It is an event as yet periodic, though not infrequent, that the weather turns… theriodic. There is a tempest to suit the temperature of the times and tides. It may be Hobbesian – nasty, brutish, and short – and it may be scenic, but it is vicious while it lasts.

This afternoon, for example, I was seated working at a table under an expansive overhang, several metres from the edge, and when the foretold rain began I was not disturbed. And then there was a bit of breeze from behind, causing a minor mist onto my screen, so I closed the computer and put it away in my backpack for the time being and resolved to wait out the weather. And then, within a span of seconds, the patio became a scene from a sea storm: the wind increased to a gale force, hosing down the environs, blowing folding metal chairs and signs and nearly tipping heavy tables, and chasing me and my backpack inside, where I watched with moistened amusement. Ten minutes later it abated, but there was no dry place left to sit. It was as though a herd of water buffalo – by which I mean buffalo made of water – had stampeded through.

Meanwhile, in Death Valley, temperatures hit a record high. But at least it was dry. Nonetheless, that weather too is, in its way, theriodic.

Theriodic is not a word exclusively or even mainly for weather, though it certainly serves the turn. It’s more often medical in use when it’s used at all, and in that context it means ‘malignant’ or, I suppose, ‘fulminating’. The root gives you the clue: theriodic is taken from Greek θηριωδία theriodia, which means ‘brutality’ or ‘savagery’ and in turn comes from θηρίον therion ‘wild beast’ (though it has nothing to do with the lion nor, on the other hand, with Charlize Theron). That same ther- shows up here and there, like in theriomorph and anoplothere.

So, in other words, what is theriodic is like a wild animal – whether it be one that stalks you and abruptly craunches and devours you or one that by mischance has gotten trapped in a minivan and tears the interior to ribbons and bits – and when faced with theriodic weather or other affliction, it is best not to dither, lest the next threnody be for you (or your electronic devices).

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