It’s part of life in the Rockies that many outdoor activities are spoiled by thundershowers. We’ve all lived it. Things are going just fine. The deviled eggs are tasty.
The beer is cold. And then some nasty business rolls in over the mountains and all hell breaks loose.
The eggs are spoiled. The sandwiches are soggy. And that spot where you were warm in the sun just moments before is now a puddle.
It’s even worse when you’re on the river. Back in my guiding days, I can remember a trip or two that were ruined by thundershowers. On one float we had just finished shore lunch on the nice beach just upstream from Bonecrusher on the Middle Fork. My sports were an older couple who were part of a larger group, three boats in all, floating and fishing that day as part of their Glacier National Park vacation. I had the distinct impression the couple in my boat weren’t all that interested in fishing from the get go and were just tagging along because fishing was on the itinerary for the day.
We were just below Jaws when the deluge began. After we broke out the rain gear I took one look at the “fly fishers” in my boat and suggested we hurry ourselves to the take out. They nodded wearily in agreement.
So I turned my raft around to make good time and back rowed us to West Glacier. There’s no surer sign of a failed fishing trip than a back-rowed boat hurrying to the takeout. I didn’t get a tip, though it may have been the hardest day I ever spent on the Middle Fork. That’s how guiding goes.
Montana has some serious summer weather, but its nothing compared to the southern states. I just spent a week in Florida, on the Gulf Coast, and got a taste of what a real summer thundershower looks like. I was in St. Petersburg for some work training, and each day, just about the time class broke around 6 p.m., the weather rolled in. Sometimes it came from the west, off the water. Sometimes from the east. Always it packed a wallop.
The first evening when the storm hit I was sitting in a lovely place called “World of Beer” enjoying a fine pale ale out of Colorado. I noticed the skies growing dark and then it dumped. As I sipped my beverage I remember thinking, “Great, the rain will cool things off for the walk back to the motel.” That turned out to be a case of mistakenly applying western weather behavior to a place unlike the West.
We all know the benefit of afternoon thundershowers in the Rockies. If we’re not playing outside at the moment the storm hits, we’re often grateful. The rain cools things considerably, taking the sharp edge off the summer heat. Even a fleeting storm will knock 10 or 15 degrees off the afternoon high. Sometimes that’s just the recipe for comfortable outdoor recreation well into a late summer evening.
That’s not the way rain works down south.
As I stepped out of the adult beverage emporium, I was hit by a wall of damp, sticky heat. If anything, it was hotter than it had been before the storm, or at least felt that way. There was steam coming up off the sidewalks. The five-block walk back to my room was so arduous I had to stop halfway at another fine establishment to rehydrate.
Things got worse. My last two nights in Florida the region was gripped by tornado alerts. The TV news reported that experienced weather watchers had seen waterspouts over Tampa Bay. The storm that hit the night before my departure almost left me stranded for an extra day as flights in the morning were delayed or canceled.
I also learned that there’s a good reason the Tampa Bay Rays play in a dome despite the franchise’s southern location. From what I saw of the weather there, the Rays would be issuing rain checks three out of every four home games if they were out under the sky as nature intended baseball to be played.
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