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9:04am on Tuesday, 20th June, 2006:

Washington Weather


In the late 1980s, we had a MUDmeet in Annapolis, MD, attended by a large group of players of the CompuServe version, British Legends. One day, a bunch of us went to Washington DC to be tourists.

The city is built on what is baasically a swamp, and has high humidity as a result. The main city planning feature is the Mall, a long, straight park with the the Capitol building at one end and the Lincoln Memorial at the other. Assorted other monuments and memorials dot it, and it's lined with galleries and museums. This is where most of the tourist activity is, on account of how you get mugged if you walk further than 3 blocks from it in any direction.

It was a clear, sunny day, and we were standing on the steps of the Capitol, admiring the prospect. Well, Roy Trubshaw and I were doing that; the Americans were choking with tears at the awe and majesty of the Capitol building itself, which looks rather like St Paul's cathedral in London except not so well-proportioned. The Mall was busy with visitors; some sitting down to have picnics, some looking for names on the Vietnam memorial, some lining up at the Washington monument, but most just wandering around from one point of interest to another. It was a very pleasant view on a very pleasant day.

Suddenly, in the far distance, the crowds began to scatter. They didn't just run, they fled — picking up children and racing for, well, anywhere but where they were! We could see a line advancing towards us: before it, serenity and perambulation; after it, only the wreckage of the old and the infirm who hadn't made it to safety.

But what was it?

By this time, the Americans in our group had been alerted to what was going on, and we debated what to do. On the one hand, it seemed wise to run, even though we had no place to run to, but on the other hand we were at the top of a hill, and whatever it was couldn't be that bad, surely? So we decided to stay and see what happened.

The line approached. As it got closer, we could make out that there were leaves and bits of paper and stuff caught up in it. It seemed to be some kind of wind, but not a wind any of us had encountered before. It was rotating horizontally, a bit like a red carpet being rolled out except that the rotation was against the direction of movement instead of with it. What's more, it was fast: the Mall is a long stretch of greenery, and it has some big buildings along it, tricking the eye into misjudging the scale. Before we could agree that, you know, maybe this wasn't great place to be standing, the wind was upon us.

Aagh! It wasn't just wind and leaves and rubbish, it was rain! Rain that came up at you from the ground. I have never, ever been rained under before or since. It hit hard, too, in places the human body wasn't meant to be hit hard. The effect was like the rotors of a combine harvester, except pushing us away instead of drawing us towards it. We ran in all directions just to get out, and it was 20 minutes before we could regroup. The scene that met our eyes as we tried to do so was that of a post-apocalyptic movie: sorry, bedraggled figures wandering helplessly around seeking their loved ones in a trashed landscape littered with papers, articles of clothing, the contents of bins and probably a good few wigs and pairs of glasses. It's the most bizarre piece of weather I've ever experienced.

That said, it was pretty damned exciting. If they could fix it up to happen on cue, I'd buy a ticket.

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Copyright © 2006 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).