Thunderstorm Etiquette

This time of year it’s not uncommon to have late afternoon thunderstorms. Thankfully, these storms usually blow themselves out as quickly as they spring up. When I was a small child though, these storms terrified me.

During the time I’m referring to, we lived with my great grandparents for several years out in the country between the towns of Richfield and Gold Hill.
There were no streetlights. No neighbors houses visible from our windows. There were only trees in every direction until you got a quarter of a mile up the driveway. When these storms hit they usually happened at night so you couldn’t tell what was going on outside. It was black as pitch unless lightning briefly lit up the yard.
The roof of my grand grandparents house was tin and it would make horrific noises when the storm picked up. At 4 years old my imagination ran wild and in my mind’s eye I could see the wind peeling it off like a can lid and sucking us out into the air.

A storm this week that produced hail, damaging winds, a heavy downpour, and possibly a weak tornado.

During these storms my great grandmother adhered to certain rules. While the storm was raging outside, the TV was turned off and everyone was gathered in the living room. There was no raucous behavior or raised voices. Most of the time during these storms my great grandmother would just sit in her chair and read from her old bible until it passed. She was never scared, she was never alarmed.
Once the storm had passed, we would evacuate the room and get back to whatever we were doing. Watching tv, eating dinner, playing with toys.

I never really thought much about that practice and had almost forgotten it until a storm this week blew through and I got trapped under an overpass waiting on the hail to stop. As I was sitting there watching the marbles fall from the heavens and bounce off the road, my mind decided to take me back to those years.

I don’t know why my great grandmother did what she did. I don’t know the belief behind it because I never thought to ask. I also have never heard of anyone else’s family observing this “thunderstorm etiquette” either.

My great grandmother was a Christian woman who had been raised in a “Missionary Baptist” home with parents who discouraged things like playing cards and reading comics in the newspapers, regarding them as unprofitable or downright sinful. I can only assume that my great grandmother’s practice of being quiet and still during storm must have come from them as well. Maybe as a display of reverence or respect to the one who “rides upon” the weather. Like Job laying his hand over his mouth when the Lord spoke to him from the storm.
Perhaps it was practical as well though. My great grandmother was born during the depression and spent her early years probably close to poverty with her parents and her numerous brothers and sisters in rural Rowan county. Back then there was no weather radio, no cell phone alerts for tornados. Probably not even a fire house siren the town where they lived could crank.
Turning off appliances or unplugging them could be to spare them destruction if lightning were to “run in”.
During a dangerous storm, gathering together the family in one place would have been a sure way to know everyone was safe and accounted for. Being quiet during a storm would be a good way to listen and be attentive to what was going on outside. They didn’t have a TV or radio when she was a child, but probably later in life when they did, they would turn them off just like my great grandmother did when I was a “youngin” at her house.

There are many things I wish I had asked my great grandmother before she passed on, but when you’re a kid you just don’t think to. It’s only later you realize the opportunities you missed.

I did some internet sleuthing to see if anyone else’s family ever acted like this and didn’t find much, but it seems the even though the practice isn’t very notable, it wasn’t confined to one skin color or state.

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Published by Abandoned NC

I went back to my old home and the furrow of each year plowed like surf across the place had not washed memory away. -A. R. Ammons

2 thoughts on “Thunderstorm Etiquette

  1. I grew in eastern North Carolina during the late fifties and sixties. What you have written about was common practice especially in the rural area that I grew up in. Thanks for sharing this article it brought back childhood memories.

  2. I googled “old superstitions- being quiet during a storm” and found your article. A memory if my mom doing the exact thing you described in your article came to mind during a storm that’s popping up currently. I was wondering if there is some old wise tale maybe out there to explain it. I’m in Virginia and my mom was raised by her grandparents who were alive and lived on farms during the great depression, they were also baptists. It might just be an old country custom related to living in hard times and religion. My mom would tell me not to be loud or yell during storms with such an urgency almost as if it could make them worse. Very glad I found your article and know I’m not alone in this interesting memory.

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