Talkin' Outdoors

Sitting at the keyboard working on this column, I hear the thunder, see lightning flashing, watch the trees whipping back and forth and hear heavy rain on the window outside my office. A typical spring storm is raging across north Louisiana and on the one hand, it’s comforting. On the other, unsettling.

This is the season when our part of the country often experiences such thunderstorms. Come August, we’ll be praying for some of this wonderful rain but for the here and now, we’re satisfied.

As welcomed as springtime rain is, these episodes are often accompanied by weather that can be frightening and downright dangerous.

WIND – I have several big pines in my yard and on a few occasions in the past, some have been toppled or snapped off by heavy gusts that often accompany thunderstorms. Thankfully, the ones within reach of my house have remained intact but there is never a storm with high winds that don’t cause me to lose a little more hair.

As destructive as straight-line winds can be, tornadoes do the most damage by far. All you have to do is recall what you saw when several communities in Arkansas were in the bull’s eye of tornadoes a month of so ago. The area looks like it was bombed.

FLOOD – Once every few years, we see on the news footage of the devastation that flood can cause. Around here, the carnage is not usually as bad as in areas along major rivers and lakes that can swell to the point of virtually wiping out communities.

It has happened here. I remember the big flood in north Louisiana in 1991 when Lake D’Arbonne crept up almost to the roof lines of homes around the lake. I recall paddling out to what was left of my in-laws home next to the lake and the sobering sight of water up to the top of the windows still troubles me.

LIGHTNING – Perhaps the most terrifying weather event that can take place all happens in less than a second. When a lightning bolt hits an object, the effect is indescribable. I watched a video clip this week of a bolt striking a tree and the tree virtually exploded.

Here’s why that happens, according to sites I explored on the internet. A bolt of lightning has the diameter of less than an inch, although the brilliance of the bolt appears much larger.

The temperature inside a lightning strike may reach 50,000 degrees and produce over 100 million volts.

When a tree is struck by a lightning bolt, the sap inside the tree reaches the boiling point instantly, expands and sends bark and strips of wood flying. I photographed a tree at Lincoln Parish Park last year that had experienced a direct hit from lightning. Bark and wood were flung out from the tree, leaving a big gash in the trunk that eventually killed the oak. When you think that this all took place in less than a second, it’s almost more than the mind can wrap around.

What does all this mean to the outdoorsman? If ever there is a time to keep an eye on the sky, it’s when a thunder storm is approaching. The obvious course of action is to take shelter before the event occurs. Straight-line winds, tornadoes, flooding rains that can swell a stream to a raging torrent in minutes, and lightning are all forces of nature we need to maintain a healthy respect for and we need to do what is necessary to make sure we’re not victimized by some of the very things we admire and respect so much.

The outdoors is a fun place to be but we should never take Mother Nature for granted, especially when skies darken, winds howl, lightning flashes and booming thunder rattles the windows.