Pronghorn, Chapter 26: Local History (III)

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

The storm that broke upon Pronghorn that Tuesday was not the fiercest or most destructive that the town had seen. There was hail damage in plenty, to be sure, and no small amount of wind damage to be found, but no catastrophic damage befell the town, and only one fatality was recorded–and that was because of drivers handling the road poorly rather than the direct effect of the storm. Those who had been in the town for a couple of decades before that Tuesday might think back to the summer of 2002, when a low-pressure system sat over the Hill Country and spun. Kerrville, a couple of counties away, saw some 51 inches of rain fall in three days, which, combined with other factors, flooded parts of the town and washed away houses; a similar amount of rain fell in Pronghorn, and with similar effect on the southern parts of town. (The town north of Pronghorn Creek stands well above the normal level of the flowing water.)

Those who had been around a bit longer might think back to May 1995, when a system of storms trained just upstream of Pronghorn on the creek and water did rise high enough to lap at the buildings on the north side of the creek. Cleanup took quite a while afterwards, and even as late as 2010, the corpses of some houses ruined in the flood still stood in the southern parts of town, their ribs bleaching in the Hill Country summer sunlight, only to blacken with rot and mildew in the wetter parts of each year.

Those who recalled a generation before might think back to October 1973. It is rare that the Hill Country sees a tornado; something about the shapes of the limestone hills seems to keep them from happening. Usually. October 1973, however, was not so fortunate a time. No fewer than five tornadoes came through town that month, and although each was relatively small and weak so far as such things go, the people of Pronghorn were utterly unprepared for such a thing. And why not? The Zapatas, who have been in the area longer than any others–although they were not the first to live on the land, to be sure–and have kept reasonably detailed records across that time, only note three prior instances of tornadic activity, and that in some three centuries; once in a hundred years is not a rate that invites a lot of worry for most folks.

Those same records, as well as the minds of those who had lived the longest lives in the town, attest that the worst storm to befall Pronghorn happened in August 1938. It began as a windstorm more than anything else; the hot, dry air that normally smothered the town in August was whipped into a frenzy by strange weather away to the west. It remained hot and dry, to be sure, but such air does different things when pushed at sixty miles an hour or so across several hours than it does when it hangs hazily under the hot sun–and Pronghorn got to see some of those things. One of them was a propensity towards fire, and, as might be expected and feared, fires broke out all around town. The Smitherson Chandlery stood strong, of course, as did the Hochstedler Saloon and a few other choice buildings. but a lot of others burned to the ground or close enough, and not even ash remained in the following wind. Buckets were of no avail, and such fire engines as the town then boasted–two, and old–did not suffice, either. So when dark clouds built on the the western horizon and approached, they were greeted with eagerness and joy.

Neither lasted long in the event. The rain they brought was like the rain that would fall again in 1995 or 2002, pounding and opaque. Its fall did not stop the blowing winds or even slow them, but instead was pushed by it into cold and cutting jets that masked the smaller hailstones that fell–and not the larger ones that bruised and bloodied where they battered at the people whose homes were now gone or who fought to keep more from being consumed by flames; several of them that had been saved from the fire were torn down by the wind and what it carried, or holes were punched through windows and shutters and roofs. Many bones were broken by the force of wind-driven ice. One young woman, Agatha Reynolds, was blinded, shards of ice smiting her full in the face and piercing her eyelids; she sustained other injuries, as well, but none so severe as the loss of both eyes. A middle-aged man, Rodrigo Zapata, was killed by the ice, or so it is thought–although if it was a hailstone that killed him, it was the size of a grapefruit; he was found dead, the top back of his skull caved in much like those who died of wounds in old wars, when the weapons of the day were swords and maces. Admittedly, Rodrigo was far from popular in the town, but the idea that someone would brave the storm with a large hammer or a random cannonball defies belief.

It is because memory of the 1938 storm remains alive that the people of Pronghorn have the perspective on storms that they do; they are respectful of each that rolls into town, but they doubt that they will see such a thing again. For the most part; there are some who fear that kind of storm will come again, and they are not at all certain that the town will survive a second one–or that, if it survives, there will not be more like Agatha.

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