OPN Man in a storm
Image Credit: Shutterstock

As I stepped out from the Airbnb in Toronto into a bright, sunny afternoon with my suitcase and backpack, a warning message from Environment Canada urged me to take cover immediately.

The alarming text read: At 12.45pm Eastern Daylight Time Saturday, there is a severe thunderstorm warning for this mobile coverage area. Take cover if threatening weather approaches.

I had never been warned personally by the weather bureau in my life, and usually they gets it all wrong. When the meteorology department says it will rain, the skies would be clear, and farmers in India would curse both the skies and the weatherman.

I ignored the message and decided to walk to the next Airbnb which had been booked for a longer stay, and was just 20 minutes away on Almore Avenue.

Unfortunately, I am not good with Google Maps and sometimes the app gets it wrong, sending me into tiny lanes in Bengaluru, India, where I live most of the year, making me panic, thinking my car would be stuck between two homes.

I asked a Filipina, hurrying down the street, the way to my destination and she said follow me, and whizzed ahead. She was carrying a lunch box and was apparently going to work on a weekend in one of these homes in Toronto that are listed for sale for an incredible $2 million for a small two-bed.

Toronto, a cleaner and a saner version of New York, is said to be the most diverse city in the world as nearly half of the city’s population was born abroad.

An ominous steel-grey sky

As I followed the lady, the skies slowly turned to ominous steel-grey, from the bright skies and the warmth that I had enjoyed, sitting on the backyard deck of the Airbnb just a few minutes ago, listening to birds chirping who sounded like they were saying, ‘guarantee’.

The breeze quickly turned into a gale-force wind of 140km/hour. The large and heavy recycling bins placed outside each home by the municipality, started toppling over.

As I held on desperately to my cap, my mobile phone and the reluctant suitcase that refused to move, like a stressed-out pet that senses danger ahead, when a huge branch broke off from a massive, old tree and landed soundlessly on the pavement across the street. From a light drizzle with cold pinpricks of rain it turned into a deluge as broken branches hurtled towards me. I panicked and kept looking up at the old trees in this quiet and green boulevard, thinking that trees would fall on power lines that would snap and then zap me.

Whenever there is a thunderstorm in Bengaluru, invariably some food-delivery guy, taking shelter under a tree, would get zapped by lightening.

This North-American storm is known as a “Derecho”, a microburst, with a long, straight line of thunderstorms that mow down everything in their path.

My wife, who was at that moment landing at Pearson from Dubai, later said that turbulence from Halifax in the Atlantic province of Nova Scotia, onwards was unnerving.

Scientists say aeroplane turbulence will worsen in the future because of climate crisis. Pollution and other human activities such as burning fossil fuel and cutting down forests is reportedly increasing the temperature that in turn, drives the jet stream.

This means that we will see more clear-air turbulence in the future that will affect the aviation industry, and that turns a smooth flight into a roller-coaster in the sky. A clear-air turbulence cannot be seen unlike turbulence caused by storms.

While the ‘Derecho” may or may not be due to climate change, we are definitely changing the weather that will surely result in more allergies, more viruses, flooding and heatwaves that will create food shortages.

After that afternoon incident in Toronto, I am now a big fan of the weather app and carefully keep track of nature’s warning to us all.

Mahmood Saberi is a storyteller and blogger based in Bengaluru, India. Twitter: @mahmood_saberi