Thunder Only Happens When It’s Raining

By Joanne Celi

Last night there was a storm in Key West.  I was out to dinner with my husband and another couple. The 3 of them were chatting and laughing.  I was secretly counting the seconds between flash and boom.  My friend, Fred, and I texted about the storm.  It turns out he was by a window in someone else’s home nearby and saw a house get hit. Said it was like an explosion.

It got me thinking about my relationship with thunderstorms. When I was a kid, in the safety of my Brooklyn brownstone, I was not afraid of them. Aside from the fact that there were just too many connected buildings and apartments around for me to think we would be the ones struck, there was the comfort of adult reassurances and distractions.  The nuns told us it was just the sound of the angels bowling.  My mother, a lifelong insomniac, sat by the window watching the storm and told me to just pray for the sailors.  

As I became an adult and moved to my own apartment, there was still comfort in odds.  Over a hundred apartments in my building, an average of 2 people per apartment, 5 more buildings on the block…I’d have better odds of winning the lottery.

Then the time came when my husband and I bought a second home in what a Brooklynite would call “the country”. It was an old Victorian, surrounded by trees, with a swimming pool and, as if that weren’t enough water to attract lightning, it was right down the block from the bay.  I didn’t realize how much fear I had until the first bad storm.

It was the summer of 1997. We had company that weekend. There were 2 bedrooms on the second floor and a third-floor attic bedroom.  All rooms were filled.  I’ve never experienced a worse thunderstorm – not before and not since.  It seemed to be right over my house for a very long time.  My husband tried to calm me, but I could tell he was a little worried too.  There was no way to sleep because the room was lit up like Luna Park in Coney Island.  I remembered the movie ET and tried to count the seconds between lightning and thunder to see how close the storm was, and to see if it was moving away.  There were no seconds between the lightning and the screaming crash of thunder.  No time at all.

I finally couldn’t take it anymore and decided to go downstairs and turn on all the lights so I wouldn’t notice the lightning as much and I’d be further away from it.  I remember saying “those poor people upstairs”. Thinking I was the only one scared, I was shocked to see 3 of my guests in the hallway when I opened the door.  Everyone was freaking out.  Even the extremely pregnant but usually-calm, military-like woman who came down from the attic.  Her husband, a doctor, was screaming “Pam, don’t leave me up here alone!”.

We all survived that storm, but a house right around the corner was struck and burned down. After that night, I would never go to the Hamptons house alone for fear I’d be stuck in another storm like that.  Several years later, there was a pretty bad one, but turned out to be very short and no comparison to 1997.  But I was so panicked that I conveyed my fear to my 2 dogs.  They weren’t afraid before that day.  From then on, my Border Collie would run to the bathroom and lie in the tub during storms and fireworks.

Anyone ever hear of a Faraday’s cage? Cars and planes are essentially Faraday’s cages – they surround us by metal and protect us from lightning.  Next storm, I’m running into my car. For now, we are safe and sound and Key West is back to being Paradise.

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