I was through with what I called breakfast. Since I worked nights, my breakfast was the typical supper served in the galley. The day crew was coming in and I would soon be starting my evening duties. Since it was summer, I didn't expect anything unusual and would probably spend the night performing maintenance tasks and keeping an eye on the controls on the production platform. As usual, nobody else would be awake. My job as the night man was to insure at least one pair of eyes was watching the platform as the millions of cubic feet of natural gas passed on the way onshore.
It was a little before 6:00 pm and still blistering hot. There was no wind, and it looked like there was little, to none, all day. The surface of the Gulf was calm and the oily looking emerald green water was only disturbed by a few schools of mullet. The shore, which was about 5 miles to the north, was barely visible in the thick late afternoon haze.
Leaning on the rail, I was collecting my thoughts while I waited to go to work. The crews had arrived and were inside the living quarters cleaning up before supper. I could hear the faint roar of the engines on the work boats as they tied up to the satellite structures to the east. They would be there until morning, unless called, or something happened.
As I stared towards the shore, I noticed what appeared like a pencil line on the horizon. Studying the horizon, the pencil line appeared to be becoming wider. After awhile, I realized the strange site was the first signs of an approaching thunderstorm. Within a few minutes, the dark cloud was obvious and the lifting air started clearing the haze to the north. The thick, almost black, area became more distinct and an occasional bolt of lightning would stand in stark contrast to the dark clouds. I could now see the roll cloud which extended along the edge of the storm. It would arrive at the beach within minutes. Behind the cloud, a solid gray sheet of rain obscured everything. Fascinated, since I'd never seen anything like this before, I was determined to watch until it arrived.
The storm was soon at the beach. The Gulf, now an eerie transluscent green, contrasted sharply with the almost black background. The orange hued haze was lifting rapidly and revealing more of the pastel blue sky now disappearing behind the towering system approaching from the north. The completely still air was filled with constant low rumbles of thunder.
When the storm crossed over the water, the high winds created a disturbed murky green surface resembling shattering glass. The rolling, seething mass of cloud directly above this line appeared almost solid. The definite tumble of dark clouds created an appearance more like some huge machine, or organism approaching with some purposeful, malignant task.
As I examined this feature, I noticed the first water spout. Soon there was another. These lifted, only to be replaced by others. Eventually, I counted seven, but wondered if there were more in the sheet of rain behind the rolling cloud that was almost to the platform. The shoreline had disappeared. Lightning would strike the water every few seconds. The loud cracks - followed by deep rumbles - filled the air with a constant reminder the storm was soon to arrive.
The heavy thump of the wind hitting platform made me grasp the handrail tighter. Leaning into the wind, I enjoyed the almost cold air and occasional drop of rain. Right before the heavy rain hit, I fought the door and entered the living quarters to wait out the storm. The bright daylight had now faded into a dim, dark gray
When the rain hit, I couldn't see out the window on the north side of the quarters, so I moved to the window that faced the production platform. Heavy rain almost obscured the platform. Bright bolts of lightning were instantly followed by thunder. The platform shook from the wind and the pounding of the rain almost silenced the evening news, which was barely visible on the screen jumbled with static.
A bolt of lightning struck so close, the light was like a brilliant pinkish flash that blinded me for a second. The deafening crack of thunder, which seemed to happen at the same moment, caused me to flinch and move away from the window. As my eyes cleared, I could see something different about the lights on the production platform. After a few moments, I realized something was on fire, which was causing the dancing orange glow on the sides of the vessels stacked by the main production pipes.
It took a few seconds, but I soon spotted the flame. At the far end of the production platform, behind the fire wall, was the glycol unit, which dried the gas from the well adjacent to the production platform. The fumes from the process vented through a stack, which now had a ten foot flame on the top. I made some inane comment, like "We have a fire.", which caused a group of spectators to gather at the windows to view the event. Since I was supposed to be working, I went to my locker, put on my slicker, went out the door and down the stairs.
When I reached the catwalk that crossed to the production platform, I realized my slicker suit would fail 100% in a few more moments. The wind was blowing rain in from the sleeves, the legs and around my neck. As I started crossing, my steps slowed as I looked at the flame that now seemed twice as high. I glanced back; I was the only one going to put the fire out.
I knew where all the fire hoses were, but was completely clueless on what I needed to do. The flame was 30 feet above the deck and what was around the stack didn't seem to be running down towards the equipment below. Now what? I had an idea: I'll use the big dry chemical extinguisher, but I soon tossed that idea, since the wind would only blow the dust away from the fire and make a mess. I thought some more. It seemed like minutes were passing, but it was only moments. I needed to do something now; there was no guarantee the fire wouldn't spread.
I made a decision. I grabbed the nearest fire hose, pulled it out to around the firewall, opened the valve and pointed the stream towards the flame. I was spraying against the strong wind, so I wasn't accomplishing what I wanted. I started moving closer, while keeping the stream on the stack. The flame was smaller, but still going. Eventually I was almost under the stack, which was were I needed to be. The powerful stream of water washed the flame off the top of the stack. I stood there for about a minute pouring water on the stack to guarantee it wouldn't light again.
I was finally satisfied the fire was out. The worst of the storm had passed, so the lightning was only occasional and not striking close any longer. The rain was only heavy, instead of a deluge. I rolled up the fire hose, made a quick tour to check and then headed towards the living quarters. I was soaked and the rain cooled wind was cold.
I opened the door of the living quarters and sloshed through the galley to place my slicker back in my locker. Most of the crew was eating, except for one pumper-gauger, who was looking out the window towards the production platform He turned and said: "Good job" and turned back to the window. I went upstairs and changed to some dry clothes.
After changing, I went for a cup of coffee and spent a few minutes talking to the field superintendent. I don't remember any discussion about the fire; only the storm was discussed, which now was almost over. I headed down the stairs in what was only a light rain.
After an hour, the sky turned a brilliant orange. Mammatus clouds hung like clusters of some bizarre orange fruit. Soon after, enough of the clouds evaporated to allow the setting sun to shine under the thinning deck. A low rainbow appeared in the east and it was completely clear around the horizon. Distant objects were distinct in the rain cleared air.
By twilight, there was nothing left to show for the storm, except what little water that was still trapped on the deck and a few cirrus that distorted the first stars of the night. The storm was over, leaving nothing but memories, which are still vivid after the passage of almost 40 years. It was a hell of a storm. I haven't seen one like it since that evening.
In Case You've Wondered
My blog is where my wandering thoughts are interspersed with stuff I made up. So, if while reading you find yourself confused about the context, don't feel alone. I get confused, too.
If you're here for the stories, I started another blog: scratchingforchange.blogspot.com
One other thing: sometimes I write words you refuse to use in front of children, or polite company, unless you have a flat tire, or hit your thumb with a hammer.
I don't use them to offend; I use them to embellish.