Monday, July 20, 2015


 Another thunderstorm this afternoon and I actually enjoyed it. The clouds blew in quickly on a warm, fierce wind and the rain was heavy but brief. A cooling diversion on a hot, sultry day.

A lightning strike seared a distant tree but was immediately expunged by relentless rain. Should I be worried now that I have a metal roof, live very near a power pole, and have that annoying satellite dish by the house? The previous owners left a tangible reminder of Dish Network. 

Potential Lightning Rod??

Storms seldom scare me but I have a very healthy respect for lightning. And I have a few harrowing memories of close lightning calls which kindle my respect with every current storm.

Ironically, two of my vivid lightning memories occurred in Southern California - where fierce storms are scarce and dangerous lightning is seldom a threat.

A freak lightning accident happened on the campus of the very first college I attended. It was located in Orange County about three miles from my parent's home.

One spring afternoon there was a brief and very light rainstorm. No thunder or lightning was detected. Suddenly - out of absolutely nowhere - a fierce bolt of lightning struck directly beside the campus swimming pool, instantly killing a male student. The lightning bolt then ricocheted to the nearby campus golf course and struck another man. The man survived the strike, but the bolt destroyed the wristwatch that he was wearing.

I was in class on campus at the time and the lightning strike was deafeningly loud. My Mom later told me that at that very moment she was on the phone talking with a friend, and the sound of the strike was so loud (three miles away) that they both simultaneously dropped the telephone receivers!

The next day I went to the swimming pool where the strike occurred. There was a hole in the concrete about four feet across and nearly a foot deep.

Years earlier, when I was in the seventh grade, another frighteningly memorable lightning incident happened. I was an eleven-year-old student at Dale Junior High in Anaheim, California.

 This is the only photo I could find of Dale Junior High. It's still located in the same place, but looks different than I remember it.
(of course, when I was a student there Abraham Lincoln was president)

I always walked to school, but if the weather was particularly foul my Mom would drive me. 

On this day I was in English class, and the classroom windows faced Dale Street - right in front of the school. English was my last class of the day. It was pouring rain. I happened to look out the window and saw my Mom's car pull up. It was a relief to know I wouldn't have to walk home.

My Mother had only been parked there a few minutes when a lightning bolt struck a power pole directly where she was parked. It was only a few feet from her car. All the lights went out in our classroom and I saw Mom leap out of the car. Fortunately she was unharmed.

This post is getting long but I'm on a roll. I have a few more stories to tell.

I'm in my 30's, living in the Missouri Ozarks where storms are frequent and fierce.

During a raging thunderstorm I decide to quell my fear by playing the piano. I remember that it was Mozart's A minor sonata. There is a big maple tree right outside the window. 

The tree is suddenly struck by lightning. I hear a ZING go through the lamp on the piano and the lights go out. I also feel a distinct electrical charge tingle through my hands - and I'm wearing a ring on each hand (I usually don't wear rings when I play the piano).

I saved the scariest for last.

It's December. My retired parents are living in Texas. It's snowing and they're watching TV. The TV has an old antenna hookup (the antenna is on the roof). A freak thunderstorm happens in the midst of the snow.

My Mother - who's terrified of storms - jumps up to turn off the TV. As she touches the TV dial, a jolt of electricity goes up her left arm (she's left-handed). Incredibly, when she examines her arm she discovers a dark distinct burn mark on the inside of her arm, near the elbow.

Her arm is numb and has a tingling sensation for days. The only thing we can assume is that a charge of electricity went up her arm when she touched the dial and exited near her elbow.

Mom refused to get any medical help for this. She eventually regained the use of her arm, but the black burn mark remained the rest of her life.


  1. Your stories were frightening and memorable, indeed. Thunderstorms can be inviting, it's true. But one must always respect lightning associated with them. It can be deadly. A close friend's dad survived being hit, not once but twice in his life, just sitting on his front porch. Seems he was a magnet for it. Not quite himself afterwards. The closest it ever got to me was hitting a puddle of water a few feet away. It is something you NEVER forget.

  2. PS) Years ago when we remodeled the bathroom we discovered an electrical outlet behind the tub. My husband did not remove it as I requested. So I never take a bath during a storm. Worried I might get shocked like your mom did.

    1. Lightning terrifies me not only because it's deadly, but also because it is so unpredictable. Some people seem to attract lightning more than others. I never take a bath or use the sink during a storm.

      Long ago I heard about a woman who was struck by lightning because she was wearing a wire bra. I'm not kidding.
      Fact is stranger than fiction.

  3. Lightning seeks the path of least resistance to the ground, but if the conductor is too narrow-gauged to accommodate the charge, the bolt will arc to other things. Best to stay away from conductors in the home, like appliances plugged into grounded outlets and don't shower during a storm --water down the drain makes a good ground. Metal roof is fine but you may want to run some grounding cables up to it. I was careful during 35 years of gardening NOT to be on a field under thunder. Still, I hit the ground with my ears ringing a couple times.

    1. Your knowledge is always helpful and greatly appreciated. I used to always unplug appliances during storms, but lately I've given up the effort - - since the storms occur here almost daily.

  4. Goodness, that's quite enough close encounters for any person. No wonder you have such respect for lightning. We hardly ever get thunder and lightning here but when we lived in France we received a few big storms. I was always careful to unplug all computer and TV related equipment (especially routers) as they fry easily. I recall one lasting over an hour a few miles away from our house and we, with friends sat on the terrace under cover and watched it in awe for the entire time. If you can look at such a storm from a safe distance it's awe inspiring.

    1. When I lived in Texas, lightning blew out my computer and printer. The computer was undamaged but the printer never worked again. I had to buy a new one.

      You're fortunate that you don't get much lightning where you live.

  5. The closest I've come to lightning was when I was a teenager. We were camping at a state park in Florida. There was a body of water behind the camper and I was walking toward it, going to stick my feet in, when a bolt of lightning struck the water in front of me. It was probably further away from me than it seemed. Scary indeed, thankfully I hadn't stepped in the water yet. I don't remember there being any thunder or lightning before hand, I don't think I would have went to the water if there had been . Stay safe, Sheila

    1. That's a frightening story - and it's really fortunate that you didn't step into the water. It's surprising how many deadly lightning bolts come out of nowhere - when there doesn't seem to be any thunder (or lightning).

  6. Holy Cow, Jon. Your poor mother!
    Thankfully, I've never had any 'near-miss' experiences - but that doesn't quell my fear of lightening. Like your mention of that poor soul who lost his life, I think its sheer randomness is the most frightening.

    When I lived in Clearwater -- supposidly the lightening capital of the world -- some random fellow once asked me to spend time with him on the beach those awful web-and-metal lawn chairs ... while storms threatened all around. No thank you very much!

  7. I remember when I was on a boat with my aunt and uncle during a horrendous lightning storm - - my aunt kept saying "We're safe on a boat."

    Holy crap, was she crazy?? In the middle of the water with lightning bolts zapping down!!! We're luck we got out of there alive!!!


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