Gauls! We have nothing to fear; except perhaps that the sky may fall on our heads tomorrow. But as we all know, tomorrow never comes!
– Asterix The Gaul
She’s not happy…
It almost seems like the earth is kicking back. A huge thunderstorm has settled and grown over the skies of the city. It’s exploding out there as I write. I went outside to watch it, in lieu of sleep, and I’m so glad I did. It makes me think of what it might have been for the first billion years or so in the life of Earth, when massive multi-cell thunderstorms ravaged the atmosphere. For as little we know about the complexities of meteorological science, we do know that it’s a lot calmer now than it ever has been.
Still, the amount of energy released in an average thunderstorm is not to be sniffed at. In any given thunderstorm, the amount of energy released is 10,000,000 kilowatt-hours, thats the equivalent of a 20 kiloton warhead. Using the ubiquitous comparison of the Hiroshima bomb brings the average thunderstorm to one and half times the power of the ‘Little Boy’ (the title of the disgusting contraption, in case you were wondering). Per thunderstorm. That’s enough energy to keep a city the size of Rockford flush with power for two months.
Standing outside, watching millions of volts pass from cloud to cloud, then cloud to ground, I reminded myself that as beautiful as it is, the temperature of each bolt of lightening is hotter than the surface of the sun. I was also getting drenched out there, but of course I would. One inch of rain on the ground translates to water contained in one square mile of cloud (5,280 x 5,280 feet) at a mass of 1.4 billion pounds. Think about that next time you see those behemoths looming overhead. Why do they not fall from the sky? The surrounding dryer air is more dense, at about 2.2 billion pounds per square mile. What is less dense, rises.
I am listening to literally millions of tons of water, some rising with the warm air, some falling as they peak in the atmosphere, and the corresponding smacking together of these fronts is causing the lightening. The thunder is the magnificent sound of the lightening ‘bolt’ expanding the air within and around it, giving us the ‘crack’ of thunder, or the characteristic rumblings, in ancient times attributed to mythological Gods beating the hell out of each other. I preferred my mothers explanation, that God was breaking wind extremely loudly. Her wry humor cleverly dissipated my anxiety as effectively as the thunderstorm will scatter humidity.
I never feel more alive than at the time of a thunderstorm. The knowledge of what’s going on humbles my human arrogance of supposed control, and yet I perceive of a timelessness to the incredible sounds and sights of this phenomena. This has gone on for long before my life began, and will continue long after I’m gone. How fortunate I am to have witnessed this truly awesome natural power.
I just hope those millions of tons of water don’t make their way into the bookshop again.
POSTSCRIPT: I would have posted this earlier but the damn lightening knocked out the power. And I gave it such good reviews! So ungrateful.
UPDATE: It did flood the bookstore, but not too badly. Five inches in 90 minutes, flooded out about 9 thousand people. The dam is nearing its limit. The rain has stopped for now, but another storm is apparently on its way.