A thunderous crash followed the flash so close they were literally connected, an overlay rather than two separate features of the same event. The gazebo shook. Startled, I bolted from my chair to see what must have caught fire. The air felt electric. My skin prickled. The unmistakable odor of ozone washed over me. Too close! Too damn close!
A minute ago the sky was blue. My disoriented thought rattled around and tried to find a home. Frantically I ran around the outside of the house looking for smoke. Nothing. Relieved, I reclaimed my gazebo seat. I sat there, eyes to the sky.
Overcast and darkening swiftly, the sky took on an altered, surreal character. No longer friendly, it reached for me with mind grabbing suddenness, like a shot to the head. And damned if Mama Nature didn’t have my attention!
I became aware of a sudden hush. Crickets stopped sawing. Birds stopped chirping. Were their sensibilities as damaged as mine? I glanced down. My book lay on the deck where it fell when I jumped out of my seat. I picked it up. I realized I hadn’t been reading. My mind had glided farther away than simply captive to a good read. I’d been staring at it unseeing, alone in some far place.
I struggled to pick up my previous thread. Problem with work? No, not mine, hers. Now I remembered. My wife’s displeasure at something someone at work said. It bothered her. She asked me for advice. I’d listened, of course. Husbands who stay married listen to wives. I’d been mulling.
Brought back to the world by a thunderbolt, I returned to the hot, humid, sticky day I’d tuned out. With a rueful half smile, I knew nature had other plans for me. I reached over, grabbed the glass handle on the tall, cool one next to me and took another sip.
I searched the unsettled gray sky. In the past I’d noticed that ahead of the dark main mass of any storm cloud, a high, thin, curly kind of halo would arch out from it. It told me conditions were right for violent change. I didn’t see a halo this time. This one literally formed over my head.
Strange as it sounds, it elated me. We hadn’t had rain in altogether too many days. I’d watched our grass burn and our flower gardens wilt. I’d begun to worry about our deep well, the water I’d used to wage a losing battle with hose and sprinklers on the grass and plants in past weeks. I had a legitimate concern about how much water could be left. Running dry would create a whole raft of problems. I knew several neighbors wells had failed recently.
I don’t claim to be a weather prophet. New England weather can keep everyone on their toes. I can’t give high marks to our local weather forecaster either, though I could hardly blame him for the weather patterns.
For most of us in the northeast, the drought had been long-term. For the past two weeks the weatherman predicted scattered T-storms for the area, but nary a drop fell on our place. That I got excited about so simple a thing as a little rain? Understandable.
As daylight darkened, I thought, maybe this time...just maybe. I have trouble praying for things natural. They happen or they don’t. I found it easier to believe we were ripe for rain. It’s one I’d lived with for weeks.
From the previously fluffy, white-spotted sky, to complete overcast took minutes. My scientific bent took over. I realized I had a grandstand seat. I wasn’t long home from work after a full day. Time to kick back and relax. It’s why I sat in the gazebo just off our deck, drink at my right hand, book in the left.
Nothing happened for a couple of minutes. Then, more lightning, not close this time. Two minutes later some of the biggest, wettest drops of water I've ever seen splatted on the deck. It rained hard for less than a minute. Then it stopped as if holding its breath.
Muted thunder from the second flash took awhile to get to my ear. I timed it casually. Thirteen seconds; over two and a half miles away. During the hush after the first rain-splat I left the gazebo, made a short detour through the house to the garage refrigerator. I grabbed another cold beer.
I had on old shorts and no shirt. I get rained on, what did I care? I recovered my Adirondack seat, got comfortable and with all the flair of a maestro, said to the storm, “Let the show begin!”
More flashes, nearer now and in between a new sound, a rush of wind! Lightning increased geometrically. Eye aching, brilliant, fat flashes dazzled me followed by sudden, momentary darkness!
And then, deluge! I couldn’t see my house twenty-five feet away for minutes. Lightning painted a bizarre three dimensional backdrop within the unbelievable downpour.
The wind abated. The storm’s gray body became steady and featureless. Moments later the entire southwestern sky lit up in a filigreed lace-like pattern that became an inverted tree of light. I closed my eyes and viewed the dark afterimage it left on my retina.
Light played back and forth within the storm, highlighting its turbulent clouds. I could easily understand Man’s early fear when confronted by such incredible power. Closer and closer the thunder came. The beautiful pyrotechnics were a mile or so away now. The time between flash and sharp rolling thunder diminished as the bolts got closer.
I sat in the open with only a small hexagonal roof over my head, just me and the power of nature. What a thrill!
I knew my wife and her two girls watched from the safety of the house. The big picture window gave them a grandstand view in warmth and safety, their own movie screen. They lay on blue plush carpet, elbows touching the floor, heads resting on their palms. Their eyes shone in the repeated flashes of the fantastic light show.
Day waned. With night the flashes grew brighter. Thunder rolled continuously! I visualized a bowling tournament between the gods. Balls rolling down the alley, pins crashing, crashing, crashing!
The world protracted on a high decibel volume of deep-throated noise. Once, after a minuscule pause, a long, muted grumble started in the southeast. Like a rumbling freight train it came, closer, closer, swelling, punching, punctuating the sky with cannon shots. It passed deafeningly overhead. The gazebo, the deck and the very ground shook! The rumble proceeded northwest, diminishing, fading, gone. I felt so puny!
The gazebo shook again and again with nearby hits from the raging storm. Then a sound first heard many minutes before but consummately familiar grew again in the midst of the crackles and booms.
Rain. Again! The initial very large drops that had “splatted” on my deck at the beginning became a wall of rain, followed by the wildness of the storm. Now it came again. It steadied into a hard, perpendicular torrent. Its sound pervaded everything. It overrode the violence of the thunder and blotted it out. Rain lashed the deck in front of me. No longer protected by the gazebo, cold mist washed across my ringside seat and chilled me to the bone. I shivered, but still I didn't care! Nothing could get me out of this seat now!
In a moment of introspection, the torrent fell gentle on my mind. I felt especially glad for this rain. It would renew our gardens; fill the aquifers that had failed for many in the region, and be an end to the drought.
I sat transfixed with my hope. I appreciated the storm’s raw power and shivered in its chill air. The thunder rolls finally began to space apart, a little at a time. Perfectly attuned to the storm, I realized that it had begun to move, to slide south. Soon my festivities would be over. Perhaps others would feel its power as I had. Perhaps they would appreciate it as I had. I’d had time to revel in the beauty of one of nature’s most awesome phenomena, and to feel its strength.
Philosophically, I wondered if someone else might be compelled to write about this marvelous thunderstorm. For a brief time, I had forgotten the cares of my world and lived one with nature. I felt really alive.
My wife and stepdaughters scratched their heads. They couldn’t understand why I would sit amidst the fury of a violent thunderstorm and then rave about how wonderful I felt after I walked back onto the house, cold, wet and disheveled.
There are people who understand. They chase tornadoes and fly into hurricanes and take dangerous assignments while working at the Weather Channel and NOAA and other places. To withstand the fury of nature, to live within it, to survive it is a rush in life. I hope the reader of this story will appreciate it vicariously. To me it was a wonderful thing.
This is a true story about the Litchfield, CT thunderstorm of July 29, 1999. The author does not recommend living within a violent thunderstorm without passing on a comment on the dangers of Earth’s violent weather. Lightning can kill. Thunder cannot, but it can damage your eardrums. The beautiful pyrotechnics of an earthly fireworks display may pale before the forces of nature, but we watch them for the same reasons. I do not recommend chasing tornadoes or braving a hurricane, yet there are many who are compelled to do so.
There are also solitary souls who sit in wicker chairs on a porch or in an Adirondack chair in a gazebo after a long day and thrill to nature hard at work, cleansing the sky.