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Schoolhouse Weather Warnings

By John Gould / August 27, 1993



THE radio meteorologist we listen to every morning, just for laughs, has had a thing going this summer about thundershowers. Every morning, he's been all for lightning, but we haven't had any. His frustration is evident, because lately he's resorted to "a chance of showers," and "possible showers." As an ancient and reliable forecaster of real red-hot summer thunder-bumpers, I could tell this "whether" forecaster that he needs an old-time, one-room "deestrick" schoolhouse. Up the road to the west'ard. Ab out a mile, on the ridge.

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'Twas maybe 60 to 70 years ago that the school experts began telling us we needed buses, and no child could be culturally embellished unless he got brought in from the rural places for in-town inculcation. The first happy result of this was the need for big athletic programs to work the fat off youngsters who no longer walked to school, and the next June we found we had no place to hold the annual neighborhood strawberry festival. Then the Latin teachers began grousing because bus drivers got better pay,

and I haven't seen a Latin teacher since. But enough of that fiddle-faddle - I'm here to lecture on the efficacy of the one-room school as an authority on thundershowers. Every radio station should have one.

It's possible statistics will support my contention that the honest, old-time electrical storm has been subdued in some way in the last half-century. We have not had a good one here this summer; the most we've heard are a couple of distant rumbles that have had no historical significance. Not at all to rank with those past that rattled the roof rafters and sent the dog under the kitchen range.

During June and July, we could depend on a real rauncher any afternoon we had a field of dry hay ready to be moved into the barn. Let a thunderhead make up over our ridge schoolhouse, and we'd scurry to the field, all hands. The hayrack was trotted down, and only Mother stayed in the house long enough to close all the windows. And we didn't always beat the shower. Many's the time a load of dry hay would get under cover on the barn floor, but running along behind I'd get soaked in the last 10 yards. And w e coiled hay in the field to make it somewhat waterproof, with the chore of spreading it again come tomorrow. There were times we'd coil and uncoil, shake out and dry, until a "spell" of showery days passed and we'd all but worn out the hay.

Oh, I wandered - the ridge schoolhouse!

Our farm road ran east and west, making a four-corners with the ridge road westerly, at the top of the hill. The early folks had built their one-room district school at the four-corners, making it handy in all directions. We could look up the hill from our place and see the schoolhouse. Such were the directions that an afternoon lightning shower would build its thunderheads over the schoolhouse roof. When we heard a first tumble of distant thunder, we could look up the road and tell with accuracy what we

had coming.

If the high thunderclap clouds built up ever so little to the south of the schoolhouse, it meant the shower would pass down the river valley and our share of it would be slight. But if the black mountain of cloud, spitting twinkles, headed north of the school, we were in for a rouser indeed, and everybody shake a leg! And if the schoolhouse held its own directly under the center of the oncoming disturbance, it wouldn't be long until a bolt of lightning announced its presence and then echoed with unstinti ng enthusiasm. Nobody hesitated. Everybody rallied.

Did I ever tell you how my grandfather, at the first whoop of a schoolhouse warning, roused to run for the hayfield, and he thought he grabbed his haymaker's straw hat from the hook by the door, but instead got his winter woodchopping squirrel hat? Nobody noticed until the hay was saved, and there was poor Gramp stifling inside a winter hat during a July shower. But the load was in the barn, dry. Comical, but no more so than a radio report of a "possible" shower.

In those schoolhouse days, we knew. And then, most times we'd have a rainbow, and the shower was over. We sat under the dripping tree on the front lawn to "catch a breath" and relax before chores. That old schoolhouse may have failed society when it came to readin' and writin' and whatever the other one was, but it never let us down on lightning lore.