Monday, June 21, 2010

Watching the Clouds Go By

As you can see our town sits on the wide open prairie. It amazes me that there are air currents that run across this open space but there are. As we walk down off the hill toward the corrals hill we reach a point at the bottom where we often step into a refrigerator. Well, it feels that way. But really its an area where a wind current blows through and though there no visual change in the landscape, the temperature at times drops dramatically for approximately fifteen feet. Not every day mind you but when the weather is changing. The same things happens on the 45 minute drive to the next town. Along the way we know where the road is most likely to have icy spots or low cloud cover and we slow down if the day hints that the stretch might not be clear. Some has to do with elevation changes such as the bottom of the hill others on areas on the open prairie and who knows why? The open plains does give view to some spectacular skies. Sunrises and sunsets fill the sky line for miles. My favorite sunrises are in the fall, sunsets in the summer. This unobstructed screen lends us a wonderful scene of clouds as they form and storms collide.

With nothing to block the wind we get our share of it and then some. It feels pretty nice on a hot day in the summer but winter winds carry a real bite that works its way inside your clothes chilling you to the bone. And the clouds sometimes in layers get to racing in opposite directions at times.

It isn't the winter clouds that have the most interesting shapes as they are flat and grey but the summer ones that demanding a command performance. It's the warmer weather that develops them like this thunderhead just back of our house.
It's not only the clouds we watch but lighting. Two nights ago we had three storm systems moving around us. One to the southeast, another separate system to the southwest, and a third to the north east. Lighting flashed in each of them in turns which made for a pretty site. But what I want to capture on digital this summer is the sheet lightning where the whole sky is lit up with multiple rods. What a majestic picture of nature. July and August are its months to perform. This will keep the fireman busy as the winds fans the flames started by the lightening.
One time I remember we were at state fair when a fire lit on a friends ranch. going The wind blew at 60 miles an hour leaving the firetrucks bouncing crazily across the prairie in an effort to outrace the flames. The fire was whipped into such a frenzy that it didn't even have time to stop long enough to dine on the wood fence posts, instead just left them smudged. This is when the local ranchers with county fire rigs stored inside barns turn out, often the first at the scene to try and thwart the flames before they get too big a head start.

We've had lightening strike by our house a number of times, talk about shake the ground and bust your ear drums. One time we were saying family prayers and had just said Amen when it struck the light pole in the front yard. Our two girls started to scream for just as they opened their eyes the room was filled with light, the the whole house shook, and a deafening sound sent us scrambling to cover our ears.
But what we really watch for is the cotton ball look on the bottom of the clouds. These puppies produce tornadoes. This one Saturday was harmless as the cloud wasn't big enough to do anything. There might of been three different storm systems but they were playing nicely by themselves. What we scan the skies for frequently in the summer afternoons is two systems headed on a crash course. An aqua green is a bad color for clouds when it stretches across the sky for lots of times that's another indicator of a tornado.
We've seen lots of them, little ones that touch down upon the open prairie. One such beast our kids were out racing in a tiny little Geo car, the pedal pressed hard against the floor boards as our son's large frame in the back seat caused it to sway back and forth as he kept watch the tornadoes progress and scanned the sky around them to see if others were forming. Since it was crossing the highway they needed to just get out of the way. Behind them police cars were screeching across the highway blocking it to traffic.

Five years or so ago a tornado swept through our town's trailer park, (What makes tornadoes love trailer parks?) and damaged 90 some homes. Some trailer homes they never did find anything they could recognize as belonging to it.
Where was I and our oldest daughter? The governor of Wyoming asked me that. In the basement of course. I told him since our oldest daughter and I had been watching the clouds for some time. We didn't actually see the tornado coming but we did see the very aqua green sky and the clouds a whirling with the puffy cotton bottoms and headed for cover.

After it passed it left the air cold, almost freezing. That's what causes them, a battle between cold and warm fronts.So if you asked what do we do in the summer time? I'd have to answer watching as the clouds go by. For if there is a storm brewing, we aren't laxed about waiting for the sirens to sound. I prefer an early warning system, knowlege. So if I act like I've got a crink in my neck, I probably do from tipping my head back frequently to check out the clouds as they form on the horizon and swirl over head.
So the next time you see those thunderheads a moving in, keep an eye out for their bottoms. Smooth and flat no sweat but bumpy like these then you'd better be looking to see how big the cloud is and if another system is on a crash course with it.

If you are passing through our area be aware if the radio starts blaring a warning and know the difference between a tornado watch (conditions are right) and a tornado warning (one or more tornados have been sited).

Don't worry, it's just summer weather but do educate yourselves so that fear doesn't ruin a good time and you can keep yourself safe.

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