Friday, May 19, 2017

Tybee Island: When Summer Comes

For the past week we have watched wave after wave of puffy clouds sweep out of the southeast across our patch of Piedmont east of Atlanta. Today there was a big difference. The clouds brought some serious humidity with them, so much so that iced tea and the ceiling fan on the porch lost out to air conditioning and the Florida room. It was a sure sign that the trade winds have resumed for another year. It also reminded me of my years on the Georgia coast.

South Beach, Tybee Island, Georgia

There, the trades usually creep in softly most likely because humidity is ever present. They bring in the high cirrus and horsetails as well as the puffy fair-weather cumulus clouds that race over the beach so beautifully at sunrise. Later in the day, the clouds sweep inland twenty miles or so where they meet the uplifts of daily heating enhanced by the incentives of the onshore flow. Often, the result is 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, the 3:00 pm summer showers are so predictable you can almost set a watch by them. When residents advised me an umbrella was a summer essential they weren't fooling. The city's collapsing thunderstorms can produce inches of rainfall that compete very nicely with frog strangling storms I've experienced on the Southern Plains.  

For eleven years I worked at the mouth of the Savannah River and watched the light show over Savannah arcing north and east toward Hilton Head Island. Occasionally storms moved to my location when the land breezes swept in early and pushed the activity to the southeast. Almost always it was a magnificent show that ended with warm, comfortable land breezes lasting well into the evening. After a few hours of stillness in the early morning hours a quiet southeasterly breeze soon embraced the island in salt-saturated humidity and a haze that turned golden with a full sunrise. The Boat-tailed Grackles skirmishing in the oleanders nearby served as a natural alarm clock during the eight years we lived on Tybee Island. I do miss the birds, but not their role as nature's alarm clock.

The trade wind days last into September to be replaced by weeks of spectacular warm, dry, cloudless days, cool nights and warm water lingering 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. In Atlanta we'll sometimes enjoy the remnant sea breezes that survive the 200 mile journey from the Atlantic. It is a welcome reminder of the joy of coastal living.


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