If you grew up in North Carolina in the fifties like I did, you remember what life was like before air conditioners. Sometime in late fifties or early sixties we got a single room air conditioner for our living room. There were nights so warm I slept on the sofa in that room.
Mostly we went about our lives and seemed to survive the heat without any lasting scars. Still most of us will admit that we looked forward to a good afternoon thunderstorm. I can still remember sitting on my mother's porch and watching a storm roll along the slopes of the mountains.
Her home at 347 West Pine St. in Mount Airy, North Carolina seemed to be up high enough that you could see the storms coming. I often sat on the porch during some amazing storms. I was probably out there long after I should have gone inside, but a real thunderstorm is an awesome thing and hard to resist.
A proper thunderstorm, especially one working around the foothills or mountains can temporarily break the heat. Sometimes if the thunderstorm comes late in the evening, it will cool the air enough for a pleasant night of sleep.
If you live on the North Carolina coast like I do, you are no stranger to thunderstorms. While they will cool the air on the coast, the impact is not as noticeable as it is in the mountains or rolling hills of the Piedmont.
Here on the coast we can see the thunderstorms coming from miles away. Sometimes we are out fishing in our boats and will have to race a front home to keep from being caught in a storm.
We seem to get more thunderstorms at night here on the coast than we did in the mountains. Maybe that is because heat is slow to dissipate down here. Whatever the reason, it is not unusual to have a lightning show at 3AM. It is hard to appreciate a thunderstorm when you are trying to grab some sleep.
While thunderstorms can be seen from a long distance here on the coastal plains, they are a little more unpredictable. When we lived in the Roanoke Valley of Virginia, we knew that a storm coming over Bent Mountain would be particularly bad. Sometimes the thunderstorms would just circle the mountains that surround Roanoke. Here on North Carolina's Southern Outer Banks storms can roll in from the ocean, drop in from the north or west with a front or come at us from the Croatan National Forest.
We stay vigilant and I keep the Radar Now app on my smartphone. Normal summer weather on the coast is a 30% risk of afternoon thunderstorms. Most fishermen try to leave early and be back at the dock by 10:30 AM to avoid the almost inevitable afternoon storms. If we see a line of storms on the horizon, we hightail it for home. Rarely do we fish a place that is more than twenty minutes from our dock so usually we have no problems.
There are exceptions. Once we were fishing Bogue Inlet between Bear Island and the Point at Emerald Isle. Our dock just off the White Oak River is about twenty minutes away from that spot. We saw a big front serious clouds on the horizon a little earlier than we expected. Just as we were pulling anchor and getting ready to run for home, the Coast Guard came up and asked us if they could use us for a training exercise. They had inspected us the day before and knew we were fine but they had some new cadets on board and thought we would be a good test. We had little choice but to "volunteer." The inspection took about fifteen minutes and we barely made it home. Our dock is twenty-five from the garage. Just after we got out of the boat and ran into our garage the skies opened up with buckets of rain.
Most of the time I get to enjoy our afternoon thunderstorms from my perch on our front porch. I guess I think thunderstorms are guilty pleasures because I know thunderstorms can cause serious damage and they are dangerous if you are caught out in one. Still I enjoy watching their power and feeling the heat dissipate even if it is only for a few minutes.
I have been lucky with storms. I was caught once while hiking my favorite spot, the Point at Emerald Isle. I saw the storm with lightning working its way towards the Point from Bear Island. I put my ever present camera in a plastic bag and headed as quickly as possible for the car. I was in the middle of a two mile hike so it took a while. I got wet but fortunately the thunder and lightning did not make it to our side of the inlet.
I recently told some boys that they had to leave the neighborhood pool. We were in the midst of a serious thunderstorm with plenty of lightning. They seemed oblivious to the danger.
Maybe they need to sit on a porch and watch the awesome power of a thunderstorm a few times. I have seen enough to know that being in a pool, out on the open water, or near a tall pine tree is a recipe for disaster. I have seen plenty of trees split by lightning over the years. Unfortunately many of today's children spend more time playing video games than trying to understand the power of nature.