Weather: Electrical Fascination

It was different when I was four. We didn’t have air conditioning yet, so we slept with the windows open on summer nights — at least, we began the night that way. Our house was built into a hillside so that half the basement had a western exposure, to the back. My second-floor room was in the northwest corner of the house, so looking out the back, I was essentially three stories up, with a broad view of the western horizon. I felt like I was on some kind of high summit or watchtower.


And the west, of course, is where the summer storms came from, rushing across the ridges after midnight, blowing the curtains into great, malevolent monster arms. I heard the thunder far away; saw the flashes, the forky white tendrils that made me think of the ghost of Christmas yet to come from Dickens. Something wicked this way comes…

I scrunched down, tried to get smaller, built a shield of sheets and covers, every muscle tensed. And then, when the wind was at its height and a few large drops began to ping the aluminum siding, my mother would come in and shut the windows. The gusts, frustrated, would beat at the new barrier and throw pellets of rain at them, and promise to get me next time.

Grown up a few years, I recall mentioning at dinner that I rather enjoyed a good thunderstorm. My Dad, in a rare moment of psychoanalysis, posited that I am fascinated with them, but I don’t like them. He maintained that I secretly fear thunder and lightning.

It’s no secret. That stuff is nasty. I sure don’t want to be out in it. At the beach the other day, we watched a storm make its way from Bradenton across the mouth of Tampa Bay to where we were relaxing on the island that is Fort De Soto Park, just west of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. When it looked like we had plenty of time, we began to pack up…and an enormous crack rang out right over our heads. I chased the kids to a shelter and gathered up everything I could hold and rushed after them. No messing with that.

That deceptive quality of storms, their ability to reach out beyond where you think they are, is frightening. I have led a personal campaign to chastise odds-players who won’t leave golf courses when a storm is approaching. Good way to get dead, as golf courses have attractive tall things (trees) and wide, unsheltered stretches (fairways) for any bolt of electricity that wants to lick the terra firma.

I disagree with my Dad. I do like storms, especially when I can be inside feeling cozy and safe. Of course, it goes back to my mother making everything alright by coming in and turning away the maelstrom. To this day, I love a Sunday nap to the sound of afternoon thunder. Last night as I was reading in bed, about 11, one of those so-called pop-up cells boomed and flashed for about 20 minutes. I felt loved and secure.

What closer look do we get at the power of nature than the typical thunderstorm? To my mind, there’s no such thing as a typical one.♦

© 2013 Adam Barr

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