Mysterious Bolts Out of the Blue
November 17, 2014
“CALM DOWN, FELLAS! Calm down!” Mr. Chambers tried to get his Boy Scout troop under control. “I know you are excited. We have a celebrity among us.” Mr. Chambers gestured to his right where Thunderbolt Thames was standing. “I am sure your recognize Mr. Ted Thames, Thunderbolt, a weatherman on our local TV station. We are going to be enjoying several camping trips this coming year and I wanted you to all be up on lightning facts. Mr. Thames has been kind enough to come tell us all about lightning. The sooner you quiet down, the sooner we can get started.” The boys clapped and cheered.
Thunderbolt grinned at the group of boys as he was greeted by a musty church basement smell. After he nodded at the group, Ted Thames went over to the light switch and turned off the light. “I am going to be using a projector to show you many fine examples of lightning antics for lack of better terminology. First we will look at the strange and unusual. We will go over the safety tips last, so they will be remembered better, hopefully. That is what is important—remembering the safety facts.”
“I wonder what kind of a badge we could possibly earn for lightning. Put on your thinking cap, James,” Eddie whispered to his friend.
Thunderbolt Thames went for the dramatic, right off the bat. It was a striking photo of The Empire State Building being struck by huge jagged lightning bolts. “There is a mystery as to how many times a year The Empire State Building is struck by lightning. A favorite book of mine says twenty-three times. An article on the internet says one hundred times.
“An article by the NOAA says twenty-five times. Did you know that when they constructed The Empire State Building it was constructed partially for the purpose of serving as a lightning rod to protect the surrounding area in New York City from lightning strikes—so that it would receive all of the large strikes?”
The members of the troop mumbled among themselves when this tidbit was given to them.
Thunderbolt Thames projected another image. “Look at this young woman. See how her hair is standing on end? That is because the atmosphere around her is electrically charged. She was a tourist from California and a friend snapped this picture of her on the observation deck at The Empire State building.” The boys ooohed at the image of the pretty young woman, her long hair standing out from her head in the August 1975 photo. “Five minutes after she walked away from the platform, it was struck by a lightning bolt that killed one and injured seven others.”
“She was lucky!” Larry blurted out a little louder than he had intended.
The next image Thunderbolt Thames put up was of a quaint old French magazine illustration, 1910. “This magazine article tells of the sad fate of Pierre Boude. He was a bell-ringer that was killed when lightning struck the church steeple where he was ringing the bells with a rope. Most church bells cast during that era were inscribed with the Latin legend, ‘Fulgura frango.’ This translates as ‘I break the lightning.’ Bell ringers in these old churches and chapels were often killed by lightning. During one thirty-three year stretch, 103 bell ringers in Germany were killed by lightning, and that is only one country. Many more were killed.”
“Shocking!” James whispered to Eddie. They tried not to laugh.
“This old medieval stone tower built as a defense in Brescia, Italy was later converted to storage. In 1769 it was struck by lightning when it was used for storing seventy-eight tons of gun powder.” Ted projected an image of the blast, an old etching. The resulting explosion collapsed all of the surrounding houses and 308 bodies were pulled from the wreckage. Five hundred others were injured.”
“Wow!” The boys uttered exclamations as they wiggled in their seats, wondering what would come up next on the projection screen.
“This is quite a strange photograph and this rarely happens.” Ted put up and image of a lightning-bolt filled skyline. All of the lightning bolts were straight except one. It had started to the ground then stopped halfway, formed a series of circles then continued on to the ground.
“What causes that?” Eddie asked.
“Glad you asked. They think it was caused by a freak wind-burst. It is called looped lightning. There are many freak accidents caused as a result of lightning strikes. Years ago, a French astronomer started collecting the strange lightning tales he came across. In one such tale, a lightning strike started a fire. Within a few seconds another lightning strike hit a nearby alarm bell, summoning the firemen. They put out the blaze on the fire caused by the previous lightning bolt.”
The church basement echoed with laughter at this revelation.
Thunderbolt Thames began to repeat more of the astronomer’s collected stories. The boys were all ears. “One man had his clothing clean stripped away in England in 1878 by a lightning strike—his clothes were blown off of him, he was naked.” Thunderbolt knew there would be a round of laughter at that story and he was right. “A bolt that went through a windowpane made an exact circle in the glass but did not shatter it. Lightning that went through the window of another home hit a stack of dinner plates on the table. Every other plate was smashed, the others remained whole. This was in the state of Iowa. I am partial to this bizarre story: There was a basket of eggs in Ireland that was struck by a bolt of lightning. All of the eggshells were blown off the eggs, but the eggs inside remained whole in their membranes. In another strange incident a little girl was jerked through the air by a lightning bolt and she landed unharmed atop her sewing machine. Lightning has been known to fuse the zippers on the sleeping bags of military personnel, making them un-zippable. Yes, lightning is a force to be reckoned with.”
“Why do you get hit by lightning when you are under a tree?” Larry asked, after the chattering died down.”
“Tall trees are lightning rods. If you are under the tree you will also get hit because of electrical charge traveling down the tree and along the ground beneath it. Did you know that Oak trees take lightning strikes more than any other trees.”
“Really?” Larry asked again.
“Yes, really, and it is still a mystery why. Granted, oaks are often taller than the surrounding trees, but scientists are leaning toward the fact that oaks usually have a higher moisture content. A bolt can literally come out of the blue, also. Sometimes lightning strikes come from over fifteen miles out from the center of storm activity.”
“What all different kinds of lightning are there, Mr. Thames?” Eddie asked.
“There are many different kinds of lightning: forked lightning, chained lightning, horizontal lightning, looped lightning and ball lightning—now ball lightning is the strange one. Be sure to do more research on ball lightning if you want a real treat. Lightning strikes our Earth one hundred times each second. The purpose of lightning is to release built-up electrical charges in the atmosphere. Lightning can be 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit in temperature and it travels at 80,000 miles per second. Lightning does not just occur in thunderstorms. It can occur as a result of volcanic activity, snowstorms, hurricanes, and even is generated by forest fires or surface nuclear detonations.”
“Tell us some more weird stuff,” Larry urged.
“I have a few more tidbits and I will tell you the basics and you can do further research on them if you wish. Then, I will pass out a little true-false quiz that I got from the NOAA site. We will go over the correct answers and hammer those into your head for lightning safety. Then I will leave and you will be forced to watch me on TV, for updates,” Thames said with a chuckle.
“A quiz?” Eddie had his pencil ready. He was sure he knew all the answers. Earlier reading had given him the knowledge that height, pointy shape and isolation are the main reasons determining where a lightning bolt will strike.
“Yes, a little quiz, Thunderbolt answered. Now there is an unproven theory that certain people’s body chemistry may contribute to their getting struck by lightning. As I said, it is unproven and that is why I want you to do your own research and make up your own mind. There are many incidents of people being struck by lightning more that once in a lifetime. Well, certain professions or hobbies such as golf would make them more likely to get struck and that has nothing to do with body chemistry, but there is one family, the Olsens of Illinois that have had more than their share of dealing with lightning. Their story appeared on the show Unsolved Mysteries which aired in February of 1997. Since 1899, ten members of their family have been struck by, or encountered by lightning. Two members have died as a result of lightning strikes and one of them was not even on the family property when struck, but at his fiancés home. You may be able to find a DVD of this show if you are really, really interested. Others who lived through lightning strikes have claimed that the event changed their lives. One woman who had MS and was struck by lightning claimed that the lightning strike cured her of the disease. You may or not be familiar with Danion Brinkley who wrote SAVED BY THE LIGHT. He claims that he was killed by a lightning strike, but they were able to revive him. He had a near death experience that included a life review and an insight into the future. He was then revived and wrote the book about his experience. He says his lightning experience offered him much insight and resulted in giving him the added powers of ESP. You can find information about this former US Marine on the internet. He was born in 1950. People have tried to debunk his claims, but he has mostly spent his life doing good works. James, would you please pass out these quizzes?”
While the quizzes were being handed out, Thunderbolt Thames continued. “At some point in your lives you may have the opportunity to study geology. I highly recommend it as a science course. Currently there are several theories floating about as to what actually started life on Earth. One theory is that it came on debris that fell to earth. The debris contained living microbes which seeded life here. The long-standing, older theory is that lightning was the life force. It struck pools of salty sea water and a chemical reaction occurred. The chemical reactions produced amino acids, the building blocks of life itself. It then took millions and millions of years for the life to evolve and come out of the sea water onto the land.”
“Lightning’s what did it!” Eddie said with conviction, as he finished marking his test sheet.
Please click the book cover image to read more about Sara Marie Hogg and her books.