Saturday, May 28, 2016

Georgia On The Edge Of Summer

I thrive in the heat and sweat of a subtropical summer in what the magazine, Southern Living, calls the Lower South. And there's something very comforting about the formation of the season's first tropical storm especially so close to the Georgia Bight. There is no wish for the winds, torrential rains, or high flood tides to bring trouble. Rather, it is the realization that the climate cycles have reconfirmed what we can expect from the trade winds that brought many of our ancestors to the New World. In fact, the first such storm in 1495 left Christopher Columbus and his crew begging for salvation and motivating their captain to venture in such storms only "in the very service of God."

In Georgia, the trades usually creep in softly around the middle of May. They are on schedule this year following the passage of what's likely is the last cool frontal boundary we'll see until October.  At this hour Tropical Storm Bonnie churns in a stationary position about 300 miles southeast of Atlanta. The storm's light east winds by late morning brought high cirrus and horsetails overhead by sunset.  Overnight, the wet and windy storm will drift close to the coast near Savannah then move northeast paralleling the coast before passing Cape Hatteras and into colder water and eventual disintegration. All Atlanta can expect from Bonnie is a breath of northern wind and a quick return to the southeasterly trades.

When the trades return to the Georgia coast, they will bring in the puffy and low fair-weather cumulus clouds that race over the beach. Occasionally the high cirrus and horsetails will precede them signaling waves of unsettled weather that may develop into hurricanes. Thankfully those friendly cumulus clouds simply sweep inland twenty miles or so where they meet hot air rising off the Georgia landscape. This cloud wall in the sky often transforms into a brisk and exciting line of thunderstorms sometimes extending from the city-state of Charleston to the Players Club fairways at Ponte Vedra Beach. In Savannah you can almost set your watch by the showers that drench the forest city at 3:00 on summer afternoons.

Tybee Island Georgia (aerial)
Tybee Island, Georgia

For years I watched from my home and work on the coast as this light show over Savannah arced north and east toward Hilton Head. Sometimes when the land breezes swept in early in the day the storms moved over us. Such a magnificent show. Most storms over Tybee Island ended by midnight. In the early morning hours a quiet southeasterly breeze resumed and embraced the island in salt-saturated humidity and a haze that turned golden with the sunrise. If you slept on a porch or without air conditioning, Boat-tailed Grackles scrambling in the island's oleader bushes often made greeting the sunrise a certainty.

On the Georgia Sea Islands, it seems the trade wind days never want to end. Instead they dwindle ever so slowly into weeks of spectacular warm, dry, cloudless days, cool nights and warm water lasting into November. Of course, the occasional tropical storm can interrupt the coastal idyll that is the norm on the sea islands. It is to be expected and respected by those who share the fragile boundary of life at the ocean's edge.

Evening view of salt marsh from US80


Photos and Illustrations:
island photo,
salt marsh, Fort Pulaski National Monument Handbook, 1954.

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