Lightning and contrasting weather in Yellowstone National Park

Arriving in West Yellowstone

The landscape of Yellowstone is dramatic in black and white

Because most of Yellowstone National Park lies at 6000 feet above sea level or higher the weather can be unpredictable. You can expect big temperature swings, rain or snow in every month of the year. No matter when you’re visiting always bring a warm jacket, rain gear and lots of layers. When I visited in August with my family we were unprepared! I hope you enjoy reading an exert from my book “Holiday” at the bottom of this blog, inspired by our trip to Yellowstone.

During the Spring snow, rain, or extremely warm and pleasant days can all occur within the same week. Yellowstone is warmest and driest during the Summer months but snow has even fallen in July and afternoon thunderstorms are not uncommon. Some of the best storms produce wonderful sunsets and full rainbows. The high elevation of Yellowstone makes the sun more intense, and the alpine weather patterns are dynamic and quick-changing. Autumn brings warm dry days and cool crisp nights but snow is a possibility from September.

Winter in Yellowstone is magical. The “fire and ice” effect of the snow and colder temperatures mixed with the steamy boiling hot springs and geysers make for amazing snowscapes and natural beauty. It’s a photographer’s paradise.

Most park roads are closed to cars during the Winter, but access is allowed to vehicles able to cope in the heavy snow like snowcoaches and snowmobiles. The road from Gardiner, Montana to Cooke City, Montana, via Mammoth Hot Springs is the only in-park road accessible to cars, buses and trucks. However, the road dead-ends at Cooke City, as travel beyond that town is limited to over-snow vehicles again.

Temperatures in Yellowstone in winter vary due to elevation. However, most visitor areas tend to stay in the 0-25 degree (-20 to -5°C) range. Temperatures at higher elevations can drop to below 0. Annual park-wide snowfall tends to be around 150 inches, although higher elevations can get 200-400 inches.

Winter weather can occasionally cause the temporary closure of park roads. You should check with the National Park Service on 307-344-7381 or visit the National Park Service website for current road reports.

The chances of being injured or killed by lightning are very small. You’ve got to be pretty lucky but I have to say when we drove through lightning in Yellowstone I was pretty scared. The scene below, an exert from “Holiday” was inspired by the drive across the plains. We travelled in August and the weather was pretty freaky. In one day we experienced every weather you could experience – heavy rain, blistering sun and a snow shower. It’s wise to exercise a little caution along with some good old-fashioned common sense when thunderstorms are forecast in Yellowstone. The key to lightning safety is to avoid being in the wrong place at the wrong time if you can. Everybody who has ever been accidentally struck by lightning was simply unfortunate to be at the exact spot a lightning strike was already going to occur. This is what the The National Lightning Safety Institute say about lightning: suggests:

“Safely pulling off to the side of the road, waiting out the storm, turning off the engine, putting one’s hands in one’s lap and not touching inside items such as door and window handles, steering wheels and gear shifts. Heavy equipment such as bulldozers and backhoes with rollover canopies are safe during thunderstorms, but riding mowers and golf carts are not.”

“While a car provides some protection from lightning, as the metal frame directs lightning currents to the ground, vehicles can still be damaged by a strike. Lightning damage to a vehicle includes pitting, arcing and burning along with electrical system issues,” the Institute said.

This is the exert from my book “Holiday” and it’s based on notes I made during our road trip. Watching the storm crashing around us, I have to say was truly incredible and one of the most memorable scenes of any trip I’ve done. It was awesome! I hope the scene brings it to life for you, the reader:

“We head out of Jackson Hole and the Tetons and north towards Yellowstone experiencing all weathers within a few hours: blue skies, bright sun, black clouds, heavy rain and ten minutes of heavy sleet. Multiple forks of lightning zig zag across the sky in quick and dramatic succession and ashes blend into each other, lighting up the sky with a ghastly glow. Our eyes are pinned ahead, we don’t speak but gasp at each clap, frightened that the next fork might strike the car or a tree might crash and crush us. I step on the gas as if fleeing an enemy attack.

The storm subsides and the sun comes out and the landscape looks calm and refreshed. After the rain, a mist rises over the Firehole River. As we drive Ray talks about the wildlife of Yellowstone, including the astonishing migration of the Monarch butterfly from North America to Mexico, taking several generations to arrive.”

From “Holiday” by Joanna Warrington, available on Amazon:



A thriving independent bookshop in the heart of Sussex

Across Britain independent bookshops are closing in their droves. Around 900 have managed to weather the storm as a combination of rent hikes, Tesco, Amazon and the rise of e-books plunder their business. Competition in the book market has never been fiercer and yet some bookshops have managed to hang in there by a thread despite every possible missile fired at them. I found one such shop in the friendly, pleasant town of East Grinstead in West Sussex.

‘The Bookshop,’ a timber slashed building is nestled along a charming row of medieval buildings in this market town, just a few miles from Forest Row; Winnie The Pooh country and the vast expanse of Ashdown Forest.

Owner John Pye has run the business for some 27 years. I sat outside his shop on a warm Summer’s day in June promoting my latest book ‘Holiday’ and signing copies. Here’s the link to ‘Holiday (A Bill Bryson travel book with a family drama woven through: ).

While I parked my car John set the table up; an artistic arrangement of my books on the pavement just outside the shop. John welcomes this partnership with indie and new authors and his diary of author book signings is pretty chockablock. Throughout the day he was very helpful to me, imparting nuggets of knowledge.

There’s something quite unique about ‘The Bookshop’ experience. John owes his success to several factors. You get a real sense that John and his shop are at the heart of the community and I really couldn’t say this about Waterstones where the staff stand rigidly behind their tills. They are invariably students on gap years and only open their mouths to take the money or point to a shelf. John knows the local traders and throughout the day other traders dropped by.

Despite the heat it was a busy Saturday at ‘The Bookshop.’ A writers’ workshop beavered away upstairs, held by Mel Parks of Honeyleaf Writing John set up tables outside for passers by to play chess and occasionally he’d join in. What a fantastic idea I thought!

‘The Bookshop’ has a huge range of books on every genre and for every age group and interest but it also serves coffee and cake and this makes it a special place to visit. While I engaged with potential readers on the pavement outside, lapping up the sun, John was laughing and chatting with a group of older ladies as they sipped their coffee.

John also serves ice cream from a display freezer at the entrance to the shop. A group of walkers heading for Forest Row stopped for a treat and children were easy customers too. John comes across as an easy going, relaxed sort of guy. Handing a small boy an ice cream he joked “now don’t you let your dad have any,” and two brothers chose books on dinosaurs displayed in the shop window. John laughed, “You watch those dinosaurs don’t escape. Be very careful boys.” “But they’re not real, it’s only a book,” the boys pleaded.

Several years ago John employed Sarah as a Saturday assistant while she was a student. Sarah graduated in English Literature, managed the shop while he was away and on his return – proving her weight in gold – he employed her full time and hasn’t looked back. They are a great team and Sarah’s work in setting up a slick and professional website has been invaluable as well as the setting up of various talks, discussions, workshops and a book club. All of these events, which can be found on the bookshop’s website at run off the back of the main business but crucially they add value to the community, by engaging people in an interesting and entertaining way. Now you don’t get that sort of repertoire in Tesco do you? The books might be cheap but that’s about all you can say. They aren’t book specialists! Buy your baked beans from Tesco by all means but not your books!

Talking of price John believes very firmly that the book market shouldn’t be a race to the bottom. He didn’t like it when I mentioned that many ebooks on Amazon are now free. ‘You’ve worked very hard to write your book, don’t undersell yourself.’ And so with John’s conviction I priced my book at £8.99 and got lots of sales. If it was up to me I would have sold it cheap! But what’s the point? What was I hoping to achieve? In John’s words, ‘if somebody wants to buy it they will. The price is irrelevant.’ And ‘people buy from people they like,’ is another of his mottos.

By giving readers the little extras, the sense of community, pride and welcome customers return to him again and again. There’s no doubt that running any shop is damned hard work but looking at John and the way he mingles with his customers you get an idea that his job is fun too!