That's one of the reasons I'm going to miss Oklahoma. When I'm sitting in front of my computer, oblivious to the outside world, when something subliminal catches my attention, and I look up and notice that sunlight is no longer direct. There's a feel to the air that even the AC can't get rid of, that pecular something that probably has something to do with the humidity, that I notice next.
I am drawn immediatly outside, sometimes stopping to grab the camera and the telephoto if I remember.
It's like opening a present - you never know what you're going to see. Sometimes the storm is still developing; a huge tower of cumulus clouds, the edges lined with white fire from the sun that has recently slipped from view. Sometimes the thing has already started to anvil, and you can see the virga beneath it, telltale signs of the first downdrafts within the storm. Other times the storm is huge, anvil stretching three-quarters of the way across the sky, grey bulk spanning the western horizon, holding the promise of high winds and a downpour, and perhaps some hail.
I wait for its approach on the roof; a foolish thing, but it affords a better view. The appearance of mammatus formations in the lower parts of the anvil signals winds so turbulent that they push parts of the lower cloud boundaries down, giving the previously smooth anvil a bubble-like apperance.
The wind is still at my back and the air still warm and humid; this is how the storm feeds itself: the updrafts already present suck in more air from below and in front of the storm; as this air rises it pushes the top of the storm even higher until it hits the top of the troposphere, where the jet stream pushes it out in front of the storm, creating the anvil. As the air cools, the moisture condenses, releasing more heat into the storm.
The updrafts keep the droplets suspended until they grow heavy enough to fall, which creates the downdrafts in the storm. As the downdrafts hit the ground, they spread out in all directions, including in front of the storm. Sometimes, as the incoming air bounces up and over the cooler downdrafts, it undergoes a preemptive condensation, creating a line of low clouds out in front of the bottom of the storm. Accompanied by downdrafts strong enough to do this, it is called a gust front, and is more a herald of a severe thunderstorm than thunder.
While this is happening, I watch the incoming line of rain on the horizon. Sometimes it is backlit by the sun; a curving wall of black in front of a blazing orange sky. The farthest horizon dissapears; the world shrinks slightly as the rain closes in, the menacing clouds of the gust front seemingly at eye level from my vantage point.
As the gust front moves towards me, the wind at my back weakens, and then fails all together. There is maybe a half minute of complete stillness, the air hot and heavy around me, the sky incredibly dark - and then, over the soft rumble of thunder comes a new sound that my ears strain to make out - it is the sound of the winds, and then a wall of cold air slams into me, accompanied by the low roiling clouds of the front and multiple arcs of lightning.
I move a little closer to the ladder, watching horizon after horizon get swallowed by the featureless grey that is the rain, feeling the first stray drops hit my skin. I duck involuntarily as a brilliant spear-shaft stabs into the earth not 200 yards away, reveling in the feel of the sound as it rumbles physically inside of me.
The rain is too close now; I scramble down the ladder with one hand, the camera clutched in the other, shielding it with my body. I pause for a moment under the wooden patio cover, sheltered briefly from the worst of the rain. Even though the full force of the rain has yet to hit, the drops are already huge, making blat noises as they hit the cement, leaving dark spots the size of my fist. It takes a powerful updraft to hold the drops aloft until they reach that size - this one's going to be strong.
The powerful winds in the storm move ions about with such efficiency that the lightning, and the thunder, is practically constant. I stand just inside the back door and watch as the rain becomes a downpour. The whole sky lights up with sheet lightning, though the occasional bolt still slams down into view. On the edge of my hearing I pick up yet another sound - wait, yes, there it is again - the crack of a hailstone on the roof. I can see them falling in the rain now, peppering the yard, smashing to bits on the cement, ripping through the trees.
Sometimes this fury only lasts a few minutes; other times, several hours. I crack a book and sit by the screen door, listening to something I can't get out of my speaker system while I read, breathing the smell of the rain.
As the rain drops off and the sky lightens, I venture outside, letting the last of the rain dampen my skin and clothing, marveling at how green all the vegetation looks in the wet, listening to water drip off the plants and to the receding thunder. I can see the backside of the storm now, a roiling mass of grey and white, still building, lightning arcing everywhere. Finally the sun breaks through, and the brilliant white of the storm is banded with a double rainbow. All the colors; the sky, the leaves, the rock, everything, seem incredibly intense, almost luminous. I revel in the quiet; there are no dogs or cars to spoil it for the moment. This is sheer aesthetic pleasure.