New York City, July 18, 2012

☆☆☆☆☆ An old crowd-pleaser, done with flair and precision. It looks simple, storms breaking a heat wave, but it can easily go wrong. The storms fizzle, leaving everyone sweltering and feeling cheated, or the whole thing comes off pro forma: heat, check; thunder, check; rain, check. Forgotten as soon as the puddles dry.

This one, though, was fully realized throughout. The midday temperatures cleared an honest 100 degrees, exposing the “heat index” numbers for the pointless exaggerations they are, and it was a subjectively miserable heat. It was fetid in the sun and fetid in the shade, fetid in stillness and fetid when a breeze stirred. The heat begged to be purged.

The all-important transition brought clouds building in from the north — not a stark, theatrical black curtain, but a jumble of grays, lighter patches freely mixed in the darkening regions. Mockingbirds fluttered in retrograde breezes among the roofs; leaves hissed; fixtures rattled and groaned. Lightning came on in crisp white bolts, sky to earth. Time to get inside.

Then the storm itself: lashing white billows of spray, like an angry sea. Torrents. And then…hail! A protracted barrage of it, bouncing on the fire escape, in chunks that defied comparison to sports equipment. What it was precisely the size and shape of was crushed ice, as if someone in the clouds had drained an immense lowball glass at one gulp and then dumped out the remains into the sink. That was followed by an eerie aquamarine glow, before the whole thing subsided, just in time for people to make the homeward commute without being completely drenched. Afterward, in the damp evening, the air might have been less than perfectly refreshed. But even to notice it felt a little petty and ungrateful.

Weather ratings range from zero to five stars.