One Peculiar Hour

Since she needed our sedan yesterday afternoon to pick up the kids, Elke took me to work. That’s nothing unusual, and neither was the backside of a heavy rain core in what has been a very wet year so far. While waiting for a turn onto westbound Constitution from southbound 12th Ave., we noticed something wrong with the garbage truck in front of us, also waiting to turn right: smoke wafting from the top. After some other vehicles did their maneuvering, we ended up directly behind a trash truck whose contents were on fire, in the light rain!

One person in a tiny car pulled beside the cab briefly in apparent attempt to inform the driver that his cargo was ablaze, but after a brief stop by both, the trash truck continued on its merry way, smoke billowing forth ever more profusely out of the open top of the hold. A few seconds later, a fire truck came our way on Constitution, siren blaring, lights flashing, compelling all to pull over but the flaming garbage truck, which merely slowed down slightly.

The fire truck then drove right past the moving container of blazing rubbish and kept on going, turning on 12th and heading away from where I was going. [This will matter even more in a moment.]

As we approached the fire station, I thought the driver might pull in for help, that being a logical place to get a fire extinguished. Alas, he didn’t; indeed, he kept on going toward Jenkins, leaving a big plume of smoke in his wake. I hope nobody discarded toxic chemicals into their trash yesterday, because some of that smoke got through my car’s vents and into our lungs.

Shortly after turning S at the fire station to head to work, I noticed more people than usual streaming out of the National Weather Center building for the time of day (a few minutes ’til 4 p.m.). Upon exiting the car, I could hear a howling, stereophonic cacophony of fire alarms blaring from every part and parcel of the building.

Though there was no smoke around, I wondered briefly, “Did the garbage truck, which ought to be shooting flames now that it’s not raining, go down Jenkins and park on the other side of the building somewhere?” For a minute I wondered whether to go inside or stay out, speaking with a couple of colleagues and my supervisor, before we decided there was no imminent danger and I could head inside to relieve the day shift.

Critical operations must continue in a national center, and there quite obviously was no real fire…so we carried on despite the commotion and noise. I spent the first half hour or so working under blaring, flashing wall alarms, but it wasn’t a big deal, really. The tough streets of inner-city East Dallas offered similar auditory experiences on quite a few nights when I was a kid, and I still managed to go about my work or sleep or other activities.

I found out later that the NWC fire alarms had been triggered by a lightning strike (leading to evacuation that’s mandatory for most of the building’s tenants). This is quite ironic considering the facility was full of hundreds of meteorologists. I hope lightning doesn’t set off those alarms often, considering that we do get thunderstorms in these parts, and that the building is the highest object for at least a mile radius until one gets to the stadium and the taller OU dorm towers.

The whole ordeal made for one of the most bizarre non storm-chasing related hours I’ve experienced in a long, long time.


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