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Benny Hill
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Rowan Atkinson

Writers on the Storm


By Jessie

Are not you moved, when all the sway of earth
Shakes like a thing unfirm? O Cicero,
I have seen tempests, when the scolding winds
Have rived the knotty oaks, and I have seen
The ambitious ocean swell and rage and foam,
To be exalted with the threatening clouds

 – Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene III

Earlier this week a severe storm front battered YouPlay HQ’s home state of NSW with winds of up to 125km per hour wreaking havoc along the coastline. Torrential rain caused flash flooding, power was cut to tens of thousands of houses and king tides lashed the beaches with waves washing over the roads.

Watching the clouds roll in during the late afternoon while the rising wind whipped and howled around the house, I took my mind off the shuddering window panes by thinking about how storms have provided creative inspiration since the dawn of time.

There’s something about the sheer, elemental power of a great thunderstorm that appeals to our human sense of the sublime. When lightening cracks the drenched earth, illuminating a sky black and heavy with menace, we feel electric and alive. As a species we’ve conquered Mt Everest and flown to the moon, but witnessing the terrible force of a hurricane or cyclone provides a fast lesson in humility. 

William Shakespeare used storms as symbols in his plays to great effect. The extract from Julius Caesar above is a favourite of mine, and who can forget “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!” from King Lear.

In ancient days before science de-mystified the weather and the Bureau of Meteorology provided forecasts on the hour, can you imagine how terrifying a cracker storm would have seemed? It’s no wonder that such natural violence was attributed to the gods. Book 5 of Homer’s Odyssey describes the mighty wrath of Poseidon thus:

So saying, he gathered the clouds, and seizing his trident in his hands troubled the sea, and roused all blasts of all manner of winds, and hid with clouds land and sea alike; and night rushed down from heaven. Together the East Wind and the South Wind dashed, and the fierce-blowing West Wind and the North Wind, born in the bright heaven, rolling before him a mighty wave.

As a little girl I remember feeling both terrified and thrilled reading L Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. That combination of curiosity, vulnerability, danger and adventure that is essential to the very best children’s literature fostered a love of reading that has remained with me to this day:

The house whirled around two or three times and rose slowly through the air. Dorothy felt as if she were going up in a balloon... It was very dark, and the wind howled horribly around her, but Dorothy found she was riding quite easily. After the first few whirls around, and one other time when the house tipped badly, she felt as if she were being rocked gently, like a baby in a cradle.

What’s your most extreme encounter with nature?

Jessie x


20 Responses to

Writers on the Storm

June 07, 2012 at 9:07 PM

As an air hostess with Ansett in the 1960s, I was working in the galley which is just behind the cockpit in a Focker Friendship. It was evening, and all the suppers had just been served. I looked through the open cockpit door to see the most enormous cumulonimbus (thunder) cloud, lit by the setting sun, looming in the front window. I called out to the pilots, who were doing paperwork and relying on the radar readings. The captain yelled "S.IT!" and started to turn the aircraft, but realised at once that it was too late to turn safely. He yelled to us "HANG ON!", so we grabbed the webbing that holds the forward cargo, and hung on. The passenger seat belt signs were still on, so we called out "Tighten seat belts". Then DOWN we went - straight down like a lift, still facing forward, but going flat DOWN. Almost immediately the downward motion stopped - and all the coffee from the passenger cups which had risen to the ceiling, landed back in the cups - a few splashes missing the cups but landing on the supper trays. It was so fast! No-one was hurt, a few drops of coffee escaped, and the ceiling needed a wipe with a wet cloth. We had enough to re-serve the supper, and all was well. But entering a cumulonimbus is definitely an experience to avoid if possible.

June 07, 2012 at 10:45 PM

remember when nursing we were told to pack the patients up for transfer,as there was a cyclone heading for us so then taped the windows up and waited only to have the ceiling leave the building it was over as soon as it hit

relle said:
June 07, 2012 at 11:31 PM

Our most extreme encounter would have to be realising we were caught in a flood while camping on a lake & we desperately had to find higher ground after we escaped! We witnessed cars floating away & felt extremely lucky when we were save from harm! As for our most recent weather in NSW, wild & woolly as it's been we luckily again are safe compared to others.

June 08, 2012 at 12:58 AM

We are lucky enough to call Samoa our 2nd home, living there for up to 6 months each year. We weren't so lucky though in Sept 2009 when an 8.5 earthquake struck followed by a tsunami made up of four 12-21 metre waves. After the earthquake we headed, with many of our neighbours in our village, to higher ground from where we witnessed the utter devastation the waves caused to the coastal villages in the distance below us. The most soul-destroying part for us was not the extreme fear of standing on the ground of our front lawn feeling like the earth would crack and we'd be swallowed up or that our bones would break from the constant rattling, it came when we went to find friends and relatives that lived in coastal villages next day. We had bought food and water before we headed off to distribute to those in need but we weren't expecting the scenes that were to greet us. As we drove further down the coast cars, boats, whitegoods, rooves, walls, furniture and a lot of debris was floating passed us. The worst was yet to come as we got closer to populated areas. We were confronted by a scene that I wouldn't wish on anyone, the loss of life soon became all too evident as the poor souls of those who had encountered this meteorological evil started to float by as well. Adults, children and animals, no-one was spared if they weren't fast enough to beat it, which was hard enough for the young people as there was virtually no warning and most of the villages have a sheer cliff behind them so it was impossible to reach higher ground. We did eventually find some friends and relatives but some we never saw again. Many people and animals were wandering around aimlessly, feeling a tragic sense of loss, a look of utter bewilderment on their faces. Writing this brings back the devastating and overwhelming sadness that we felt as we drove through villages that we thought we knew like the back of our hands but which were rendered unrecognisable. Samoa is still climbing it's way back, it's beautiful people and stong culture are very resilient but there are still about 15,000 people in tent cities, that's a lot out of a resident population of 180,000. A corrupt Govt has wasted a vast amount of the funds that were donated by overseas Govt's, generous individuals and Samoans themselves, hence the homelessness. On a brighter note this high tourist season has been the best since the tsunami so things are looking up. If anyone wants to know how they can help Samoa the best possible one thing that can be done is to go on a holiday there. It truly is paradise, with stunning scenery, warm and welcoming people and a unique culture. Going through something like a tsunami really makes you rethink what is truly important in life and forces you to reassess priorities. Weather can be very kind, the feel of warmth from the sun on a winters day but it can also be pure evil destroying everything in it's path.

Xrosie said:
June 08, 2012 at 7:28 AM

As a child living in Wewak, I actually sawa small tsunami, and storms were a regular occurrence, but I have never been in a hail/wind storm like the one that hit Mt Mary, Morgan Waikeri etc on the 6th of November last. Extreme damage, but the Mallee trees said they won't be beaten, and are all regroing.

June 08, 2012 at 8:39 AM

Your weather stories make compelling reading (thanks, Beauregarde. I'll never fly again!). I'm fortunate to have escaped such terrifying experiences. But my mum always told me to stay away from trees during a thunder storm. When she was little, lightening struck a tree near her and burnt the little piglets under it to a crisp!

tiggercat said:
June 08, 2012 at 10:20 AM

Life’s not about waiting for the storm to pass… It’s about learning to dance in the rain." ~ Vivian Greene

June 08, 2012 at 12:05 PM

My first day of high school was one to remember for all the wrong reasons. It was when the south of my island state was severely affected by fire. Small communities wiped out and the primary industries gutted. To recall the fires of '09 in Victoria was not pleasant as all the memories of that earlier time came to mind.

melbee086 said:
June 09, 2012 at 1:57 AM

That was a good passage Jessie. Work from an author. You should focus on the word puzzles on this site.

June 09, 2012 at 6:11 AM

I'd just like to take this (possibly inappropriate} moment to say that I am a HUGE fan of YouPlay. If I'm ever bored or irritable... or just taking a break; a quick puzzle and look around the site, and I'm on with the day.

pdiaco said:
June 09, 2012 at 9:03 AM

A few years ago while holidaying in Queensland in Noosa I went out for the day to Rainbow Bay. It became very windy and was raining like hell. I walked against ferocious winds and the seas were really smashing about. I returned to Noosa late afternoon, swithed on the TV, and discoverd I had unknowingly been in a cyclone.Oops. I'm glad i did it because the experience was quite exhilerating and memorable.

zina said:
June 09, 2012 at 7:40 PM

Earlier last week we here in East Gippsland also experienced the same weather as Jessie,I am in my 60's and quite frankly was terrified for the whole 12 hours of those damaging winds,I have never experienced weather like that in my entire life,there was damage up and down our lovely coast and to tourist towns,flooding,and lots of mud,hopefully I hope I dont experience anything like that again...

June 10, 2012 at 12:05 AM

I agree with melbee086, Jessie. Your writing is tops - imaginative, funny, clever, beautifully expressed and a pleasure to read. I hope you do some writing for publication. You'd be a great author.

June 10, 2012 at 12:21 PM

still raining here jessie dont think it will stop water everywhere

June 10, 2012 at 12:46 PM

Being a member of both CFA and SES in Victoria, I dread the storms coming, but having said that, they still fascinate me.

gracie10 said:
June 11, 2012 at 12:29 PM

The scariest storm experience I have had would have to be getting caught in a severe hailstorm while out driving a couple of years ago. Visibility was absolutely zero, I couldn't even see the side of the road to pull over, just had to feel as the car went up over the kerb. Then, sitting in the car with the hail pelting down, it was like sitting in a tin can having rocks thrown at it. Fortunately, the windscreen survived the onslaught, although a lot of car windscreens were smashed during the storm. Driving home, after the storm had moved on, it looked as though it had been snowing, there was so much hail piled up on all the gardens and shredded up leaves everywhere. Its pretty wild here at present, lots of homes without power due to a winter storm.

tezza1551 said:
June 12, 2012 at 12:52 PM

We've also had wild weather in southern West Aust over the last few days, with more expected tonight. Yesterday, all the staff in our office who live out of town (some between 40 & 50 km away) were sent home so they could get home safely before the next storm struck. The next few weeks will see us out cutting trees off fences !

gracie10 said:
June 12, 2012 at 1:15 PM

I am in Western Australia also. Battening down for the next storm front. I am near the coast so ... see what happens. One of my sons and his family were without power after Sunday. Not sure if it has been restored yet.

pdiaco said:
June 12, 2012 at 11:12 PM

Not surviving a storm is something you can't write about.

gracie10 said:
June 12, 2012 at 11:56 PM

Too true, waiting out this one.