Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Photo of Ball Lightning

During the first 21 years of my life, I lived in Michigan and experienced my share of violent thunderstorms.  When I was a teenager, the storms where I lived seemed to increase in their violence.  There were often tornado watches and warnings, and there was plenty of lightning.

On the night of June 14, 1968, we had yet another severe thunderstorm.  I was sleeping in a bedroom I shared with my 3 brothers.  I was in the top bunk of a bunk bed, and as the storm raged, I could actually feel the electricity in the air.  The feeling was odd - my muscles tightened, and the hair on my arms stood up with each new bolt of lightning.  I got out of bed, needing to use the bathroom.  Closing the bathroom door, I switched on the bathroom light.   Before I could take my fingers away from the switch, I saw a blinding light, the power in the house went off, and arcing sparks shot out of the bathroom light switch towards my fingers, in almost the exact way that one would see the arcs of electricity coming out of a toy plasma sphere.

At nearly the same second, I heard my older sister scream as I've never heard her scream before.  The thunder we had just heard was deafening, my ears were ringing.   I opened the bathroom door and both my mother and sister were standing there.  My sister was shaking.  No one knew exactly what had happened.  My sister said her back hurt.  Someone got a flashlight, my mom looked at her back, and saw that tiny holes were burned into her nightgown.  Then we looked in her bedroom.  We saw nothing at first, but then we aimed the flashlight toward the ceiling.  In the very corner of the room were two perfectly round charred holes.  We knew that lightning had hit, the lightning had caused ceiling plaster to melt, and that is what splattered over my sister and her bed, causing the burns and holes in her nightgown and bedding.  Everyone stayed awake that night for quite a long time, most of us were afraid to go back to sleep. 

Click to enlarge newspaper article

The next morning, city workers came to check out the ceiling holes created by the lightning.  At that time, we were told that it was "ball lightning" that hit the house.  Ball lightning is very odd, it's not always directional, it's a bright "ball of energy" that travels rather slowly and erratically.   We found out that the lightning hit the corner of my sister's room, then made a second hole going out.  It traveled across our driveway and went through our neighbor's house, making a hole in their outside wall, and another one in an inside wall where it then travelled down a heating duct and exploded in their basement.

Severe storms eventually became a regular feature of my life in Michigan.   Our house was to be hit at least 2 more times while I lived there, once hitting our metal basketball pole and missing me by about 5 feet. 

I was thrilled to find that after I moved to Los Angeles, they do not have such severe electrical storms.   To this day, I have a slight fear of lightning, the fear is most intense when lightning occurs in the middle of the night. 

I have a couple more interesting lightning stories, but will save them for another time.  One involves my Mom and "ball lightning" while using a Ouija board! 

No comments: