It’s been so dry, surely the raindrops, heavy as they were, would pass quickly. Showers were predicted to be intermittent. We figured that the isolated thunderstorms wouldn’t stop the celebration. As darkness set in, we waited where the fireworks display would be awesome.
I was with my mom in Colorado Springs on the 4th of July, at her friend’s home just a bit above the city. Colorado Springs is second, I was told, only to some city in Florida in being the lightning capital in the nation, or maybe in the world. That evening rain was intermittent, with lightning which was strangely without much thunder.
The rain paused about 9:30 PM, good timing for the fireworks show. The four of us towel dried our deck chairs. As we settled into our spots on the porch awaiting the traditional highlight of the annual Independence Day celebration, the lightning bolt show continued over the city.
I said that the fireworks show might pale to the lightning display. There was horizontal lightning, vertical lightning, point lightning with bolts every direction like a flower, and bright spots illuminating huge clouds, all across the horizon for nearly an hour. When the hair on my arm raised from static electricity, I decided to get off the porch and join the ladies inside the sliding glass door.
Inside as we waited for “our fireworks”, we saw fireworks in the distance, at several city parks. We heard the booms of fireworks from the Broadmoor Hotel, and from the front of the house saw them through the trees. But the display where we were wasn’t happening on time. Mom’s friend called, and she was told that if there were no fireworks by 10:00 PM, they were cancelled. Ten o’clock passed, and the rain got heavier. We were grateful for every drop, but the timing was bad. I jumped streams of water getting to Mom’s car, and that was it. We went home. The thirsty city got some water, we enjoyed the company of friends, and we got a different kind of show than we came for.
I had expected to be thinking about America’s independence that evening, and my thoughts turned instead to whether fireworks are to lightning as human activity is to earth’s. It’s humbling to witness the power of nature outshine, and in our case cancel one of the biggest displays of human exuberance. Earth’s shows are bigger. Consider, for example, the energy bursting from volcanic eruptions versus from nuclear bombs or rocket launches. Earth’s power is humbling. About all we can do is try to adapt and survive.
Paradoxically humans are so great that we changed the climate. Civilization generates heat as humans burn fuels and emit massive quantities of greenhouse gasses. Our emissions are warming the oceans, contributing to more atmospheric water vapor, fueling more violent storms. The list of troubling changes caused by human activity is long. Even if civilization stopped now, voluntarily or by some crisis, global warming would not immediately improve due to global dimming. Without the daily generation of pollutants, the air would clear of particulates, and global warming would increase. Greenhouse gasses plus clear air produces a double whammy of heat. Again, all humans can do is to try to adapt and survive.
Despite our brilliance, our world is made of both fireworks and lightning. Nature rules.
Reflections on Fireworks vs. Lightning was published in the Paradise Post on July 7, 2018.
Robin Huffman lived in Paradise, California from 1989 until she evacuated from the Camp Fire on Nov. 8, 2018.