Tuesday, April 24, 2012

...Seen a Nighttime Thunderstorm out on a Farm?

I don’t know what it is about a thunderstorm out in the middle of nowhere.  The lighting flashes seem brighter and the thunder, louder.  While it may sound crazy at first there probably is an easy explanation.  The first being there is no city lights to drown out the light emanating from the lightning so naturally they would seem brighter out where there is hardly any light at night.  The thunder could be louder because there are no buildings in the way to dampen or reflect the sound.  Be that as it may, it is something to behold.  You can see the lightning in the clouds at night long before the storm even reaches your place.  Slowly it gets closer and the time between flash and thunder becomes closer together.  The wind dies down and then begins to pick up from the opposite direction and soon the force of nature is upon you.  You don’t know if there is anything terrible coming your way.  At least if a damaging storm is coming through a city you may have the luxury of seeing how bad it is with the street lights, or if it is really bad like a tornado, power flashes as transformers are being torn apart.  There is no such luxury out on a farm.  The nearest light was  a 1 ½ miles away, just a moderate rain could make that sucker disappear.  

Now my bedroom was upstairs and the wind and rain sounded ten times worse and would easily wake me up.  I would be the first one to go downstairs and look out the window to watch the weather.  Next would be my mom.  Now if my dad woke up, you knew things were getting a little more serious.  He would be able to sleep through the strong winds and even a little light hail but he seemed to know when the larger stuff was coming.  When dad called up stairs you scurried down fast.  Hail would smack our large kitchen windows as the wind blew them against the house and you had no way of knowing if its going to get better or worse, you just waited to see what happened next. 

Two distinct nighttime thunderstorms I remember (well, one was late evening).  The late evening one I was all of five years old and I remember watching my dad going out to the burning barrel.  He came back to get mom and they stood there looking to the south.  Finally they came in and said we need to get into the root cellar behind the house(cement structure buried into the ground that held our potatoes, it was a cool dark place.  I believe it was used to store other produce many years ago).  We yelled for my brother Brian in the basement but he couldn’t hear us right away, he was listening to his music.   Finally he came out and we all ran to the cellar.  I remember shivering and one of my sisters asking if I was cold, I was not, I was that scared as the wind howled over the air vents above us and my dad and brothers pushed against the door trying to hold it shut against the wind. We came out after it was all over and the windows and drapes in the house were shattered, the roof of a pole barn ripped off and a grain bin missing, only to be found a mile away the next day. I know for years my dad said the Weather Service classified it as straight-lined winds but this day and age of internet you can look anything up and it was classified as a F-1 tornado.

The second storm I can remember looking out my bedroom window upstairs watching the lightning flashes.  One was particularly close as the thunder boomed almost immediately.  I didn’t think nothing of it at the time about its location but given how close it was, I went downstairs.  My parents were still up watching television and reading the paper.  I eventually looked out the living room window and saw something glowing near the row of trees towards the back of our farm, back where the hay bales were.  I still remember exactly what I said, “uh dad, there’s something glowing back by the hay bales” and he said, “huh uh, there better not be!”.  He looked and sure enough, a bale was on fire.  Likely from the same strike I saw from my bedroom.  We quickly called the fire department and a neighbor who had a large tractor with a bucket attached.  In the mean time, we took down the fence so we could get to the stack easier and quicker.  Once a stack catches fire, it is hard to get it out as it will smolder for a long time.  What’s more it can easily spread to other stacks and pretty soon, the feed you were saving to feed your cattle over the winter is up in flames, so as you can tell it was important to get to the hotspot fast.  When we got back there it had gone out for the time being but we knew it would be a matter of time before it would flare up again.  Eventually we found it and by that time our neighbor was johny-on-the-spot with his big loader.  Him and my dad quickly tore the stack apart and separated and cleared the bale that caught fire from the rest of the area. We knew we had beaten it and called off the fire trucks, which we could just barely make out their lights in the far distance. The lights turned off and they turned around to go back home. 

If you are in the heartland and on a farm, hopefully you get to experience a storm for yourself, but not too bad of one.  When the old farmer or rancher wakes up, then you know its serious, otherwise sit back and take in the show.