British weather: is everything bigger in the U.S.?

From the July 3 Western Morning News I learned that Americans call the July full moon the Thunder Moon.

We do? I never did. I checked with Wild Thing and she’d never heard of it either. The only moon I ever heard given a name was the harvest moon, and that was only because of the song, “Shine on, etc.” And the writer William Least Heat-Moon, and he’s a person, not a celestial body.

As you might guess, the Westy isn’t the most news-driven of papers, but unless Wild Thing and I are the only two Americans who never heard of a Thunder Moon I’d expect a bit more in the way of fact checking.

Having said that, we’d just had a thunderstorm here in North Cornwall and lost power for a few minutes, and it had led us to compare Midwestern thunderstorms to the ones we’ve seen in the U.K. which strike us as short on drama.

Irrelevant photo by Ida Swearingen

Irrelevant photo by Ida Swearingen

I know, I know. I sound like one of those everything’s-bigger-in-America kind of Americans. I’m not, I swear. I could give you a list of things that weren’t any bigger, but maybe it’s enough to say that I wasn’t. The storms, though? They were. The thunder here rumbles instead of crashes. The lightning tends to stay in the clouds instead of striking down. Yes, we’ve seen lightning strikes since we moved here, but they’re rare, and because of that, memorable. We stood on the cliffs once, watching lightning strike down into the ocean. I was riveted and would have stayed longer but Wild Thing reminded me that we were the tallest things on the cliffs (which is a comment on how low the vegetation is, not on how tall we are) and we’d be the most likely targets when the storm got closer. I was tempted to argue that we had plenty of time but good sense and kindness got the better of me and I followed her to the car.

I do miss those Midwestern thunderstorms. They gather all the energy from half a continent’s heat, then let it loose.

The tornadoes, on the other hand, I wasn’t so crazy about. Wild Thing spent a lot of childhood summers in Oklahoma, in what’s called Tornado Alley, and since she’s lived through plenty of tornadoes she’s convinced she will again. I’ve never been as sure of that. Even after forty years of living with them, when the sirens went off, my body sent out panic signals that didn’t bother to consult my brain.

In spite of that, I never managed to memorize which siren meant this is an early warning and which one meant get to the basement and stay terrified till you hear from us again.

We only went to the basement once. We gathered up the dog and found the cats were already in place. They know. Our basement wasn’t—how can I say this and not sound panicky? It wasn’t a place you’d want to be trapped if the house collapsed on top of you. We believed that basements should be cleaned every twenty years, whether they need it or not, but this being year nineteen we were still coasting. So it would be us, the dog, the cats, the dirt, the junk, the litter boxes, the asbestos lining that was, back then, still in place on our old, old furnace, and who knew what else. On top of that, water leaked in through the walls in heavy storms. Our neighborhood was built—we found out after we bought the house—on what had once been a swamp and wanted to be a swamp again. After a heavy storm, you could walk the alleys and know who had a finished basement by the rolls of soaked carpet waiting to go to the dump. So I pictured the house collapsed on top of us and all our dirt, junk, kitty litter, and asbestos, with the water rising—

And I couldn’t remember which corner they advised hiding in. The southwest? The southeast? Or was it under the stairs?

I looked under the stairs. Some old storm windows were stashed there, so add broken glass to the list.

I was tempted to take my chances upstairs. At least I’d die clean. Then the all clear went off and it all became a funny story.

Tornadoes are strange beasts. They can drive a piece of straw through a tree. They can lift up a house, drop a car in the basement, then put the house back down more or less on top of it. Not undamaged, mind you, but still in place. One that touched down in the Twin Cities picked a bunch of fish out of a Minneapolis lake and dropped them in a St. Paul suburban mall’s parking lot. You could almost think the storms have a sense of humor, although the fish weren’t amused.

Last January, a tornado touched down in London. No, make that a suspected tornado. The damage was minimal (I wouldn’t say that if my garage that been hit, but still, given what’s possible, yes, it was minor) and it wouldn’t have been national news if they weren’t so rare.

The storms you’re used to set your expectations of what storms are. Any tornado in Britain is newsworthy. And the thunderstorm that got us talking about how mild they are here? A couple of friends commented on how wild it had been.

Which brings me back to the Westy and its conviction that Americans call the July moon the Thunder Moon. If anyone’s ever heard it called that, I’d love to know.

75 thoughts on “British weather: is everything bigger in the U.S.?

  1. We had a “hurricane” here once…it was in 1987 and people are still talking about it…

    some trees fell down and a weather man became a figure to ridicule for the whole rest of his life…

    there was some snow once too… the whole country ground to a complete standstill because it was a bit tricky to get around…unless you have a land rover…which I do :-)

    I have never heard of a thunder moon…but I am not american…

    I have heard of a harvest moon and the hunters moon and also a blue moon :-)

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Very evocative post. Love the line “Our neighborhood was built—we found out after we bought the house—on what had once been a swamp and wanted to be a swamp again.”

    I’ve never heard of the Thunder Moon, either. Google says it’s a Native American name for a full moon, FWIW. Maybe the reporter forgot the word “native” when writing that story.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Somebody from the Westy has been reading the Farmer’s Almanac! The almanac gives a list of Native American full Moon names by month ( specifically the Algonquin who lived along Lake Superior). I doubt your average American calls July’s full moon the thunder moon. My grandma (in North Carolina) planted her garden by the signs using the almanac every year and nary a mention of it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. – Some names of moons on here. I had another list somewhere but it’s ‘in a safe place’. I had to write a fantasy story for last terms creative writing course at university and needed moon names (in case I ever got to write a series). I particularly like the Souix names on this list though.

    And we don’t have storms like we used to either. I can remember huge thunder and lightening storms with forked lightening – but then that was in the 1960’s and I was living on top of a mountain. I think we just don’t have the dry heat to generate proper lightening. It’s like trying to start a bonfire – everything is damp :-)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Size isn’t everything. Understatement. We British are very happy with a drop of rain or a touch of drizzle. Spits and spots. I wonder why we say GREAT Britain. I mean … nobody says LITTLE America or TINY Russia.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You’re right (about so many things) the weather is bigger in America, something to do with the landmass and huge open spaces – that sounded technical didn’t it! I was in Florida once when the TV weatherman predicted torrential rain would hit at 0847am and it did, precisely! The weather reports here are just something to fill in the gap between the news and Eastenders. It rains for 40 days & 40 nights and the bible calls it a disaster, here we call it Summer ..

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve never heard the term Thunder Moon, and I’ve lived all over the U.S. I like it, though. Very poetic.
    I grew up in Tornado Alley and remember vividly the day I sought refuge from a tornado at my grandpatents’ home. I’d walked there after school and no one was home, so I let myself in. When the sirens went off I calmy went to hide under the heavy antique bed that I’d always imagined to be the perfect shelter, only to discover that there were only a couple of inches between the side boards and the floor. I was skinny back in the day, but not that skinny.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Do Anericans talk as much about the weather as the British? (Ooh, the sun has just come out :) ) One change that I have noticed in my lifetime (quick update: the sun is back in) is that we have whole systems, levels of alerts, for what used to be simply “it will be windy today, stay under cover!” I wonder if that is a consequence of 24hr news and the internet? (ooh, that wind got up just then!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for keeping us up to date w/ the weather at your house. It’s sunny here, but it won’t last.

      In Minnesota, we used to have a neighbor who managed to tell Wild Thing, every fall or late summer, something along the lines of “six more weeks till snow flies.” It drove her insane.

      I don’t know if we talked about the weather less, although I think we did. I do know we talked about it differently. And having said that, I’m not sure exactly what the difference was. I want to say less fatalistically, although our neighbor’s comment certainly sounds fatalistic. I’ve written myself into a corner here and am going to stop before I make the corner any smaller.

      Liked by 1 person

    • We do talk about it less. If the weather is actually relevant to what is going on in our lives, we will talk about it. The Boffin and I are frightfully stereotypical in our marriage where I have to remind him that discussing the weather does not actually count as conversation.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I have never used or heard the term thunder moon. Harvest moon (loved that musical) blue moon, blood moon and big-ass moon (sorry, that was my dad’s way of describing the full moon that hangs low in the sky. I think the term is a native American thing. Then again, Native American’s really just considered themselves people, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post. Stay safe from whatever you call the weather when it gets bad.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I used to love thunderstorms, especially as a kid, we had one of the only enclosed front porches in the neighborhood, and somehow, that glass was protective, so we were allowed to be out there.? Then, we moved to Michigan, where the storms are violent, scary and take out electric lines for a week at a time. Not so fond of them now, even though we left Michigan for blizzards in Buffalo, hurricanes in South Carolina, and flooding in Maryland. We seem to follow bad weather around !! ☺

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thunder moon is a new one to me too.

    A couple of years ago, tornado sirens went off when I was shopping for school project supplies with my daughter at Michael’s, an American big box craft store. Of course, the store went on lockdown. The Sprog achieved nirvana and immediately went to the jewelry beads. I knew if a tornado hit, she would be safe because the beads would envelope her and provide a protective armor. Meanwhile I would end up in Lake Michigan covered in découpage glue with fake flowers stuck up my ass.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. The Blood Moon is named after the tainted color during an eclipse…but these nights in the Midwest, we have a blood moon every evening because of massive forest fires in Northern Canada.


  13. great comments! never heard of a thunder moon but our monsoon season has started here in Vegas, tons of thunder and cloud-to-ground lightning. flash floods everywhere as always. never heard of tornadoes in Britain.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I was under the impression that we just had the Full Buck Moon and that the Thunder Moon is on its way this month.
    I live in a tornado type place, but not Tornado Alley. We no longer have a basement, so it’s the bottom of the linen closet in the big bathroom for us. Just pull out the hamper and the basket of cleaning products, and hunker down underneath the lowest shelf. To be fair, I only do this when my kids are home. When they’re not home, I just hang out in the bathroom if the bad siren sounds. Until the bad siren runs, I’m not even fazed. I’ve seen several tornadoes, and I feel confident that dying in a tornado would be a good, quick death. I’m just used to them. When we get those Midwestern thunderstorms, we sit out on the porch, lol! I feel badly for people who are terrified of them, they must belong elsewhere.
    Maybe everything is bigger here, because the US is bigger. Hard to say. Look how big everything is in Texas.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know Texas likes to brag that everything from there is bigger, but Wild Thing grew up there and she’s my height, give or take a fraction. So: not everything.

      I never did understand being afraid of thunderstorms–especially in grounded buildings. Now tornadoes? I’m sure you’re right about them, but they still get me on some visceral level.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. We had the most amazing electrical storm I’ve ever seen here on Sunday night! We literally sat looking at the sky for close to two hours going ‘wow’ :) There’s a puny English-style one going on right now though…

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Never heard of a Thunder Moon, but will look for it at the end of the month. Living in California, most of us aren’t fazed much by earthquakes (something we’ll pay for sooner or later). The common response is not to do what we’ve all been taught, but to freeze till it’s over, and then call everyone we know to ask “Did you feel that?”

    Growing up in New Jersey, I experienced some pretty good thunder and lightning storms during the summers and found them exciting. My mother, on the other hand, would sit quaking in a chair in the living room, setting a bad example for her children. It’s a wonder I didn’t grow up to be a mess. Or maybe I did.

    Anyway, I loved the gorgeous irrelevant photo.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love the idea that Californians’ response to an earthquake involves calling each other up and asking, “Did you feel that?” What strange creatures we humans are. The funniest part is that I’m sure I’d do the same thing. After a small quake, that is. After a big one you’d probably have to scrape me off the ceiling.


  17. I’ve moved around the country a bit, so remember specific things from different regions. I fondly remember warm summer rain in Boston (my early days), but not the biting cold and deep snow. California’s lack of seasons was enchanting at first, but sure missed them after a year or two. I miss looking out over the desert with the thunder and lightening shows in Utah’s summers. I hate the Oregon summers with nary a drop of rain for months, but virtually guaranteed fog right on the beach, but far too warm a block away. Love the winter storms and the really good mild days we get nearly anytime but summer. Geography seems to influence weather more than anything else I can think of. I’m with you fearing tornadoes though. Saw some funnel clouds somewhere near Nebraska on one of my cross-country trips. I stayed in a motel that night that suggested I gather up pillows and huddle in the hallway if a tornado struck. Somehow that wasn’t entirely comforting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The pillows and the hallway sound more or less like pulling the covers over your head and it’s probably what I’d have done as well. The tornado advice I remember from Minnesota was that if you didn’t have a basement you should hide under the heaviest piece of furniture (or in the bathroom, I think, but maybe I made that up–I picture broken pipes and water spurting everywhere). In a storm that could pick up a car, that didn’t sound entirely comforting either–although I’d have done it if we hadn’t had a basement.


      • Actually the Birmingham incident did get quite a lot of media coverage. But you’re right, in general, the UK’s London-centric media always hype up London events and play down or ignore stuff that happens north of Watford or west of Heathrow.

        And the 1987 “hurricane” (mentioned above) was actually pretty severe – people died in it, and there was extensive damage to property. It’s described in Wikipedia as an “extratropical cyclone”. The Met Office subsequently said it was a once in 300 yr event – an explosive cyclogenesis aka “weather bomb”. It also felled an estimated 15 million trees, which gives some indication of its impact.

        So, though the British Isles doesn’t suffer from regular extreme weather events, they do happen, and they can be dangerous.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Okay, I’m convinced: I’ll take that storm seriously. In the same way that I take the Boscastle and the lesser known Crackington floods of–was it 2004? seriously. Nobody died, but they were life-threatening and Boscastle especially took some time to recover.


          • A friend of mine, his wife and child were caught in the Boscastle flood when they were holidaying in Cornwall . They took shelter in a shop, and when they were finally able to come out, their car had disappeared – swept out to sea with all their luggage in it. It was never found.

            Liked by 1 person

            • When I worked as a copy editor for a hunting and fishing magazine, I learned more than I ever meant to about artificial reefs and their impact on fishing. I’m sure it’s part of a (highly polluting) artificial reef not far off the coast.

              Seriously, though, it must’ve been terrifying. A friend of ours was winched off the Visitor Centre roof (she was a volunteer there). She watched the person before her get lifted up and thought, I don’t think I like that. Then she looked at the water and thought, I don’t like that either. So up she went. The building collapsed not long after–just after the last person was lifted off. An amazing rescue job.


  18. Pingback: An update on British thunderstorms | Notes from the U.K.

  19. No Britain is not a normal place for Hurricanes, Tsunamis or earthquakes. Our architecture never even considers it as a factor even. It is just that the weather has started to get a bit strange the last few decades and people are asking “Is this due to global warming?” Should we start taking note and seriously start new types of structures as these are getting worse. Brits will always talk about the weather and you can see how so many who have had their expensive homes flushed away want action now.
    As for Thunder Moon I have heard this before in Western movies, so perhaps it is Native American? Or just fictitious Hollywood.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Somebody in the comment thread traced the Thunder Moon to one particular Native American tribe, so apparently it’s not fictitious but I’m sure the westerns didn’t bother to check if that tribe lived anywhere near where the movie or TV show in question was set. Their idea of accuracy was to use a lot of Jewish and Italian actors to play Native Americans.

      Don’t get me started.

      When we first started coming here, we were struck by your buildings not taking the possibility of hot weather into account. We were living in the American Midwest then, where summers can get pretty steamy and most houses will have cross-ventilation, so that if there’s any breeze at all it’ll blow through. Here you don’t seem to expect heat. Or else the old houses had such thick walls that they held the winter’s cold through the summer.

      Liked by 1 person

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