Monday, September 8, 2008

Thunderstorms and Lightning

photo from public domain
Living in Kansas, you become familiar with thunderstorms and lightning because they happen any time of the year. Early this morning, the thunder rolled in and a spectacular storm lit the sky. It was unexpected since the weather has been mild and cool. One enormous clap of thunder shook the entire house and sent waves of adrenaline through me. I think only in war would a human being hear anything louder than thunderclaps directly overhead.

In my years in Kansas I have witnessed some amazing storms. One particular summer a storm blew down from the Rockies that flattened most of state's electrical infrastructure. The night it hit, I had fallen asleep with the front door open and woke to the comforting sound of distant thunder. I remained still, enjoying the cooling peace. Strange flashes of light, irregularly timed and oddly colored, drew me to the open door. The red, yellow, blue and amber flashes of color were lightning unlike any I had ever seen. I stood transfixed by the eerie strobing lights. That is why I was in the door when the fury hit. Incredulously, I watched the trees, illuminated by the street lights, bend low in unison in a strange and silent manner. Before I realized what I was seeing, the wind and noise exploded against the house with a howling blast.

I slammed the door shut about the same time the electricity went out. The full force of the storm came on - the wind was a wailing fury and the boards of the old house began to creak and moan. There was no basement and it was already too dangerous to leave the house for better cover. I was afraid. I was angry at myself for not paying better attention to the weather.

I woke my little girl and calmly led her to the center hallway. Covering her body with mine, we rode the storm out lying face down against the stairway wall. I was acutely aware of the large west window at the end of the hall and the groaning of the old house as it flexed and swayed in the furious battering. It creaked and moaned like a wooden ship at sea. It seemed the howling would never stop. I listened intently to the tones in the wind, straining to hear the first roaring of a tornado. Surely something this powerful was fueled by a massive tornado!

At last the fury calmed enough that the house was no longer groaning. That old place had weathered one more mighty storm, but some of the trees in the yard did not. All across Kansas there was tremendous wind damage, but no reports of tornadoes. It blew down electric lines over the entire state - a record breaking storm in scope and extent of damage.

I had seen colored lightning before but it was not associated with a massive storm and nothing as spectacular as the one that sent me cowering in the hallway. When I was in high school in a little town in north central Kansas, the dry and hot summer nights would sometimes generate heat lightning. It would flash across the sky with a perceived width, often red or yellow. The streaks would sometimes hang in the air for a moment and then fall into pieces, like fireworks, and fade away. There was never any audible thunder with it. I have never seen it since those days, but then I haven't been lying out in a sleeping bag staring up at the northern skies all night long, either.

The most spectacular lightning I have witnessed occurred the first summer I moved to Spirit Creek. There were many storms that first season. At the first sound of thunder, I stood under the cover of the front porch in celebration of my return to "the country". During the worst of one storm, a mighty river of lightning ripped out of the west seemingly just above the trees and across my entire farm. The lightning appeared to be as wide as the valley. It was an enormous sheet of light that simply disappeared into a tiny point high above the ground in the east. It was so surprising that I could not understand what I had just witnessed. Another incredible river of white light blasted across the angry sky just above my head and disappeared into a tiny point of nothing high in the east and then I realized it was striking the top of a 2000 ft. television tower two miles to the east. The inconceivable power and light vanishing in a point in the sky was a singularly awe inspiring sight.

To live on the earth where there are no huge thunderstorms, a person cannot understand how necessary and welcome they are. They cool everything, freshen the hot, stagnant air, bring a deeply appreciated respite from oppressive heat and humidity, generate much excitement, and light up the sky with spectacular living scenery. This is a great web site of lightning strikes, tornadoes, and thunderstorms taken by Gene Moore. It will give you a glimpse of a thunderstorm on the Great Plains.


Blue-eyed Blonde said...

Wow! Your descriptive writing had me on the edge of my seat. I've lived in Kansas all my life and don't remember seeing the colored lightning you talk about. But we had a father and son killed by lightening when they took refuge from the rain under a large tree. Not good idea in a thunderstorm!

Is it alright if I put a link for you on my blogspot? Thanks, Jan

Jackie said...

Oh my gosh, Jan! I am sorry to hear of your loss. What a tragedy.

Certainly you can link to my blog. May I add your link to mine?

I like the photo of your cat. Jackie