An ode to summer thunderstorms

Published 5:14 pm Friday, July 29, 2022

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Walking outside feels like stepping into an oven. The hot air clings to your skin like a heavy, sticky blanket. It’s unpleasant, and it makes you want to retreat back inside to the blissful breeze of cool air from the air conditioning vents.

It’s a ‘burn your fingers on the steering wheel’ kind of heat. It’s a ‘watch the shimmery waves of a heat mirage down the road’ kind of heat. It’s a “fry an egg on the sidewalk” kind of heat. It’s an ‘even the shade doesn’t help’ kind of heat.

The air is stagnant, as though the windy days of springtime in the past were only a distant dream you had once upon a time.

Plants wilt under the blazing summer sun. They sag towards the ground like they know the only escape from the rays is under the dry dirt. Bright green stalks of corn fade into a sickly shade of yellow-green instead, their leaves curling inwards like they’ve given up all hope.

And then you hear it: a low rumble of thunder. Like a drummer in a symphony catching the audience’s attention with an opening rhythm of percussion.

And when you turn to look, there are clouds on the horizon, eating away at the blue sky overhead. They’re not the usual marshmallow wisps of fluff floating lazily above, but instead are like swollen mountains that grow and twist as if alive. Lightning flashes within the clouds, like a photographer with a fancy camera is inside to capture the inner workings of the storm.

Then there are the more dangerous lightning strikes which escape from the clouds, each one streaking unpredictably across the darkened sky. More thunder follows afterwards, rumbling louder and louder as the clouds get closer and closer.

This is where anticipation starts to build. The waiting and watching as the storm approaches. You sit on the porch or the front stoop or under the carport to observe, a safe place to shield you from the impending rain. Each lightning strike and bout of rolling thunder is like the ticking of a clock, marking the passage of time as it moves ever forward.

The wind picks up – the ‘calm before the storm’ is long gone now. Leaves on the trees and bushes flip up, exposing undersides that you usually don’t get to see, flapping noisily with each incoming gust of air. You feel the wind rush across your skin, whipping strands of hair in wild directions and ruffling your shirt like a child anxiously tugging on fabric to get your attention. As if the summer storm doesn’t already command your full attention with the way it swallows up the whole sky and hides away the sunshine.

Finally, the rain makes its appearance. First in large, slow drops that splash on pavement and blades of grass, and then smaller faster ones that crash down to earth at the behest of gravity. The wind pushes the rain to fall at an angle, and it almost starts to look like ghostly, translucent sheets being shaken out.

The rainfall becomes so heavy that it blurs the view of the surrounding scenery. Nearby trees and houses are hidden almost as if they don’t exist anymore; you’re in a bubble of your own world here in the midst of the storm. Nothing matters here but nature.

Rainwater transforms the landscape, carving out rivers across roads and through driveways, snaking through the yard in search of the lowest points. It falls so hard and so fast that it pools everywhere, like a watery traffic jam of drivers with nowhere to go. There are no sounds of frustrated drivers blaring their car horns, however, in this kind of traffic jam. Only the steady hum of rain like a thousand idling car engines.

It’s a soothing sound. Something that fades into the background after the worst of the storm passes by, after the wind calms again and the thunder peters out to nothing. The rain slows until its just a trickling, just a pitter-pattering of the last stragglers from the storm cloud overhead.

And then, it’s over.

The clouds roll somewhere else, and the sun returns to cast a glittery shine all over. Everything smells like petrichor, that specific after-storm smell of rain mingling with the dirt, soaking in deep to reach underground roots. There are mud puddles still lingering, the kind that kids love to stomp around in when their parents aren’t looking.

Soon, the heat will return in full force. The land will dry out once more. But for a while, the plants will look a little greener. For a while, the world looks a bit rejuvenated. And for a brief moment, you took the chance to sit and enjoy nature.

It was just a simple summer thunderstorm – just a regular part of nature’s routine this time of year – but even so, you still look forward to when the next one pops up on the horizon.

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at or 252-332-7206.