Thursday, August 04, 2005

Light Show

One of the nice things about living in Celebration is that you can run over to Disney World just about any night to catch a fireworks show. There's no need to wait until the Fourth of July...every night of the week, weather permitting, Disney-MGM has Fantasmic, while Epcot has Illuminations, and the Magic Kingdom has Wishes.

But this week there's been no need to go to Disney World. Every night, there's a light show right here in town, courtesy of Mother Nature. Granted, the only color is white, and the flashes don't come in fancy shapes like smiley faces or Mickey ears. Still, it's quite impressive (and intimidating) reminds me of why Florida is known as the Lightning Capital of the United States.

Often, the summer storms come in the afternoon. But this week, they've been coming later, which means greater visibility of the crackling bolts of electricity in the sky, punctuated by rumbles of thunder. Today, they started rolling in just before sunset. I took the cats out for a brief stroll in the front yard and watched in fascination as the last remnants of the powder blue sky were taken over by intimidating black clouds. They rolled in from the preserve area across the street, with vicious lightning bolts flashing uncomfortably close by. I quickly gathered up the belligerent kitties and herded them into the house.

The light show has continued throughout the evening, although the only rain so far has been a light spit. There is heavy rain in other areas, so the monsoon will probably be coming to us soon.

When the weather is like this, the news is usually peppered with tales of lightning strikes and house fires. That always makes me nervous; I know how easily lightning can strike a home and how damaging it can be. Our condo in Chicago took a hit while we were on vacation a few years back. Thankfully, it didn't start a fire, but it destroyed many of our electronic devices.

Here in Florida, we plan to add power surge protection as soon as we get the line run for our new spa. Progress Energy offers a protective service for a convenient monthly fee. Some people have lightning rods, too, but I lost faith in those after a news report a month or two ago. It showed a home with a roof peppered with lightning errant bolt struck it dead on, neatly avoiding the rods and starting a fire in the attic. I guess if you're meant to take a strike, nothing is going to help you.

The Midwest has occasional lightning displays, but they pale by comparison to the Sunshine State. I did witness a lightning strike once, albeit indirectly. I was in my apartment with the front door open when I suddenly saw a blinding flash, punctuated by an explosive sound. Turns out a tree up the block had been struck. I ran out with my neighbors to gawk at the smoking trunk. Fortunately, no one was injured, and it didn't damage any homes.

Flying back and forth between Chicago and Florida frequently last summer, I learned that it's not at all uncommon for the afternoon thunderstorms to shut down Orlando International Airport. When there's lightning in the vicinity, it's not safe for the baggage handlers and other personnel to be out on the tarmac. Thus, outgoing planes stay at the gates, and incoming aircraft must sit on the ground while impatient passengers mill around inside, anxious to deplane and begin their vacations.

As I type this, I can hear the rainfall becoming more steady, and the lightshow continues unabated. I didn't hear the booms of Illuminations or Wishes tonight, drifting over from Disney World; the weather no doubt washed them out. But the tourists are still getting an impressive show, courtesy of Mother Nature...and they don't even have to pay an admission fee.

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