Cold pulses of air stab through the thick blanket of humidity that lays on this region like a wet feather mattress. Even on the northwest side of this mountain we can see moist air being lifted by sinking cold air that forces the the dank atmosphere skyward. The battle between these two atmospheres creates static and I can feel the hair standing up on my arm as if I’d just seen a ghost. There will be a thunderstorm today no doubt; but there are unanswered questions. Where? When? How bad?
Adia, my female bloodhound is nervous, and hides in my office. Cooper stands on the deck with his nose in the air. It seems he senses danger. It took me years to learn the recipe for a strong storm but dogs recognize the necessary ingredients long before humans know what is going on.
I wander out onto our deck and look northwest. The sky is dark and angry. The National Weather Service has issued a tornado watch for Windham County in Vermont which is only about 7 miles from here. I often laugh at how the weather forecasters use state and county lines to issue warnings. It is as if they expect a storm to respect a political boundary; this is human nonsense at its greatest proportion. The dark clouds have long spiral tails that hang down. What I really am witnessing is all of the warm moisture being lifted into the clouds. The speed of the cloud movement, from west to east, is astounding. The clouds are no longer separate. The delineation from one condensed mass of moisture to another has been smudged into a carpet of black and gray.
A gripping and sudden cold blast sends Cooper inside. From the deck I see him go into our bathroom. Only today Maureen asked me where we should go if we ever had a tornado given we do not have a cellar. I thought about how we built the house. The bathroom is on the first floor, has a staircase above it , and two very solid walls. I stated without any great confidence that the bathroom would be best. An hour has passed and Cooper is following my directions. Strange, but true.
Maureen comes and stands on the deck with me. We watch mashed black clouds with menacing tails rush east. The skies open up. Rain falls like there is no tomorrow. I am reminded of the the tornadoes that struck an area south of here almost exactly a year ago. They stayed on the ground for forty miles; F-4′s that blew away the past, present, and future of hundreds of people. A wide swath of destruction that will be evident for a generation was formed in moments; homes lost, lives dashed, dreams sent to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Maureen and I look at each other. And I say, not today, not this time.
Lightning careens down and cracks open the earth. Thunder pounds this part of the planet with the force of ancient Gods. Winds force the heavy rain horizontally. Our house lights flicker and then they are gone. The only thing we can do is watch, listen, and take the storm into our hearts and minds. Absorbing a bad storm lessens the fright. Fear has no place here. We sit quietly. The storm pounds on and on.
Cooper groans in the bathroom. Adia whines upstairs in my office. The low, low pressure is almost too much for them to bear. I go to each of them to comfort them. If they see me upright and moving about it will make them more confident. I pet each one for a few minutes telling them it won’t last long. And just then another loud crack and simultaneous boom reinvents their fears.
It is almost June. This changing of weather this time of year, from cool to warm to cool, is normal. There have been many storms like this. Perhaps thousands in my lifetime that I have endured. And each time I wonder what is in store. When the atmosphere feels dangerous we all stand alert.
I think back to my childhood. When I was very young and frightened by a storm my older sister would get in my bed at night when the thunder and lightning storms raged on and tell me that God was bowling. That used to make me laugh. I pictured a giant bowling alley, with ginormous pins, and gargantuan bowling balls being cast about making loud crashing noises. The image of God bowling was hilarious!
This series of storms has ebbs and flows. Cold fronts seem to come in waves, like the sea rolling to shore. With each wave there is another line of thunder boomers. The sky goes from gray to black to gray. The sound in the sky goes from quiet to loud to quiet. And even though the clock tells me it is still the afternoon the view out our windows is dark. Each bolt of lightning produces a strobe-like flash.
Since the days of my childhood I have counted the time between a flash of lighting and the sound of thunder. I count slowly, about once per second. Sound travels at 1126 feet per second. A count of five means the storm is roughly a mile away. A count of fifteen means it is roughly three miles away. This is something I learned from my father. He was a sailor and knew the dangers of an electrical storm, especially one at sea. Counting through these storms is valuable. I can tell how far away storms are after they have passed and I can tell the distance of storms as they approach. Like waves crashing to shore they keep coming.
I look outside. The wind blows and the white underneath side of the leaves on the trees is exposed. This contrasts sharply against the darkness of the day. It is dramatic but familiar. I remind myself that I’ve been here before when not in the safety of a house. Being caught in a big lake in a lightning storm is dangerous. Especially in an aluminum boat. A race for shore is appropriate. You can’t be too careful when it comes to lightning. A bolt of lightning can be a billion volts at 200000 amperes. It can turn a human into charcoal. Not a pleasant thought.
Even being inside can be dangerous. Maureen tells a story where once while at a camp a bolt of lightning came into a kitchen while everyone was playing cards and struck a brass bowl. It rang like a bell. The card game ended right there and then.
And without notice the storm stops. Lightning can be seen to the east. The thunder is many counts behind the lightning. The heavy rain dies. The dark skies turn blue. But the winds stay blustery.
Even God has to cool down after a rowdy bowling match.
Written for www.wildramblings.com.