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Commentary: The Awe of a Thunderstorm

By Chris Mackowksi


St. Bonaventure, NY – With a long, low grumble of thunder, Spring cleared its throat.

It was Sunday evening, just before my son's bedtime, and he and I were lying on top of my bed, listening to the rain patter on the roof. It's a sound I've missed. I haven't heard it since last fall, so we took the time to lie there and listen and enjoy and relax.

When the lone growl of thunder first rumbled down the valley, I thought a boxy eighteen-wheeler had passed along the country road that runs in front of our house. "Shhh!" I whispered to Jackson. "Listen I think that's thunder!"

We listened as the hills bounced the sound back and forth, from south to north, until it faded away back into the rainstorm.

Thunderstorms usually scare my son, and big storms even unnerve my teenage daughter. But I love em, especially when I have the chance to stretch out on the hammock on my back deck and watch the storms flash across an inky summer sky. I don't sit still too often, but I sit still for those.

A friend told me just a couple weeks ago that the Farmer's Almanac was calling for a really stormy spring. I don't know that I've ever put any stock in the almanac's predictions, but part of me hopes that this year it comes true (if it did, indeed, call for a stormy spring). You can't buy the kind of entertainment and awe a thunderstorm brings.

I realize that around these parts, along the southern tier, storms can get dangerous. In the late nineties, a tornado literally ripped through our back yard, shearing off the tops of a row of fir trees before going on to flatten a nearby museum and ravage homes up a nearby valley.

But more often, thunderstorms are a lot of bark with only lightning flashes of bite.

When the first storm stirs itself into commotion, it serves as one of the earliest signs of spring. If it's warm enough for thunder, then it'll soon be warm enough for rainstorms to summon frogs out of their winter burrows. It'll soon be warm enough for crocuses to poke their yellow and purple and white blossoms out of the earth.

Just days after the thunder, I heard my first flock of geese V-ing their way north, honking through the low cloud cover. I have to believe the season's first robin can't be far behind. (I've already seen one, in Virginia, and just know they'll be here soon.)

I thought of all these things as I got Jackson ready for bed. The rain continued to drum on the roof, getting quite hard at times, but we heard no more thunder.

Until about 2:20 AM.

A cataclysmically loud boom woke everyone in the house.

Before we knew it, my wife and I had children in the bedroom.

We tried to reassure them even as the thunderstorm continued to boom, quieter, in the background. Nothing came close to matching that single powerful crash, although the storm definitely demonstrated plenty of robustness.

The kids, cozied in, soon fell back to sleep. So did my wife.

But I listened for another twenty minutes as the storm continued to rumble and grumble, as Spring continued to stretch and shake. Even as I drifted off to sleep, Spring continued to wake.

Listener-Commentator Chris Mackowski is an associate professor at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at St. Bonaventure University.

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