Thunderstorms and Pole Barns

Amanda and I love thunderstorms. Always have. We love them even more now that we live in a pole barn.


Of course, we might feel completely differently if someone close to us had suffered terribly in a thunderstorm, for example by being one of the thousand or so people each year who are struck by lightning. But so far, thunderstorms bring relief from the summer heat and revive pleasant memories of childhood for both of us.

We were hard at work on Saturday, knowing that an afternoon shower was likely and that we each had tasks we wanted to complete before it arrived. Amanda was working to get her Cherokee Purple heirloom tomato seedlings in the ground; I wanted to get the last transport line in the irrigation system installed. Both of us had our heads down as we raced against the clock. We heard the distant rumbling announce that a thunderstorm was approaching, but we kept at it. Only when we could see the flash of close lightning and the immediate clap of its thunder did we retreat to the barn.

A pole barn is a great place to be in a thunderstorm. First, of course, it shelters you from the pelting rain. But any building with a good roof could do that. The pole barn allows you to experience the storm. There are no walls, so you can see the storm clearly; and storms are beautiful, so that’s a good thing. In Alabama, thunderstorms usually bring stiff winds. Even while sheltered from the rain you can feel tiny droplets drifting in with the wind, and on a hot, summer day there’s nothing more delightful than that cooling mist. It’s not unusual for the temperature to drop 10-12 degrees within five minutes during a rollicking good southern thunderstorm.

And then there’s that roof. We have 5,000 square feet of sheet metal, so we hear immediately when it begins even to mist. When we get the hard rain of a thunderstorm, the roof actually roars. As Amanda points out, there’s something curiously comforting about being sheltered from the rain while hearing it hit that metal roof.

This is so typical of the woman I love. When she read this, it became important to her that you know we don’t actually live in the open pole barn. Our home is an apartment under the roof, absurdly well insulated on all sides and the ceiling. So that roar that’s so pervasive when you’re standing in the open air is more distant, and quieter, when we’re closed up in the apartment.

And if you’re like me, you’re probably asking yourself about whether there’s a risk involved in putting all that metal out in the middle of an electrical storm. The answer is yes. Our solution is a bristling lightning protection system designed to carry any charge immediately to ground plates on all four corners of the barn. We may never know if it has helped, but both of us are happy that it’s in place.

The thunderstorm in this video gave us .43″ of rain. The one the next day brought 1.58″, but we missed it because we were in Montgomery visiting with Amanda’s Mom. Oh well . . .

5 thoughts on “Thunderstorms and Pole Barns”

  1. I don’t know when my grandparents’ house near Robinson Springs was built, probably in the 1910s or 1920s. It had a porch on three sides, and at some point its roof was overlaid with “tin” (actually galvanized corrugated steel sheets). During the summer gully-washers I would sit on the porch, listen to the rain hitting the steel, and watch a curtain of water drop onto the ground.

    More exciting: the house had a 30-foot TV antenna mast at the peak of the roof, and the incoming telephone and electricity wiring was aerial that ran for miles through cow pasture. Lightning strikes were common… my grandmother would always warn us to stay away from the telephone inside because it would “spit fire”.

    One night I remember a particularly heavy storm. I turned on the TV to catch Ralph Williams on WSFA saying, “If you’re within the range of this station, it’s raining.” For some reason I’ve always remembered that.

    By the 1980s, acid rain had destroyed the tin roof. A cousin of mine borrowed a lot of money to remodel the house completely. He did a splendid job, but then he ran into financial difficulty and had to sell the house.

  2. Thanks Chuck,

    That’s a particularly scary image: a telephone that “spits fire.” Hmmm. Amanda and I both remember Ralph Williams too. I’m sorry things didn’t work out for your cousin.

  3. Sometime in the 1970s, South Central Bell installed an underground cable and removed their poles and aerial cable. Besides lightning damage and falling trees, they probably got tired of people plinking the aerial cable with .22’s. Those glass insulators were nice targets for young marksmen.

    As for WSFA: Hines Walters, Phil Snow, Carl Stephens, Charles Caton, Bob Gambacurta… and there was a woman who hosted live remotes from the second floor of the Montgomery Fair in Eastbrook… her first name was Ida, perhaps Ida Brooks?

  4. This is so cool. You posted this comment at 7:13 pm. Probably at about that very same time, Amanda and I were talking with her REL classmate Susan Furr Powers and her husband Keith (not a Montgomery native) at Our Place in Wetumpka about Cartoon Carl, Captain Zoomar, and the person you’re remembering, Idelle Brooks. Our connection to her is primarily around our discovery when we were attending the University of Illinois that Idelle Brooks was the only female to portray Chief Illiniwek in the history of the University of Illinois. Having grown up in Montgomery at that time, we recognized her name instantly. Idelle Brooks was a student at the U of I during World War II. Because there was a shortage of male students, she was chosen to portray the honored Chief Illiniwek but did so as “Princess Illiniwek.” She weighed 90 pounds; the costume weighed 50.

    The U of I has since retired the mascot in the face of protests from Native American groups that it was offensive. In retrospect, I’m sure it was. In contrast to Florida State, which has been careful and attentive to honor and consult with the Seminole tribe in its use of their symbols, Chief Illiniwek was a hodgepodge of whatever worked for the athletic and band programs and “sorta looked Injun.” It’s painful to us alumni, but it probably was a sound decision.

  5. Some Georgia Tech alumni and faculty worry that the fight song Ramblin’ Wreck glorifies drinking, but I doubt it will change. An attempt in the 1990s to excise sexist lyrics did not succeed.

    Idelle! That was she, alright. It IS so cool that you knew the history. I wonder how she got from Illinois to Alabama. Google says she died in 2006. I was on the Captain Zoomar show on WCOV; Walter Bamberg died in 2008.

    There’s an excellent website, http://www.birminghamrewound.com … Country Boy Eddy, Joe Rumore, etc. Unfortunately no such website for Montgomery exists that I know of. Some of the WVOK material also applies to WBAM-AM (740) in Montgomery; the Brennan family owned those two stations plus WAPE in Jacksonville, Fla and WFLI in Chattanooga. All four were top-40 stations during our teen years. Can you imagine WBAM playing Dixie every night at signoff.

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