Chapter Twenty: Stay Away from Windows

NOTE: "Semi-Rough: A North Country Journal," is now available as a complete book, that includes these on-line essays and more. If you'd like a free pdf to download to your computer, send me a note at and I'll email you a copy.

Friday 15 July 2005 - "All day yesterday, the Weather Channel had all of New Hampshire colored red for severe thunderstorms. There had been a couple radio weather alerts during the day for areas north and south of us, but our sky never even looked like rain. It was a surprise, therefore, when around 2100 we started seeing lightning flashes both southwest and north of us. There was some very impressive cloud to cloud lightning for awhile, and lots of general flashes in the clouds. We closed up everything and hunkered down for a big storm, but the real weather stayed north and south of us. There were a couple lightning strikes relatively close, but no wind and very little rain. Everything had moved past us by 2230. Precipitation 0.054". It cleared overnight, and the day was blue and calm, with low humidity. Low 54.3F, high 82.6F. Not a lot of bugs, but deerflies obnoxious. Only a few fireflies."


Whenever the National Weather Service interrupts the radio programming to warn of the approach of a severe storm, the computerized "weatherman" voice always recommends that we stay indoors and away from windows. Good advice. Only problem for us is that it is impossible to stay away from windows. Our one-room Camp measures 16 feet wide by 23 feet long, and over half of the total wall space is taken up by windows and doors. About the farthest we can stay away from a window is 8 feet -- well, maybe 16 feet if we huddled tight against a wall between two windows. No matter; neither gives us much leeway to escape from severe winds or close lightning.

So, what do we do? Sally - who is not afraid of thunder, but who has a strong visceral reaction to sudden noises - usually puts in ear plugs, dons a sleep mask (so that the lightning flashes don't tell her to anticipate the thunder that she can't hear because of the ear plugs), lays on the bed, and often goes to sleep. I -- who never was afraid of storms until we had our "tornado" (that's another weather story I'll tell some time) -- get the big outside door closed, make sure all the windows are as firmly latched as possible, then hunker down in my chair as far away from windows as I can get, and wait for the weather to go by. Thankfully, our storms are usually fast movers, and life normally only stops for an hour or so. Then the windows and door are opened, and we go back to whatever we were doing (or not doing) when the storm struck.

There really isn't much to worry about. Camp has stood since 1927, and as far as we know it has never been struck by lightning or suffered severe damage from wind, rain, or hail. (Deep snows did crack the roof beams one severe winter.) Although we have regular thunderstorms, most summers go by with no tornado watches and only occasional severe weather warnings that stay in effect for more than an hour or so. The summer weather south of the White Mountains -- "below the notches" -- is almost always worse than in the North Country. Having pointed that out to you, I have to admit to at least a little anxiety every time the skies above our field blacken, the winds start to blow, and the rain begins to pound on our aluminum roof. It is always a palpable relief when the last thunder claps fade over beyond the Mahoosucs, the rain lets up, and the skies begin to clear to daytime sun or night-time stars.

I think the weather unease -- unwarranted as history has proven it to be -- comes in part just because we really have no place to go and nothing reasonable to do when severe conditions develop. Our life on the Hill is different in all respects from what the pioneers of the 19th and early 20th centuries experienced -- in all respects, that is, but one. Like them, the weather is just something we have to take as it comes. If it is hot and humid, we can't do much but slow down and occasionally douse our hands and faces with cold spring water. When it's very cold, our only recourse is to wear more clothes and sit closer to the wood stove. When the wind whips down our field and we hear trees falling in the forest, we just stay out of the woods until it stops. And when the thunder rolls and the lightning flashes? Well, we try to stay away from windows.

* * *

Having expressed my trepidations about some of our weather, I have to admit that some of our scary, exciting times has been memorable in a good way (although, sometimes only "good" well after the fact, not during it). Here are a few examples.

18 June 1994 - "It turned out to be quite a night. At about 2100 a wind came whipping down the field like a freight train. It only lasted a few minutes, but forced us to close the north-facing windows for awhile. From about 2200 to almost 0300 (when I went to sleep), the lightning flashes were almost constant. Most were far off and we didn’t see the actual lightning bolts or hear more than dull background thunder, but it was still impressive. Starting about 0210 and going until 0225, our skies were constant lightning/thunder, with two strikes obviously somewhere close on the Hill. The main storm seemed to be out over the Androscoggin, but the flashes were everywhere. I went outside about 0300 and our skies were starry directly overhead, but the flashing was still going on all around us.

"The firefly show at 0300 was also amazing. With the flashes in the sky all around, the firefly flashes seem to burst like little bombs. They would be dully glowing, then suddenly explode in a really bright flash. They were all over in the trees."

Tuesday 30 June 1998 - "Ppt. from the 1900 rain last night was 0.04”. Later, we had quite a 'light and sound show' that went on for a couple hours, but it was far to the north and east of us and we didn’t get any rain from it. We had two 'low' temperatures today - it was 61.2F overnight, went up to a high of 72.9F, back down to 55.8F mid-afternoon in a pretty wild thunderstorm, then stabilized in the 60s through the late afternoon and evening.

"The storm was impressive. The Maine weatherman had said that there was 'a wall of water' moving north from PA, CT and MA. That’s what we got - over an inch of rain in less than a hour, at least three lightning strikes within a couple miles of us, and then lighter rain and more distant rumbling thunder for another hour or so. After that, gray skies but no more rain before dark."

Tuesday 27 July 1999 - "Just after sundown, we had a wonderful thunderhead far to the north. It was the tallest we’ve seen this year, and the top third was lit up with the orange afterglow. We couldn’t see any lightning in it, but it certainly looked like it would be capable of generating something. I tried a few photos - hope some turn out." (They didn't.)

"About 2145 Sally got into bed to read for awhile. She called my attention to one giant black cloud far to the northeast. For close to an hour, it gave us one of the most amazing pyrotechnic displays I’ve ever seen. We didn’t hear any sound (and all the skies around us were perfectly clear), but the display went on and on. Sometimes the entire cloud would explode into light; sometimes there were lightning bolts we could actually see, usually going horizontally across the cloud, not vertically. The spectacular part was that it just kept going, with only seconds between each burst, and sometimes several bursts occurring simultaneously. It was wonderful to be able to see it without being part of it!"

Tuesday 10 July 2001 - "We had a wave of electrical activity after dark (nothing close), then more rain later in the night. Ppt. 0.15”. There was a little fog early, then partially blue skies for awhile. It clouded up quickly, and our first round of thunderstorms started by noon. After that, there was very little time before 1800 when it wasn’t raining, hailing, thundering, or about to do one or more of the above.

"The first wave was pretty vigorous electrically, but most of it missed us to the north and south. There was only one close lightning blast. The second wave gave us a direct hit, with at least four strikes within a mile or so of us. There wasn’t a lot of wind, but the hail was the biggest I’ve ever seen - not quite golf ball size, but a half-hour after it fell, there were still pieces on the lawn that were over an inch across. It fell profusely for five minutes or so, and the sound on the metal roof and in the trees, off the rocks, etc., was fantastic. The ricochets were like rifle shots. Many leaves were knocked off trees.

"There was a third wave about 1700. It didn’t last as long as the first two, but one lightning blast was closer to us that any of the previous ones. There was almost no time between the flash and the boom. It was almost clear to the west by 1800, and stayed that way until nightfall. Low 52.3F, high 73.9F. Not many bugs, but the deerflies were aggressive."

Monday 11 July 2005 -"There was no suggestion from weather forecasters or from the Weather Channel satellite pictures that there was even the possibility of a thunderstorm in New Hampshire. Therefore, it was quite a surprise when the cumuli began boiling up and we heard thunder at 2145 last night. It apparently came from the north. Until 2300 the lightning flashes were nonstop, there was torrential rain, and some very strong wind. We didn’t have any close lightning strikes, but it was scary with the wind and rain noise along with the thunder. It had mostly cleared by daylight. Precipitation 0.889”. The morning was clear and breezy, and stayed that way all day, with just passing clouds. Low 58.8F, high 81F. Deerflies bad, some mosquitoes. Only a few fireflies."

Wednesday 2 August 2006 – "We started seeing lightning flashes to the northwest as soon as it was dark. The flashing continued for over an hour but was too far away to hear thunder. Finally, we got a radio weather alert that talked about severe storms in a line from north of Groveton to Coburn Gore in Maine. The alert was supposed to last until about 2330. The action came closer and closer to us, but was obviously moving across to the north of us. Although the flashes got brighter and closer and we finally started to hear thunder, it looked like another near miss. Just about the time the alert expired, we started seeing new flashes to the west, and about midnight we got a new alert covering all of southern Coos County. From midnight on, the lightning around us was nearly constant, and there was some strong wind and spurts of heavy but fairly brief rain. It was about 0200 when the storm was closest over us. It lessened after that, then around 0600 we got another electrical wave. It was overcast but not raining at 0800. Precipitation 0.64”."

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