Weather Almanac for June 1999
SYMPHONY OF THE
As I sit on a trail-side bench along Island View Beach, I watch cumulus clouds build as they ascend the Malahat ridge, the western coast of the Saanich Inlet fjord. If I turn to look eastward, I can see a similar process occurring over the Coastal Range in Washington State. These continental clouds may build to altitudes where capping inversions and strong winds will form the characteristic anvil top of the cumulonimbus.
My memories towering anvil-topped cumulonimbus from my days resident in the Great Lakes region include the flash of lightning and the rumble of thunder, my favorite nature music. But unfortunately here on southern Vancouver Island, lightning and thunder are not common occurrences. At the Victoria International Airport in Sidney, only three days per year on average report a thunderstorm. And I believe that the number is likely lower in the city where we are further from the uplifting influence of mountain ridges such as the Malahat. Victoria, you see, lies within a region known as a rain shadow, an area where winds blowing over the mountains descend. And this descending motion, evaporates clouds and inhibits thunderstorm growth. As well, we are surrounded by relatively cold waters which douse any enthusiastic cumulus having thoughts of growing into vigorous cumulonimbus.
One of the major prices I pay for living in the mildest climate in Canada is the absence of thunderstorms. Therefore, I must listen to sky music more by CD than live performance. And I admit I miss it more and more each year. When my computer boots up, it plays a rumbling peal of thunder, a reminder of my meteorological roots. Many of the instrumental music recordings I love most have thunder providing a background accompaniment.
Thunder events have come into my life in many ways. The rumble of an early morning thunderstorm that brought me enough out of sleep to lie there listening to the surrounding rumbles and cracks and booms. Then there were the storms that passed during the night while I was asleep. Often I fought an internal battle to either waken and go to the window to watch or to return to sleep. (The former was more often the winner.) Sometimes, the thunder and its storm just snuck up and caught me unaware of its approach. (A confession from a confirmed Weather Watcher, this does happen.)
Is there some change in atmospheric conditions or ion contents that gives me an altered state of awareness, or is it just the anticipation of what pyrotechnics approach? Will it be a booming, crashing, shaking event worthy of Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries or Moussorgsky's A Night on Bald Mountain? Or will they be gently rumblings, a cuddly-stuffed-tiger style storm, the illusion of ferocity encased in softness?
Thunder has always had its place in the human psyche. It has been the voice of the gods (almost every culture has one thunder god), the terror of demons, the sounds of distant battles between the deities. Many who have survived the ravages of a tornado will panic at the first distant rumble. I myself rise to a new state of consciousness, joyful and childlike, higher and higher with each rumble, boom and crack.
Davy Crockett, the 18th Century American frontiersman, described thunder as (in his own dialect):
"The greatest treat in all creation. It sets everything but a coward and a darn culprit shouting in the very heart and soul till both on em swell so etarnal big with nat'ral glorification that one feels as if he could swoller the eternal creation at a gap, hug the hull universe at once, then go to sleep so full of thunder glory, that he'll wake up with his head an entire electrical machine, and his arms a teetotal thunderbolt..."
Yes, thunder is more than a simple, explosive sound. Thunder peals. Thunder rolls and rumbles through the stormy sky. Thunder cracks and claps. Thunder booms and bursts, explodes repeatedly and rattles.
What do you remember about the first time you heard thunder and asked someone what that loud noise was? The answer that sticks in my mind was that it was the sound of "God bowling." Although I accepted the answer at the time, I am not sure that I even knew what bowling was. Today I know what causes thunder and its subtle nuances, but still the thrill and excitement remain. Perhaps more so because by knowing something about the lightning bolt spawning the thunder, I can anticipate the form of the thunder peal to come.
Perhaps this summer I will have occasion to travel inland to areas where thunderstorms are not so rare and again be able to sit on a protected porch and enjoy the symphony of the storm. Perhaps there I can catch the thunder in my memory like a butterfly in a jar, to enjoy continually through the winter. Let the thunder be heard!
For details on thunder, its causes and properties, See Thunder in the Weather Phenomenon and Elements Section.
Learn More From These Relevant Books
Chosen by The Weather Doctor
- Williams, Jack: The Weather Book, 1997, Vintage Books, ISBN 0-679-77665-6.
- Day, John A.:
The Book of Clouds , Sterling, 2005, paperback, ISBN 0760735360.
- Burt, Christopher C.: Extreme Weather: A Guide and Record Book, 2004 (pb), W. W. Norton & Company, ISBN 039333015X.
- Bluestein, Howard B.: Tornado Alley: Monster Storms of The Great Plains, 1999, Oxford University Press, New York, ISBN 019-510552-4.
- Henson, Robert: The Rough Guide to Weather, 2002, Rough Guides/Penguin, ISBN 1858288274, pb.
Keith C. Heidorn, PhD, THE WEATHER DOCTOR,
June 1, 1999
The Weather Doctor's Weather Almanac Symphony of the Thunder Clouds
©1999, Keith C. Heidorn, PhD. All Rights Reserved.
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