Braving the heat and ominous skies that unleashed heavy downpours on various other parts of the city and suburbs, hundreds of thousands of people came to Downtown Columbus Tuesday night to celebrate Red, White and Boom’s festivities and watch fireworks explode over the city skyline.
In the hours before the launch of the fireworks display at 10 p.m. from Genoa Park, Mother Nature put on a display of her own. Pop-up thunderstorms that began south of Columbus passed just to the south, east and north of Downtown with booming thunder, strobe-like lightning and dark, ominous clouds.
“I’m sticking it out,” Dave Williams, 38 of Reynoldsburg said of the threatening skies over Downtown. “I wouldn’t miss this for anything. A little rain isn’t going to stop us. It’s good to see the city come together and enjoy a big event like this.”
Some people settled in early along the Scioto River and merely hunkered down as the afternoon temperatures climbed into the 90s and later as thunderstorms threatened. Michelle Beck, 35, and her family ventured down from Cleveland and set up a tent around noon: a 10-hour wait for the biggest fireworks display in the state. She’s been attending the event since she was a child and said she knew the procedure from experience. One year, she said, they came as early as 6 a.m. to get the best seat possible.
“I love the fireworks,” said Eddie, Beck’s 8-year-old son. “The patterns and colors are cool, and it’s fun to sit here and watch them.”
Others milled through the vendors lining Civic Center Drive, taking in the smells of sunscreen and fried food, before staking their claim to a spot on Front Street to watch the hour-long parade, which stepped off from the Main Street bridge at 5:30 p.m.
“The fireworks are great, but I always love the parade the best,” said Anna Jimenez, a 24-year-old West Side resident, while her children scattered to collect candy tossed from parade participants.
Marching bands, political candidates and even snakes handled by Columbus Zoo staff made their way through the parade route, but the veterans and active-duty police and fire departments elicited the loudest cheers from the crowd.
“Today is all about the veterans,” said Nick Kelley, 40, of Gahanna.
Gurpreet Kaur marched alongside her group, the American Sikhs, for the second year.
“We are American citizens and part of this community,” said Kaur, a 55-year-old Lancaster resident. “We may look different, but we love to celebrate the birth of our nation just like everybody else. That’s what’s great about this country.”
The sun baked the asphalt late Tuesday afternoon as the temperature crept into the low 90s, but the humidity sent the heat index spiraling. Much of central Ohio was under an excessive heat warning with a heat index between 100 and 107 degrees.
The Columbus Division of Police tweeted that crowds appeared to be smaller this year because of the heat. An infant was treated for heat exhaustion Downtown Tuesday afternoon, police said.
The threat from thunderstorms also appeared to spook some people away. Heavy rain and lightning delayed the Crew SC home soccer game as skies Downtown went from bright to nearly nighttime due to dark clouds. Players returned to the field about 9:20 p.m.
The fireworks faithful nevertheless remained in place Downtown.
“This is such a great holiday,” said Doreather Baskin, 53, of the Northeast Side. “It’s such a fun tradition to hang out with family, enjoy the fireworks and celebrate our country.”
Originally published for The Columbus Dispatch on July 3, 2018.