Severe storms scuttle Bethany fireworks

Crowds gathered early on the sands near the Bethany Beach boardwalk on Tuesday, hoping to stake their claim to the best spots to watch the annual Fourth of July fireworks display. But Mother Nature had something else in mind.

Shortly after the performance of the Philadelphia Brass Band began on the town’s renovated bandstand at 7:30 p.m. before a capacity crowd, dark clouds began to accumulate to the north and northwest. The skies got progressively darker and lightning flashes on the horizon soon forced Bethany Beach Patrol members to recall evening swimmers from the water.

Within minutes, increasing electrical activity over the ocean and northern horizon resulted in a call from Bethany Beach police to cancel the musical performance and clear the beach for safety’s sake.

“Well, we tried,” said Phil Rossi, chairman of the Bethany Beach Fourth of July Parade Committee, as he joined the tumult of people seeking shelter from the oncoming storm. Rossi had just announced the winners of the awards from that day’s patriotic parade and had been hoping, with Events Coordinator (and parade Grand Marshal) Gloria Farrar to finish the official kick-off for the new bandstand with a bang on Tuesday night.

The crack of thunder wasn’t the bang they had in mind, nor the type of pyrotechnics the town had been hoping for this July 4. They’d gone to the trouble of scheduling a barge to be brought in as a base for firing the fireworks display, after the same move had been needed at the last minute in 2005, in the wake of severe erosion with early summer storms.

Indeed, the barge was slowly being towed to a spot off the beach at Garfield Parkway as 8 p.m. neared and lightning began to light up the sky instead of the planned dusk fireworks display.

Rossi said the estimated 9 p.m. start time was still possible — depending on how the weather fell out in the next hour, of course. And plenty of those turning out for the evening’s entertainment were still seeking parking spots even as the masses who’d already arrived were generally heading home.

While some determined souls stuck out the initial flashes and claps of thunder, refusing to leave their chosen spots on the beach until the safety call was clear to all, those who lingered in hopes that the storm would clear waited in vain. The storm brought with it winds around 20 mph and dropped nearly .2 inches of rain, wetting down the pyrotechnic shells and calling the event off for 2006.

Traditionally, Bethany Beach does not book a rain date for its fireworks for just such reasons. And this year was no exception, with the news soon trickling out that it was a no-go for fireworks this year.

The July 2 fireworks show in nearby Rehoboth Beach went off without a hitch, being spared from the evening thunderstorms that have been more common than not in the area of late. But the chancy weather forecasts for the week left many plans in tentative status until the very last moment.

As is traditional, town officials will make the decision late in the spring of 2007 as to whether the next edition of Fourth of July fireworks in Bethany Beach will take place on July 4 itself.

The hopes are that whatever day is selected for 2007 will fall in better graces with Mother Nature than the Tuesday in 2006 that began with forecasts of a mere 30 percent chance of precipitation and ended with booms and flashes of light in the sky — just not the colorful display for which so many had been hoping.