Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Under the Storm

Growing Up in Everglades City

Summertime is almost here, which means the beginning of summer thunderstorms. Thunderstorms are created when warm, humid air rises in an unstable atmosphere. The United States experiences nearly 100,000 thunderstorms annually, along with millions of lightning strikes. The state of Florida and the eastern Gulf Coast are where thunderstorms are the most frequent. Although numerous places around Florida have been experiencing rain almost daily, the Everglades is in its drought season, which runs through early May. Each day that the weather forecast declares we will receive rain the dark clouds and thunder rolled right over the sawgrass. The other day, however, the prediction proved to be correct, and for the first time in months, our plants and trees soaked up the fresh rainwater. That thunderstorm was incredible. 

My mother and I were on our daily walk when the sky in the distance began to turn navy blue, I checked my weather app earlier, and although it said it was going to rain, I didn’t exactly believe it. “I’ll believe it when I see it,” my mom noted. 

Unique thunderstorm clouds.

Right before we got to the corner of our street, a gust of wind hit us, making me lose my balance. I glanced up at the sky to the West and saw large, towering gray clouds looming over us against a pitch-black sky. “It’s coming!” I shouted to my mom as my voice drowned in the wind. The sky bottomed out, and big drops of rain hit the Earth in full force. My mom and I ran the rest of the way to the house. As she ran to the porch, I grabbed the gate in an attempt to force it to shut and lock it while the wind’s mighty breath pushed against me. Suddenly, our outside chairs began to flip and glide across the concrete. I ran in the piercing rain to retrieve them and placed them against the house. Lightning flashed, and the thunder roared while I squinted against the beating rain and wind. Finally, making it on the porch, the wind grew more robust, and I was unable to open the front door without the wind-breaking it off the hinges. I waited for it to calm down, pressing myself against the door and holding the doorknob. Finally, just as it died down, I jumped inside the house and stood there soaking wet with a smile on my face.

I have always been fascinated by storms and extreme weather since I was young. Before I went off to college and during the summers when I was home, my dad and I would sit out on the front porch and watch the storms pass by. During the summer nights, we like to sit outside and watch the Cumulonimbus clouds that are filled with sheet lightning. The fluffy clouds light up in beautiful shades of purple, blue, and pink with each strike. Thunder rolls in the distance seconds after the flashes occur. Watching the night lightning during the hot summer nights evokes in me the sentimental feeling of nostalgia. Now don’t get me wrong, I would not say I like the outcomes from storms. The aftermaths of Hurricanes, Tsunamis, Tornadoes, and other extreme storms are not to be taken lightly. The Everglades has gotten its fair share of disastrous storms that affected the locals and wildlife drastically. Yet when you consider thunderstorms and this extreme weather, it is almost magical that the Earth can produce something so dangerous, powerful, and at the same time, striking to the eye.

Photos by Savannah Oglesby | A storm approaching Everglades City.

Did you know that lightning strikes the Earth about 100 times each second? This is because, at any moment, 2,000 thunderstorms are developing. Lightning is the most dangerous weather hazard. This can cause the understanding that lightening is terrible for our environment, as it can cause fires and burn the plants and trees needed by wildlife, but it works to boost plant growth. Our air is filled with oxygen and nitrogen, and when the heat from lightning comes into contact with the molecule’s nitrates are formed. When these nitrates are mixed with the rain, they plummet to the land and act as a natural fertilizer. This reaction is the reason as to why the grass usually looks green and fresh a few days following a thunderstorm. However, just because it is good for the environment does not mean it is suitable for humans or animals to subject themselves to it.

A few years ago, I was at my family’s dock to practice fly fishing on the Barron River and did not notice the thunderstorm approaching from behind. I had my phone propped up on the picnic table, videoing me so I could watch and perfect the technique. Right as I was in the motion to cast into the water, lightning flashed to the left of me, striking just a few houses down from our dock. I felt the vibrations of the thunder instantly as I winced while the hair on the back of my neck stood up. The sound was earsplitting as I stood on the edge of the dock, shocked at what just occurred. Not only was I holding a rod straight in the air, but I was also near water, which both could have acted as a conductor for lightning to strike me. I promise I’ve never run home faster than I did that day. As I was watching the videos I took while practicing I noticed I caught the strike on camera. The lightning caused my video to glitch at the exact millisecond it struck. It was astonishing. One thing is for sure, as much as I love watching lightning, you won’t be catching me holding a fishing rod in the air when a storm is near anymore.

If you’re ever in the Everglades at the same time a thunderstorm is approaching, consider yourself lucky. You will experience magic in the air and witness the Earth bringing its ecosystem to life. A storm passing over the thin, swaying sawgrass is one of a kind.

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