Monday, June 01, 2009

Great Balls o' Fire

I am not a fan of thunderstorms. I assure you that part of the reason is my childhood upbringing. An Okie kid who grew up in a home that had no basement, no cellar of its own. In fact, no basements whatsoever in the neighborhood, and only 2 cellars within running distance of our house. Picture a young child, on several occasions, being awakened from a peaceful slumber, hauled into the living room, a raincoat thrust over her shoulders and pushed out the door into the wind and rain with the instructions, "Run, Trish, run!" And into the dark of night, of lightning flashes and thunder, I would run! Terrified! I was more often than not first of us five kids to arrive in a neighbor's cellar during a tornado warning.

Fastforward to adulthood: I still get a little undone by storms. Husband Paul told me years ago not to teach our toddlers fear. So during tornado watches, I would make the pretense that our basement needed cleaning. Lots and lots of cleaning. (Note: As an adult I have always managed to live in a home with a basement.) And on the few occasions when we would be under a tornado warning, and would have our own neighbors running over to seek shelter in our basement, I covered my fear well by serving ice cream and cookies in the basement.

What is it exactly, that bothers me so such about thunderstorms?

Well, no doubt the aforementioned post-childhood traumatic stress. Lightning is a real danger that I have experienced a few times: a box fan smelling like electrical fire after a strike. Sitting in a room that lit up with the most brilliant light I have ever experienced accompanied simultaneously by a HUGE bang. (Again, the electrical fire smell, one computer, one phone system, one router and one light bulb all burned out.) That one was too close - and the storm had passed minutes before.

When does the thought of lightning NOT bother me? When flying. Today I am reading reports of the plane going down on a flight from the coastline of Brazil. Some reports are blaming a lightning strike. So now we can expect a flurry of press regarding lightning and passengers all the world over are going to panic if their flight goes through a storm.

If lightning is the reason for the Airbus going down, it will be a rare instance indeed. Yes, lightning regularly strikes airplanes. In the 80s, NASA flew a jet into 1400 thunderstorms during which lightning hit it more than 700 times. Lightning did not damage the airplane. And there is only one record of an American airplane being downed by lightning, (Pan Am, in 1963), and that was because the lightning caused a spark that ignited fuel vapor in a tank and that caused an explosion. 46 years later, modern planes are built so that sparks will not ignite fuel tanks.

So, allay your anxieties about flying and lightning. But the subject of "tornado on the ground and heading your way", well, now... that's a whole 'nother ballgame...


xpda said...

As the last of the five kids into the cellar, I'd like to point out that while lightning doesn't kill airplanes, thunderstorms do. Next time you have the urge to fly through a thunderstorm, get one of these

twebsterarmstrong said...

XPDA (brother Bob) used to make my mother CRAZY in his nonchalance during tornado warnings. One time, he insisted on finishing his bath before heading across the street to the neighbor's cellar.

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