Sunday, March 28, 2004

The Thunder Rolls

We're having a thunder storm tonight. As a kid, I loved storms. My father used to pack us all into the cab of his pickup truck and drive to the highest point around. He'd set up a tripod and his Cannon and take pictures of the lightning strikes. Or if we were at the lake, he'd load us into the boat and go for a spin. The lake was big enough to drive around the storms.

It occurs to me, even as a write this, that may be why my brother became a meteorologist.

Storms in New England are mysterious things. You can often hear the thunder, and see the flashes of light, but not really see the lightning because of the hills and trees. They seem to pop up out of nowhere and drive through hard and fast.

But storms in the dessert and in the flatlands of the South are completely different. You can see them coming from miles and miles. You can see every lightning strike. You can feel their vastness and their destruction. Once I saw my first lightning storm roll in across the New Mexico dessert, burning and killing anything in its way, I lost all of my childish wonder.

I've had my run-ins with lightning in the past. We had a small fire in my childhood home, after it had been hit. A power surge burned up every electronic thing in our home in New Mexico. I knew a man there who was struck while working on the flightline. He survived, but his feet were badly burned where the electricity left his body and hit the ground.

But my worse run-in was in Pensacola. We lived in a beautiful historic home on base. It was built in the 1700s and had once belonged to the Army fort commander. It was well-known to be haunted. It was on a street overlooking the beach, where every other home belonged to a Navy Captain. But because the entire house only had two bathrooms, they had split it up into a two-family home and assigned it to Company Grade Officers.

We lived on the second floor, and the third floor belonged to us too. We didn't really use the third floor, except for storage, because that house was way too huge for us.

Anyway, one Saturday morning we were sleeping in. Thunder must have woke me, just a little, because I remember hearing a lightning strike that must have been really close by. And then it sounded like something exploded. It was a pop and a sizzle, accompanied by the smell of ozone. I've never smelled ozone before, but I knew that's what it was, because I could only describe it as air burning. Of course it woke us both up, and freaked us out. But we looked at each other, said, "That was close!" and pretty much went back to bed. I didn't want to be walking around all the French doors we had in our bedroom. I figured there was nothing to see. Since the smoke alarms weren't going off, I figured a tree must have been hit near by.

I little while later our downstairs neighbors woke us up when they rang our doorbell. They wanted to know if our kitchen was sooty too. What?

So I went in the kitchen and it was absolutely black. The vent over the range was connected to the old chimney that went through the kitchen and 400 years of ash had blown into our kitchen. Then we realized that the chimney must have been hit. I got my husband out of bed and we went to the third floor.

I was in shock. There was a hole in our roof at least 6 feet across and 6 feet wide. Shards from the roof were sticking out of everything, even the walls. I finally looked out a window, and the bricks from the chimney had been blown clear across the street.

We spent the rest of the day with people from the base going through our house. Everyone wanted to know what happened and why we didn't call the fire department. And I had to tell them we were sleeping. Sleeping. We slept through our house being struck by lightening.

I'm glad we didn't use the bedrooms on the third floor. We could have been killed. All of our electronics were fried again. Luckily, none of our cars were damaged, which is surprising considering there was brick all around them. We were so lucky our house didn't burn down with us sleeping in it.

All of this goes to show you one thing.

I'm really not a morning person.

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