Storm Junkie


A love of thunderstorms runs in my family, or at least on Mom’s side of the family. From my earliest days, before we even had cable so the Weather Channel could let us know what to expect and when (as much as weather forecasts are ever accurate), the arrival of a thunderstorm at our house often meant gathering in the living room, so we could look out the big windows as the clouds darkened and then flashed with lightning. Especially in the years before the house fire, when we didn’t have air conditioning, being able to smell the air in the leadup to those first droplets splashing on our front porch, to say nothing of the smell of rain during and after the storm, was absolutely delicious.

Not all thunderstorms can be fun, of course. One storm, when I was very young, resulted in the death of the oak tree in our backyard (the tallest tree on our whole block), when a bolt of lightning struck it. Not only did our eardrums suffer mightily from such a close-range strike, but the tree had to be cut down several years later when increasing windstorms in the region threatened to bring its weight down on our (or someone else’s) home. My parents were often hyper-sensitive about tornado warnings as well, and while I could appreciate their concern, being cramped in a hallway with all of them for an hour at a time, especially with two of them chain-smoking, was far from pleasant.

(The worst tornado warning I ever endured was actually at my parents’ office in the nineties, when I was in the bathroom doing my business, and I heard a voice outside the door yell, “Sean, stay there!” A tornado touched down about a mile west of us, and all I could think for the next several minutes, sitting there on the throne, was that it would figure that my possible last act on earth would be that.)

The paganism that runs through Mom’s side of the family may have a good deal to do with the affinity I’ve always had for thunderstorms, but I don’t think you need to have religious beliefs about nature to appreciate the beauty of a thunderstorm. I can definitely understand why many people are scared of them, and I’m always very cautious whenever one is around (whether I’m outdoors or not), but few things excite me more than when the air pressure around me drops, and the sky darkens, and I can feel a good thunderstorm about to pass over me.

For most of my life, I lived in a good part of the country for thunderstorms. While the plains may get a lot more of them in a given year, Toledo is far enough removed from Tornado Alley that the city only gets a handful of tornado watches in a year, and maybe one or two actual warnings in that time. That number’s gone up a bit since forecasters have become more cautious about issuing warnings based on the mere likelihood of funnel clouds developing, but it was always manageable. (Tornado warnings that hit when I was in the middle of teaching were always a boon, since they basically gave me a chance to hang out with my students in the middle of a class and learn even more about them as people.) Thunderstorms have become even more common in Toledo over the past few years; not only are they more frequent when we have thaws, but hardly a winter goes by there now without at least one thundersnow.

When I moved to Colorado, I knew that I’d be experiencing far fewer thunderstorms from now on. That wasn’t something I was looking forward to, but I was at a point in my life where I was kind of forced into making a lot of sacrifices. While I can appreciate the beauty of mountains, the relative scarcity of trees in this part of Colorado is something  that I doubt I’ll ever get used to. Not being able to hear the susurrus of thousands of leaves rustling whenever the wind picks up is an adjustment that I’m still struggling to make here. Although I deeply miss the people and places of my hometown, the weather and landscape aren’t too far behind.

This week, though, has been a strange one. As of the time I’m posting this, I’ve got to experience thunderstorms on seven consecutive afternoons, and the forecast (taken, as always, with a hefty grain of salt)  says that the streak will extend to eight later today. There was one tornado warning in there (and let me take this opportunity to thank local television channels that livestream their severe weather coverage for us cord-cutters), but all of the other storms have been very enjoyable, even without all the tree branches waving and rustling like I’m used to.

This past Friday was the second time I marked Mom’s birthday since her passing, and the first time I’ve ever spent her birthday away from Toledo. That, combined with a variety of other factors, has made this past week incredibly difficult to deal with, but the thunderstorms have helped. I’d like to think that the storms are a gift from Mom, who knows how much difficulty I’m having here and wanted to make things easier for me these past few days.

Maybe some people can make any place they go to their home, but I don’t know if I’m capable of doing that. I’ve already lost so much of what was home for me for so long, but this past week of thunderstorm after thunderstorm has helped me remember my hometown in a way that I really needed as I cope with so many other problems. Maybe this period of heavy storms won’t last for much longer, but at least I’ve been able to appreciate it while it’s lasted, and remember what it was like looking out on dark skies from my childhood home, smelling the rain and seeing the lightning and hearing the thunder.

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