Posted by: bkivey | 23 July 2014

Zeus on the Loose

This is peak thunderstorm season in the US, although occurrence across the nation is highly variable.  The Midwest sees true monsters rising into the stratosphere, while across the South what the storms may lack in size, they make up in frequency. Where I live thunderboomers are uncommon to rare, but are often visible just across the Cascades.

If one in is in a safe place, these forces of nature engender feelings of awe and a certain vitality (perhaps from the ozone created by lightening).  It’s easy to see why the ancients thought the gods themselves must walk the Earth. Sometimes, though, ‘safe’ is a relative term. Here are the five most impressive lightening strikes I’ve witnessed, in ascending order of near death experience.

Wake Forest, North Carolina

I was living in a ground floor apartment in one of the nicer parts of town. The street was divided with a tree lined median. I was in the living room with the window open. Sunny day, but there was storm activity in the area. A man across the street was on a ladder doing something on the second story of his house.

Bright flash, and pressure on my chest. Loud boom. A bolt had struck one of the median trees. The guy across the street jumped off his aluminum ladder to the ground. No injuries, but the tree didn’t fare too well.

Columbia, South Carolina

For severity of storm, South Carolina gives Florida a run for it’s money.  During one especially violent storm, my siblings and I were in an upstairs bedroom watching the storm. The power had gone out, so the only illumination was from the lightening, and the room was fairly well lit.

We noticed a blue glow from the neighbor’s yard. Looking out the window, we saw an intensely blue-white baseball-sized sphere moving slowly atop the chain link fence.  After a few seconds, it exploded, rocking the house. My first and thus far only experience with ball lightening.

Pinellas County, Florida

Riding my bike in one of the less developed area of the county. There were storms in the area, but none especially close. Suddenly I felt my hair stand on end, my skin felt tingly, and there was a buzzing sound in my ears. Fortunately, I knew what was happening, so I laid the bike down (road rash was the very least of my concerns) and rolled into a drainage ditch. There wasn’t any actual strike, for which I’m grateful, because I likely wouldn’t be writing this if there were.

Clearwater Beach, Florida

While attending St. Petersburg College, I discovered that one of my classmates and I shared an interest in cycling. On Sundays we’d ride the Pinellas Trail from campus to Clearwater Beach, check out the heavenly bodies for a while, and ride back.

One day a rather ominous thunderstorm started moving toward the beach, and my friend suggested that maybe we should head back. I resisted, saying we still had some time. When the wind started to blow cold, I relented, and we headed back to St. Pete.

While crossing the bridge across the canal that separates Clearwater Beach from Clearwater, a bolt hit the canal in spectacular fashion close aboard. It was RIGHT THERE. I remember seeing the concentric rings of electricity spreading across the water from the several contact points. The sound deafened me. Immediately the heavens opened up, soaking us in seconds.

My riding partner stopped under the first available shelter, water sluicing off the roof. I pulled up, and he started cussing me out in royal fashion. I still couldn’t hear, but he was whites-of-the-eyes terrified. I didn’t need to hear to understand what he was saying.

My hearing returned, but not before he’d wound down. He insisted that we stay under shelter until it stopped raining, and I didn’t gainsay him.

St. Petersburg, Florida

Sitting in my 2nd floor garage apartment watching TV during the kind of storm that puts you in mind of living under a waterfall.

The entire wall to my right turned arc-light white.

One second  I was sitting in my living room, the next, the wall disappeared in a bright light.

I was stunned and deafened. I couldn’t hear, and I couldn’t move. This state lasted for some indeterminate time, as my first coherent thought was that someone was furiously knocking on my door.

A lightening bolt had hit the power pole transformer immediately (right next to the building) adjacent to the apartment. I was sitting less than 15 feet from the strike, and on the same level as the transformer.  My landlady, completely soaked, wanted to know if I was alright. I think I said something inane like ‘Sure’. She was skeptical, and in truth, I didn’t feel alright. I was a bit shaky, but no physical damage.

The power pole was removed.

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