Storms In Appalachia

Weather folklore from appalachia
Most of the US is either bracing for Hurricane Irene-or watching from a far hoping it’s not as bad as it looks. Even though I live in NC-it’s not going to effect us at all. But the storm is on my mind.

Granny is terrified of storms-she always has been. When we were little-she’d try to herd us all into the basement-or at least the hallway at the first sign of a thunderstorm. I must admit-as I sat in her lap-her fear washed over me as well. For most of my childhood-and young adult life I was scared of storms too.

In our minds the most fearful thing that can come from a storm is a tornado-but they rarely occur in the mountains. However, in the killer tornado outbreak of 1974 there were several lives lost in our county when a twister touched down in at least 2 different areas of Cherokee County. One of the victims was a young girl almost exactly my age. Years later I happen to work in the same plant her father did-I would see her picture on his desk and think of how I was just up the road from her the night her family was devastated by the tornado and mine was left untouched.

This past year has been a bad one for storms in and around the southern highlands of Appalachia. In NC, GA, TN, and AL towns and communities suffered tremendous loss earlier this year from another round of killer tornadoes. And I know the midwest has had their fare share of heartache as well.

There is much folklore surrounding storms. A few I’ve heard:

  • Thunder in winter means a big snow will occur within 2 weeks (Do you remember it thundering during the Blizzard of 93? I do.)
  • Having wet hair or wet clothing will draw lightning
  • After being struck by lightning a tree has healing/protective powers
  • Horses will act jittery before a bad storm
  • When the leaves turn backward it will soon rain
  • Hot summer cold winter (duh!)
  • Hanging a black snake on the fence will cause rain
  • Red sky in morning sailors take warning red sky at night sailors delight

These I found in the Frank C. Brown Collection of NC Folklore

  • If you kill a toad frog-you will be struck by lightning
  • Thunder before seven rain before eleven
  • The first thunder in spring wakes the snakes up (that would be hard to figure out don’t you think!)

Wild bill afraid of the storm
I don’t need any of the folklore-I have my own storm indicator-his name is Wild Bill. There may not be a cloud in the sky-but if he’s hanging out on my front porch behind the rocking chairs I know it’ll storm before the day is out-he’s never been wrong.

Not long after I was married a story of a little girl who lost her entire family in a war torn country ended my fear of storms in an instant. If she could sit in a truck bed alone singing Jesus Loves Me to comfort herself-surely I could lay in my nice warm bed in my nice safe house and never be scared of a thunderstorm again.

I hope all the people impacted by Hurricane Irene are o.k. Guitar Man headed back to the campus of Yale yesterday morning-I’m hoping the hurricane leaves New Haven in one piece.



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  • Reply
    August 29, 2011 at 9:01 am

    Well, Tipper, I bounce back and forth from an island on the coast to Cedar Top in Graham County. I watch Mother Nature’s weather signs. enjoy the small storms. And prepare for the bigger ones. We were in the mntns for the Big Blizzard of 93. I remember the thunder, the clouds were different and the moon was full. My little boy and I went sledding at night after the snow stopped falling. That was my favorite storm.
    Back on the coast again,
    This weekend’s Irene was not so bad. The moon was right, but the wind pushed the tides out.

  • Reply
    janet pressley
    August 28, 2011 at 12:21 am

    Oh – you gotta love papaw’s new pop-up camper!! It’s nice. I think Chitter and Chatter would like to come out and spend the night in it. Camp fire required! Nana

  • Reply
    janet pressley
    August 28, 2011 at 12:19 am

    Tipper – is that Ruby??? Too cute!! I miss my little rat terrier that I have been keeping. She has longer legs than Rubs. I know one thing – I enjoyed the mild winds that cooled this place down outside this evening! Beautiful night for us here in the mountains. Sorry for all the other unrest and destruction. Nana

  • Reply
    August 27, 2011 at 11:54 pm

    tipper my prayers are with you and all who are in irenes path… may you all be safe and dry.. we are in the sw corner.. of pa so they are just saying some winds and maybe flooding near streams and such. sending big hugs to sooth all who are afraid of storms..

  • Reply
    B f
    August 27, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    i admire you folks who enjoy thunderstorms , i cannot tolerate them without almost having a seizure(kidding)realy i have been afraid all my life
    i know we shouldnt act scared in front of children as it tends to rub off on them but really! i just cannot stay calm
    i do hope Irene dont reach any of you folkes, we here in ky are desperate for rain . so dry the grass rustles under our feet and the heat!!!!gardens burned up , another season has come and gone and it hasnt been a good gardening time , hopfully better next time

  • Reply
    Wanda in NoAla
    August 27, 2011 at 5:25 pm

    On April 27, the day of the killer storms in Alabama, a group of usually docile cows broke through a barbwire fence to get into a gully. This was before the tornado was imminent. Glad you’re safe; I’ve been wondering how far inland the storm reached.

  • Reply
    Mary Rutherford
    August 27, 2011 at 4:57 pm

    Anyone with children who are afraid of thunderstorms should read them a wonderful book, Thunder Cake, by Patricia Polacco. It is the story of how she conquered her childhood fear of thunderstorms with the assistance of her grandmother. While the storm approaches they gather the ingredients and bake a “thunder cake”. Her grandmother helps her understand that only a brave girl would be able to collect eggs, milk the cow and go through the woods to the dry shed. Her recipe for a real thunder cake is tasty and it has helped take my mind off a storm a time or two!

  • Reply
    Melissa P. (misplaced Southerner)
    August 27, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    Hey, Tipper!
    When I was really little (probably around 3), we were living with my Mummo (mom’s mom). There was a horrible storm one night and I woke up in my little room upstairs screaming that there was a fire under Daddy’s bed. Both parents came in, and took me to “their room.” (It had twin beds.) I crawled in with Mom. Sure enough, another bolt of lightning and clap of thunder had me up screaming about fire under Daddy’s bed. This time, though, there was the faint smell of smoke. Yep, a small electric fire had started under Daddy’s bed. Luckily, it was put out quickly and no one was hurt. I was afraid of storms after that until I was about 16. Still don’t know how or why I knew about that fire in advance…just glad I did.

  • Reply
    Ed Myers
    August 27, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    I was a little south of Myrtle Beach just before Hurricane Floyd hit. My wife woke up around 2:00 a.m. to hear the S.C. governor calling a state of emergency and we were able to get out about an hour before the rush to escape caused 50 mile interstate jams that lasted for hours, or days, as the case was for those who stayed around a little longer, hoping everything would be okay.
    We got back just in time to see the news about the above, and I’ve always shuddered to think we may have been on the highway at that time.
    Moral: when desire and common sense collide, side with common sense…and stay dry.

  • Reply
    August 27, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    I remember seeing the results of
    the 1974 tornado. It looked like
    a right-a-way clearing bunch had
    made their way across the mountains below Murphy. I lived
    in Atlanta back then but came home
    for the weekend and saw the damage. Our pastor’s wife and one
    kid was killed by that same storm
    when it touched back down near
    Wild Bill is a pretty dog, he looks a lot like Ruby Sue in the
    face. I enjoyed the post today and
    everyone’s comments…Ken

  • Reply
    August 27, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    Hi, Tipper!! I know… long time no see, but I am back trying to catch up and I am so glad because your posts are sooooooo wonderful and it has made my day reading this. I love your story telling. And now I’m gonna get me a black snake and hang it. Hmmm.. Let’s see how soon it rains around here…

  • Reply
    August 27, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    First let me say I really like your dog.
    Your story about the little girl singing “Jesus loves me” while having all her trouble reminds me of a story a nice lady once told me when I was a little boy. Many years ago before I was borned an F-5 tornado hit a few miles south of our place. This man and woman in our area had not been married long and they had a little girl. The morning of the tornado her Momma was killed at the factory in which she worked. The child was too young to realize what had happened. The nice lady I mentioned before would later marry the child’s Daddy. I heard her tell this story one day with my own ears (It wasn’t hear say). It seems that while they were going together -and eventually marry- she was at the child’s granny’s house. She told me that every night the little girl would not go to sleep easily but rather she would have crying spells before she would sleep. They tried everything but it seemed nothing would comfort the child. Finally, one night she told me, that at about the time the child always would cry herself to sleep, she started to smile and look up at the ceiling and smile as though she heard something upstairs. She also got up and waddled about (like kids will do) looking up and smiling. From that night on the little girl never cried herself to sleep again. I heard those words straight from her and not from someone else.
    This nice lady was very religious and she always believed it was the spirit of the little girl’s Momma that calmed her that night. I offer no explanations but I will always remember her telling me that. I have my beliefs and am in agreement with her.
    That little girl (now an older lady) now lives down the road not far from here.

  • Reply
    August 27, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    I’m scared of storms and still haven’t overcome this fear! We never have hurricanes in Cyprus and hardly any storms in the summer. Last year, however, there was a terrible tornado which caused a lot of damage but, fortunately, no one was seriously hurt.

  • Reply
    Connie Arnold
    August 27, 2011 at 11:55 am

    Like you, I’m in North Carolina but safe from the hurricane. We’re having some big wind gusts. This sure has been a bad year for storms in various areas. Thanks for sharing the folklore!

  • Reply
    August 27, 2011 at 11:33 am

    During thunderstorms my grandma would not let me get near any windows or doors. I was not allowed to pet or get near any of our house cats or any of our dogs that happen to be in the house because “animals draw lightning”. We also had to unplug everything in the house so that lightning would not run into the house.

  • Reply
    Rick Kratzke
    August 27, 2011 at 10:35 am

    The folklore is pretty neat to read about. I know what you mean about not needing it though, my dog Sampson usually tells us way in advance.

  • Reply
    Wayne Newton
    August 27, 2011 at 9:31 am

    Tipper, Mama loved thunderstorms, and she taught my brothers and me, “The First Bunch”, to enjoy them.
    She was almost sure to be with child every summer of her life, from 17(1934) to 39 (1957) years of age, and in Wiregrass Country that meant “Double-barreled” misery from the heat, the humidity and the pregnancy.
    When a big gully washer came, you could find her outside, praising God and reveling in the wonderful, cool rain.
    ** Mama’s name was Opal, and in October1995, a hurricane by that name came out of the Gulf of Mexico, passed by South Georgia, and blew down many, many trees in Union County. We kidded her for years about the damage she had done in the mountains, and none at home. To this day, I enjoy the sound and fury of a July thunderstorm, and I remember Mama.

  • Reply
    August 27, 2011 at 9:24 am

    It is good to hear that you and yours won’t be effected by Irene.
    I like your end note on your fears being relieved for good.

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    August 27, 2011 at 8:54 am

    I remember being told “if it rains when the sun is shining it will rain the same time tomorrow

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    August 27, 2011 at 8:47 am

    Tipper–Like Miz Cindy says of the Deer Hunter, I actually love to watch a summer storm roll in over the mountains and enjoy seeing lightning dance across distant peaks. Daddy’s house (now Don’s) in Bryson City offers a wonderful perspective for such pleasures, as it looks out across the Tuckasegee River Valley to the Alarka Mountain beyond.
    On the other hand, Hurrican Hugo came right through where I now live a generation ago, and believe me, once in a lifetime is plenty. I saw 100-year-old pines bending before wind so much they were parallel to the ground, and many of them snapped like matchsticks. Our daughter, who was just shy of her teen years at the time, came into the bedroom (the hurricane hit in the wee hours of the morning) and said” “Daddy, I’m scared.” I could only respond, “Honey, I’m scared too,” because I was. It took me three years to clean up all the mess on our three-acre lot, and massive pines which were collectively worth thousands of dollars one day could scarcely be given away the next.
    Let’s all hope Irene isn’t too bad.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    August 27, 2011 at 8:44 am

    I am wary when tornados or hurricanes are predicted, other than that, storms do not bother me. In fact, I love when a thunderstorm comes at bedtime. It lulls me right to sleep knowing I am safe and sound inside my house in my warm bed.

  • Reply
    August 27, 2011 at 8:23 am

    I do remember it thundering and lightning during the blizzard of 93. Lived in southeast TN then. It was the weirdest thing. I can remember the tv weather people saying “Folks, go inside. You can still be struck by lightning even in the winter!”
    Also, to this day I’m still hearing stories about the tornado outbreak of 74. I was only 4 months old at the time. At family reunions inevitably someone will mention it and that gets the stories going. Surprisingly, the tales remain consistent from year to year. That event made a huge impact on people in our area.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    August 27, 2011 at 8:19 am

    It certainly does look like Irene is weakening and, hopefully, injury and damages will be minimal. We live in South Florida and in 2004, we got Frances and Jeanne within two weeks and Wilma the next year. They were scary times, but at least we get warning to prepare. Tornadoes are really scary, and little, if any, warning.

  • Reply
    August 27, 2011 at 8:12 am

    I’m glad you’re not getting hit and also pray for those in Irene’s path.
    We have a cat that hides on the first step of the basement stairs when a storm is coming. She’ll hear the rumbles before we do.
    I get a certain adrenaline rush with big storms, it’s exciting and scary all at the same time. Loved your post Tipper.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    August 27, 2011 at 8:07 am

    We were mighty happy to Dodge Irene’s impact here in FL. She was looking at us a couple of days. We were so bombarded in 2004-2005 that I was already packin up the motor home. Glad we didn’t have to leave this time. With NC as my second home I hop by some miracle she decides to head out to sea and just leave us all alone!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    August 27, 2011 at 8:06 am

    As a child I was terrified of storms. As a young mother I knew that if I didn’t get over it I would pass it on to the Deer Hunter….so I got over it! It wasn’t easy but I was motivated.
    In a few years the fear was gone completely, never to return.
    PS: The Deer Hunter is not afraid of storms. In fact he likes them! LOL
    He is like the animals, he usually knows when one is coming.

  • Reply
    Debby Brown
    August 27, 2011 at 7:48 am

    I hope all stay well and safe as well. Earlier storms made a mess of my place, but spared my house, which I am forever thankful for. Its just been a bad year of weather is all I know, and I hope the coming year is better to us all.
    As for the old sayings about storms, Tipper.. you best get your little Wild Bill back, I was always told dogs and cats drew lighting! lol.

  • Reply
    Canned Quilter
    August 27, 2011 at 6:55 am

    My prayers are going out to all those in harms way. Tipper can I borrow Wild Bill ? My dogs just catch mice : )

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    August 27, 2011 at 5:10 am

    A fear of storms, especially lightning..from my Mother, Grandmother, etc..Granny told tales of lighting balls flying thru the air, bouncing down and rolling along the ground! Also that they would bounce thru the house sometimes???…They lived high on the hill in Madison county above Marshall..The main fear for my Mother was the flooding following the severe weather, as well as the lightning….
    Soooo, I dive under the bed when a bad storm hits…We’ve had lightning run in and big oaks struck here on our place…Very Scary..A surge got a TV a month ago….
    They claim there is a mineral deposit on the place. We also live at the end of the electrical line..and was told that makes it worse…??
    Yes, I do remember the thunder during the blizzard of ’93…We also had some freaky winds and downdrafts…
    The “Devil beats his wife” around here on a regular basis this year..maybe its because the rain has been so scarce lately. The few raindrops come and sun shines at the same time….
    Thanks Tipper and I hope “Irene” moves out to well….

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