Column: ‘Boom booms’ can strike fear in hearts of young and old | Columnists

Warren Hollar Special to the Record

When my grandson was 3, we had great discussions about things he liked, such as chewing gum, playing in the creek, jumping on his trampoline and swimming.

One of his biggest dislikes during the summertime was what he called the “boom booms” that happened at his house. In my grandson’s vocabulary, “boom booms” were thunderstorms. His reaction was typical as thunderstorms create a wide variety of reactions from animals and humans. Thunderstorms may also be a curse or a blessing by either providing water to parched soil or destroying crops or animals through hail, flash flooding or lightning strikes.

Some people love the sound of the thunder and the flash of the lightning. Some people retreat to a sheltered, darkened room to weather a summer storm. Pets, especially cats and dogs, have emotional responses to a storm including shaking, hiding and whimpering. Some people do not want to be near animals during a storm because they believe they draw lightning. Old farm beliefs are plentiful concerning thunder and lighting. One belief was that a person should not stand near a mirror because mirrors draw lightning.

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Thunder is not the result of God’s wagon bumping along the clouds. The rapidly expanding air creates the sound we know as thunder. The power of a thunder and lightning storm disrupts many picnics, swimming trips, golf outings, little league games and many other activities. The National Weather Service has provided some interesting facts. Thunder is the result of lightning’s spark that can heat the surrounding air to over 54,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Thunderstorms occur frequently around the earth. The Weather Channel has estimated that there are more than 2,000 thunderstorms in progress at any given moment. This means there are over 45,000 thousand thunderstorms happening daily around the world. Lightning from storms hits the earth about 100 times per second. Hail is one of the worst dangers about thunderstorms. Much damage may occur in seconds. We have all heard of dime-sized hail, golf-ball sized hail, and the worst case of softball-sized hail. The largest hail ever recorded was 5.5 inches in diameter.

Lightning is the most powerful part of a storm. When you look at a tree struck by lightning it often appears that the lightning came from the ground. Well, it does. Expert weather forecasters say lightning travels in both directions. Cloud-to-ground lightning comes from the sky down, but the part you see comes from the ground up. A typical cloud-to-ground flash lowers a path of negative electricity (that we cannot see) toward the ground in a series of steps. Objects on the ground generally have a positive charge. Since opposites attract, an upward streamer is sent out from the object about to be struck. When these two paths meet, a return stroke zips back up to the sky. It is the return stroke that produces the visible flash, but it all happens so fast (in about one-millionth of a second) that the human eye doesn’t see the actual formation of the strike.

In the days of my youth on the farm, dangers from thunderstorms were taken seriously. Special note was taken of the distance a storm was from workers in the field. When it reached a shortened distance, all headed to the barn or house. The danger of lightning had been verified in previous generations by the death of cows or horses standing under trees near a high point on the farm. All members of the farming family knew the rules of calculating how far away a storm was based on the time lapse between a lightning flash and the rumble of thunder. Knowing that sound travels slower than light allowed farmers to count the time between a lightning strike and the thunder. We knew that the sound of thunder from a lightning strike could travel 1 mile in approximately 5 seconds. Anything less than 5 seconds resulted in a retreat to the safety of the barn or house. Our speed of heading to safety was greatly increased when there was a very bright flash of lightning and an almost simultaneous sharp “crack” of thunder. These thundercracks told us that the lightning strike was extremely near. The fact is more people are struck and killed by lightning each year in the United States than die from the combined totals of hurricanes and tornadoes. countless others are injured; some permanently by near misses.

We all have anticipated the arrival of a thunderstorm. As a storm approaches, trees and bushes begin to sway and rock; leaves and flowers are blown away; small dust devils swirl their way across vacant land; and lightning flashes illuminate a darkened sky. The birds and animals of the field rush to shelter with only the mournful call of the rain crow announcing the impending storm. The first few drops of rain seem to be as big as saucers as they splatter on the dry ground of sun-scorched earth. We seek shelter during the heaviest rain and lightning and return outdoors once it passes to survey the damage to trees and other vegetation. The smell of the ozone in the air, the water-jeweled plants, and the beauty of a rainbow formed at the departing edge of a storm enhances our senses as we appreciate the handiwork of nature. We also can thank our lucky stars that no tornado accompanied the summer storm.

And finally, my 3-year-old grandson was spending the night with us when a violent thunderstorm (boom, boom) struck. His grandmother was tucking him in bed during the visit. She was about to turn off the light when he asked her in a trembling voice to sleep with him that night. His grandmother gave him a hug and said that she had to sleep with his granddaddy.

A long silence was broken by his shaky little voice saying, “Is Granddaddy afraid of ‘boom, booms’ too?”

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