A LOOK BACK: My Personal Lesson With Lightning

From: Nick Weig

With the forecast indicating several days of quiet weather, there are a number of projects I’ll be working on this coming week in preparation for the anniversary of the Parkersburg tornado.  But before I touch on that I wanted to take some time to talk about other weather experiences in my life.

The first one I documented was certainly the scariest.  It was shortly after my Junior year of High School when a powerful electric storm hit my hometown of Strawberry Point, IA.  I had never seen lightning as frequent and vivid as that.  I was in the living room of our ranch style home when i stood up to go to the kitchen.  At that moment, a bolt of lightning struck the tree in our front yard, approximately 20 feet away from me.

TrunkScientists estimate a bolt of lightning can range in power from 10 to 120-million volts.  I can certainly attest that this one was on the high end of that category.  The shock wave from the strike threw me up against a wall and couch behind me and knocked me out/stunned me for a short time.  As you can see in the picture to the left, the lightning made direct contact with a large tree, vaporizing the sap and literally blowing the tree trunk up from the inside.

Of course in retrospect I must thank this tree.  Being at least two times taller than our house likely prevented the charge from making contact with it.  That easily would have had a more disastrous effect.  It took myself quite a while to realize what had happened.  When I got back to my feet, me ears were ringing, it was dark and the house was still shaking.

Tree on BlazerMuch of the tree had fallen into the driveway and on top of a vehicle.  The picture to the right shows how the vehicle was actually pushed away from the tree before the limbs fell on it (take note of the dry spot on the wheels).

The house was a mess.  Some windows were blown out by the force of the lightning.  Debris from the tree was everywhere, in fact, a large chunk of sod from the base of the tree was thrown into a neighbors yard approximately 100 feet.  Another interesting feature of this incident was the path the lightning traveled underground after striking the tree.  All throughout our yard there was what looked like small volcanoes.  It appears the lightning shot out of the ground in several places, spitting out a small amount of muddy dirt.  That left small mounds with a crater in the middle.

Projectiles in Ground Another example of the force this lightning strike had, pieces of tree that literally became projectiles.  In this pictures to the left you can see shards of the trunk stuck in the ground.  It’s likely they flew up into the air and came down with enough speed to puncture the ground.  Smaller pieces of debris were also found implanted in the side of the house and also in the kitchen after flying through a busted window.

Of course the tree was destroyed and the remnant had to be taken out.  This was the closest encounter I ever had and ever choose to have.  To this day lightning and thunder, even indoors, makes me a little uneasy.  I admit that’s a strange fear to have as a stormchaser, but if not for incidents like this, I don’t think I would have the drive to learn more about all the mysteries surrounding extreme weather.  While capturing the EF-5 tornado near New Hartford last year is one of my biggest weather moments, in some ways, this encounter with lightning still stands out as the biggest… and scariest.

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