It is not exactly raining cats and dogs -- at least not yet -- but it is most assuredly terrifying cats and dogs.
It is a mid-July hailstorm, something even more terrifying to farmers, and it is pounding frozen shrapnel onto the back deck in an evening so stunningly hot the only thing howling louder than the air conditioner is the dog cowering in the corner.
The cats have already bolted for the safety of the basement.
In the morning after, the television screen fills with reports of the damage: trees down on cars and hydro lines, shingles and siding torn off buildings, still-shaking people trying to put into words feelings far more eloquently expressed by the dog cowering in the corner.
There are reports from South Porcupine and Sudbury. A possible tornado in Mattawa. And pictures just coming in of a lightning storm gathering over Leduc, Alta. Ontario has 170,000 people without power.
Quebec has 90,000.
And, says a very serious announcer, "We have one storm firing up in Manitoba."
I have never before watched The Weather Network. Apart from sports, I gave up on the rest of television when it became nothing but pumped-up karaoke contests and home-improvement shows where they actually expect you to believe workers give a sweet damn about meeting deadlines.
But I keep hearing of people who watch The Weather Network as if jet-stream activity and highs and lows and shifting masses were the equivalent of Second World War news reports from the front -- which, in a modern sense, they sort of are.
Many years ago, according to Lorraine Monk's Between Friends, British actor Robert Morley, who died in 1992, jokingly told a CBC interviewer that "Canadians love to sit in the dark trembling with fear at weather forecasts."
He should see them now.
The Weather Network has charts and graphs and 14-day trends. It has computer models and talking-head experts and anchors who say things such as, "We could see some new problems with some intense winds coming through . . ."
And it is not alone. The National now has regular weather reports. The all-news stations for both CBC and CTV carry continuous updates and forecasts.
We now tremble in the dark and the light, Mr. Morley, television flickering in one corner as we tremble in another.
Lightning storms in the west, trees down in the east, tropical storm Beryl spinning to a Level 3 -- whatever that means -- to the south.
CNN long ago discovered that it had a vested interest in frightening its viewers and, to a lesser degree, weather networks know that uncertainty is why people tune in.
Uncertainty, of course, is the nature of weather forecasting. As Dave Phillips, Environment Canada's famous climatologist, once said, "If we could predict the weather perfectly, it would take all the fun out of being Canadian."
But there doesn't seem to be much fun in such programming. Film of weather disasters around the world, stories of campers fleeing one campground only to be struck down by a falling tree in another, predictions of wicked storms to come are hardly the stuff of a good time.
It is summer, after all, and yet at the end of 10 months of praying for its arrival, we hear nothing but talk about when this heat will break -- almost as if the sooner we get back to winter, and indoors, the happier we will all be.
I prefer to pass, if you don't mind. The heat's just fine.
Global warming aside, perhaps part of this rising weather phobia has to do with information overload. Years ago -- as happened on a lake I know very well -- a small tornado could touch down and simply devastate a stand of trees and no one but those actually there would even know about it. Now there would be camera trucks, helicopters overhead and live reports.
So detailed is the information available that it is, today, hard to believe the federal government once banned the words "frost" and "cold" from brochures and publications concerning the country. The closest it would permit, officially, to the truth about Canada was that the weather might at times be described as "buoyant."
Those days are gone forever.
Japan has just announced that the $350-million (U.S.) Earth Simulator supercomputer, which is up and running in a huge hangar-like building in Yokohama, is about to be turned into the Japanese Dave Phillips.
Beginning in 2007, this huge computer will begin mapping global warming trends for the next three centuries -- including offering long-range forecasts for all sorts of inclement weather 30 years into the future.
"Now," says Japanese government spokesperson Tomonori Otake, "we can see what areas are at risk and start thinking about what kind of countermeasures to take."
Personally, since a little hail in the backyard is hardly a tsunami or a hurricane or a forest fire, the only countermeasure I plan to take is to turn off the damned television and head outdoors. It is, after all, summer.
And wasn't a change in the weather what we were hoping for?