We moved to a farm in Republic County, Kansas, near the small town of Kackley the spring after we lived in Texas. Severe thunderstorms in Kansas are common occurrences that time of year. The clouds rise 40,000 feet and form what is called an anvil. Sometimes when the clouds come closer to the ground, they turn a dark greenish gray and lightning can be seen for a long time before the storm arrives.
I learned to estimate the distance to the lighting strike by counting seconds between the flash and the sound of thunder. Sound travels about one mile a second so one-second between flash and sound is one mile. Of course, that only works if there is just one lightning bolt. When they come close in sequence, and they very often do in Kansas, it was hard to tell which one I saw first.
Sheet lightning reminded me of clouds being spotted with anti-aircraft beacons in Los Angeles during the war. The cloud to cloud lightning strikes sometimes happened so often that they gave enough continuous light for us to find our way to the outhouse. I wondered what would happen if the outhouse got hit by a lightning bolt if I was inside.
Many times it did not rain during a thunder storm but the wind would swirl and change from hot to cold blasts. When clouds were low and blackish green, local radio stations issued tornado watches or warnings and the birds got silent. I wondered what we would do if one of the tornados we saw in the distance came our way. We didn’t have a storm shelter.
One night a tornado passed very, very close to our house. I still remember the roar. Some people have described the sound as like being within a few feet of a speeding train. I had not been that close to a fast moving train, but now the description sounds like what I remember.
It was hot and humid so the windows in the house were open. The vacuum caused by the twister pulled curtains from the windows and the top sheets from the bed where we boys were sleeping. We didn’t find them until morning. They were tangled in the twisted and broken trees in the windbreak about 50 feet from the house. The house was not damaged but the wheat field on the other side of the windbreak was flattened.
I found out later that having the windows open during a tornado is a good thing. The difference in atmospheric pressure inside and outside can cause windows to break and walls explode.