Monday, May 19, 2008

Electrical Storms

We have very impressive electrical storms here in the province, and yesterday was a lulu, to put it mildly.  It moved directly over the house, and we found that out in the most dangerous possible way.

We're improving our drainage system in back of the house, in order to move runoff from the heavy rains more efficiently.  To that end, Darío dug a beautiful ditch along side the dog run Saturday, in preparation for putting in cement v-shaped drainage channels called cunetas.  At the height of the storm, a real aguasero,  we went outside to check on the ditch.  Both of us were barefoot, normal for the house.  She stayed on the concrete pad underneath the terraza , while I went out into the grassed area of the dog run itself to get a better look.

At that moment, there was a crack of thunder and I simultaneously saw a flash of light just behind me--and a hard jolt up through my calves that had me screaming and clutching my legs.  Meanwhile, Mary saw a ball of light strike the concrete pad a few feet to her left.  We teleported inside the house at faster than the speed of light, where I spent the next 10 minutes shaking--not because of any physical damage but through sheer fright.

What we think happened is that ball lightning struck right outside, one in the grassy dog run area and another on the concrete pad.  Concrete is not a conductor--Mary felt nothing.  I, on the other hand, was grounded and probably felt the surge from the earth up through my bare feet.

No one has to tell me how dumb it was--how life-threatening it was--to go out in bare feet.  I know that--or did, when I used to have two brain cells to rub together.  But the problem is that electrical storms are so frequent around here that you slowly get used to them--and complacent.  That's what kills.

Darío is terrified of lightning, and will always hurry home ahead of an electrical storm.  Smart man.

While I was still trying to recover what few wits I possess, our next-door neighbor called to see if we had power.  No, we'd lost it, after the lightning strike.  Then she recounted how they'd had a lightning strike in the central courtyard of their house (it's built around an open, landscaped area).  She'd been sitting inside facing the window to the courtyard and saw the strike.  They figured that it was ball lightning as well, since they didn't lose anything to the discharge.

We found out later that right after our strike, another one hit a transformer in the area, causing a power outage.  Frankly, I didn't think much of it because power outages are so frequent here.  We have all of our electronics and the TV on surge protectors--we always have done so, even in the US.  Later, after the power came on, I found out that my battery back-up surge protector for my computer, external hard drives and some other equipment had blown out--but my computer was ok.  However, our Internet router went out, too (why, I'm not sure because it was connected to one of my two surge protectors); Mary has jury-rigged the system so that we have Internet access, but we'll have to get a new router.

It was a really scary situation, and through no merit of mine, I'm still alive.


Don Ray said...

Scary story. I am glad you are all right.

Joyce said...

We've been researching ball lightning and have found that it's very controversial--until recently, it was thought not to exist. It can't be reproduced well in the laboratory, and it's unpredictable as to when it appears.

We're going on the ball lightning theory because Mary happened to be looking right at the spot where at least one struck the concrete pad. She says it was round and larger than a grapefruit in size. That easily fits the reported range of sizes, which range from pea-sized to 6 ft across.

I only saw light in back of me--can't tell you what shape. We think those were two separate incidents. I've theorized that maybe there was just one and somehow I was near enough to feel the effects, but this is static electricity, and the only way I could do so is through direct contact. If that happened, I would expect to have been burned. I wasn't. I don't remember anything in my feet, but both calves, along their full length to the knee joint had that jolt. Like everyone else, I've had electrical shocks for various reasons, and it felt like that--only lots more intense. It did NOT feel the way static electricity does when it "jumps" from a charged object to your finger, say.

Whatever it was, I consider myself extremely lucky, to put it mildly.

Tracy said...

Joyce - How scary! I'm so glad to hear you're okay.