All rights reserved. There is no color filter on this photo.

Out front the sun was shining in a clear western sky as it descended toward San Jacinto Peak. I took the picture below just after sunset. If you look closely you can see the new moon just to the left of the palm trees.

Then I went out back and looked south, where I was confronted with the most massive cloud I have ever seen.

Being able to see the cloud’s texture and its edge made it look even bigger, taller, and heavier than a cloudy day.

I went back inside.

Animals know

After my wife and I ate dinner, she went outside to water the plants. I heard the slider close. Two seconds later it opened again. Her head popped in. “I think you should see this. And I think we should take down the table umbrella.”

For the next ten minutes we stood on the fire pit and looked east toward Joshua Tree. Lightning strikes illuminated the black and grey thunderheads in the desert sky.

The flashes came every few seconds. It was the most lightning I’d ever seen outside of Texas during hurricane season. But California doesn’t have hurricanes. The Pacific Ocean is too cold.

Suddenly I turned to my wife. “Do you hear that?”


“Do you hear anything?”

My wife frowned. Then she looked up at me, wide-eyed. “Whoa.”

On any given day our backyard is filled morning, noon, and night with a soundtrack of birdsong. We have mourning doves, mockingbirds, vermillion flycatchers, hummingbirds (which make four different kinds of sounds!), an occasional hawk or owl, and more.

This time of year is also prime time for our noisiest visitors, the cicadas, which are so loud that prolonged exposure to their buzzing and clicking can cause hearing loss.

My wife and I looked at each other for a few moments and listened. The air was heavy and still.


The lightning flashed again in the distance.

My wife’s words were soft and distinct: “The animals know.”

People think

When the news confirmed the animals were right, and Southern California received its first tropical storm warning ever, we sprung into action. My wife went to the grocery store and I took care of the sandbags. We checked our batteries, gas tanks, flashlights, backup systems, and go bags.

Some people in my life acted like I was overreacting. (To a f*cking HURRICANE.) I had a flashback to the beginning of the pandemic, when many people literally couldn’t figure out how to wipe their own asses. My family began wearing masks before it was a thing. People looked at us funny. I didn’t care then and I don’t care now.

Some people think

Mr. Rogers was wrong. Some people aren’t just special, they’re extraspecial – and by that I mean poorly informed, intensely opinionated, and unreasonably likely to impose their views on other people. To make a bad thing worse, extraspecialers have a hard time articulating credibly-informed logic, so they have a tendency to scream their feelings.

Earth has a message for the extraspecial people. (I can hear Earth the exact same way they hear God.) Earth is pissed. Don’t believe me? Go ahead and snicker. That’s nature elbowing you in the chest: “Dude! Seriously! Show some respect or she’s gonna kill us!!”

When it comes to the nonnegotiable properties of the physical world, especially those things that affect you and me interdependently (like communicable diseases or the meaning of green and red lights at an intersection), the game is way bigger than the players.

Do you really think gravity cares whether you like it? Find a tall building and prove us all wrong. You get exactly one chance to become a legend.

As soon as you became a flat-earther, Trumper, anti-vaxxer, or anything else you’ve recently invented bullshit terms to describe because your thinking is unclear, unsupported, and threatening to the rest of us, “You said I was to do the thinking for both of us. Well I’ve done a lot of it, and it adds up to one thing: [our genetics, opinions, feelings, and] problems… don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” No true American can argue with Humphrey Bogart. And Bogey says we do not put up with nonsense, especially when that nonsense unnecessarily puts us at risk.

There will be people who need rescuing. Maybe they had a really important reason to be where they were. Maybe they knew what they were doing and understood the danger. My heart goes out to them. Unless they didn’t bother to find out or prepare, in which case it’s hard not to get angry at them, on behalf of the families of the rescue workers who will now have to put their own lives on the line.

Just like the pandemic, the information about this weather is out there for anyone to find. You can get just as informed about meteorology as you can about epidemiology. #internet

And what were they saying about the hurricane where I live? NOAA and NHC used the terms “catastrophic and life-threatening flooding.” It’s right there at 4:29 of this NBC interview: My community is in for some of the worst flooding that area has ever seen.”

Open-Source Learning is a matter of life and death

Right now I can barely figure out how to conclude this post. 40-50 mph wind gusts are lashing my windows with rain. I have an alarm set for every 15 minutes to check the neighbor’s sump pump and make sure my pool doesn’t overflow. I need to check the floors in my bathroom and home office again to make sure no more water is coming up through the foundation. I’ve surrendered the garage.

Some people say it’s too late to evaluate credible information well enough to share one reality, or agree on politics, or change our behavior enough to reduce the effects of climate change.

I say that’s all we have left.