As Floyd blows through our area today, here's what to remember: While the roof of your house is lifting off and your car is washing away, try to set out lots of buckets and pots. If we all catch enough of this rain, we can use it to water our lawns and deal with the drought.

It's still dry. Really. We need to be grateful for all this rain. Try to remember that while you're pumping out your basement.

Here's another thing to remember: The sump pump always works perfectly unless the power goes off. And the power almost never goes off unless there's a storm big enough to flood the basement and turn the pump on.

These are the sorts of storm-related things they never tell you on the Weather Channel, where they're usually busy trying to cheer Category 4 hurricanes into Category 5s. On the Weather Channel, they tell us to fill our bathtubs before the storm makes landfall. But if we all do that, won't we make the drought worse?

And meanwhile, what about candles and flashlights and plywood? Aren't we supposed to have those ready, too? On the Outer Banks, in Florida and along the Gulf Coast, they know these things. They have hurricanes all the time. But in Washington, anything not passed by Congress is a perpetual mystery. We don't know squat.

Most Americans have little trouble handling weather crises. Just think of that farmer a few years ago in the Midwest flood who wrote "NO FEAR" atop the roof of his floating barn. But here in the nation's capital, of course, we're different. Fear's what we're all about. A half-inch snowfall closes the schools in winter. Every July we panic when it gets hot. Simultaneous floods and drought may well send us over the edge. Already schools have closed, and the president has canceled his golf game in Hawaii. How much worse can things get?

It would be worse if we were in danger of a major tidal surge, which we aren't, this far inland. But then don't we maybe want some storm surge? If Floyd blows enough ocean into Chesapeake Bay, wouldn't that back up the bay's freshwater rivers and flood all that droughty land in Virginia and Maryland? Wouldn't that be good?

But then all that water would rush back out, maybe taking all the baby crabs and oysters with it, not to mention the occasional bridge, dairy barn and overambitious sport utility vehicle. Wouldn't that be bad?

And how are we supposed to feel about the wind? Now that we've all boned up on the Saffir-Simpson scale, does it really matter whether it's blowing 155 miles an hour or 157, 115 or 117? At any of those speeds you're pretty much Dorothy and Toto anyway, right? And speaking of Dorothy and Toto, now they're talking about maybe tornadoes coming along with Floyd. When was the last time we had a tornado alert in Georgetown or White Flint? Better bring in the cat.

It doesn't seem quite fair that Floyd can be stalking us here in Washington without coming by way of Ocean City. But here it is, huffing and sloshing its way overland, with another storm named Gert still at sea gaining weight close behind.

Do we want Gert here for drought relief, too?

Hurricanes can be useful for reminding Congress and the president of the limits of legislative power. The lesson won't stick, of course, but it's here for the moment. As if to prove they were in charge of the weather--or maybe the future itself--governors were estimating Floyd's damage before the first rain fell. Maryland and Virginia were declared disaster areas while Floyd was still at sea. The District of Columbia made no such declaration, however deserving some city agencies may be.

Computer owners with the proper software will be able to track Floyd right up to the moment it eats their house. At that moment they will discover that virtual reality takes on a somewhat altered meaning. As do terms like "surge protector."

Others will wonder, as the wind begins to howl, whether they maybe should have pruned that tree overhanging the house before Floyd arrived. And cleaned the gutters. And caulked the windows. And stocked the fridge. And bought the flood insurance. And sold the beach house.

And whether Mother Nature maybe doesn't bat last, after all.

CAPTION: A woman walks yesterday in Old Town Alexandria, where the sandbagging has started.