The first good thunderstorm of the season swept through my area late Saturday night and early Sunday morning. It rolled in from the west with a brilliant light show and booming bass of thunder reverberating through our windows.
It started simply enough. The air, still warm from the day, stirred. Trees began to shake in a cool breeze that grew to a howl. My daughter was home from college for the weekend, and we took in the sights and sounds from the front porch until the chilly air and sheets of rain chased us inside.
I’ve never grown tired of watching storms come in, even in Kansas where they occur with regularity. The mix of beauty and the potential for destruction tap into something primal. The allure and angst are as intertwined as lightning and thunder.
Some of my first memories of watching storms are in the small sunroom in my childhood home. The thick panes of glass in the south-facing room coupled with the home’s hillside elevation provided the ideal enclosure for viewing the ferocity of Mother Nature.
The best storms are always at night. Darkness heightens your other senses, so you feel the ground shake from thunder or hearing the rain come in wind-blown sheets. The smell of damp earth is strong enough to taste. Even when a bolt of electricity illuminates the sky, it offers only a flash of the world around you.
Usually, I’d watch storms alone by virtue of being the only one awake when one passed through. Sometimes though my dad would pull up a chair beside me and we’d take it all in silence for a few minutes before he chided me to get to bed.
I get a sense of calm watching a storm system move over me, though being a few steps from the basement certainly helps. I know there are those who chase so-called “supercells” in hopes of spotting the truly terrifying phenomenon of tornadoes. I understand it, but that’s a little too much thrill seeking for my taste. Living in Kansas, I’ve had enough close calls with twisters to satisfy my curiosity.
Another good perspective for watching a storm was from the hayfield. While we usually didn’t want any rain on the drying grasses, we also could see for miles. Sometimes that was enough to see the cumulonimbus clouds build thousands of feet in the air as the squall line developed far enough away the sun was still shining on us.
Whether I’m watching a storm from near or far, I always feel incredibly small. The combination of wind and rain and lightning and thunder is the result of two air masses colliding and releasing more energy than the atomic bomb blast at Hiroshima.
Despite all the havoc thunderstorms can cause, they do bring rain that helps crops grow in fields and gardens. Sometimes they provide a much-needed respite from working those fields. Other times the cool, calm day after the storm is the reward. Either way, I usually find myself looking forward to the chance to watch the next one.