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Tales: Lightning strikes

March 08, 2001|By AL KALIN, Special to this newspaper

Thunderstorms seldom visit our Valley, but when they do you had better watch out. They can be just as deadly here as anywhere else.

Fifteen years ago we witnessed a lightning strike at our house. Flashes and cracking announced a thunderstorm headed our way early in the evening.

Soon, a torrential rain joined the lightning bolts. When I looked out the back door I saw leaves had plugged the drains on the deck around our house. Realizing the rapidly rising water would soon be flooding our house, I donned a pair of rubber boots and rain jacket and headed outside to unplug the drains.

The lightning strikes were coming so rapidly it was bright enough to see. After cleaning the trash from the drains I was standing under the eave of the house, shovel resting over shoulder, watching the water recede as the drains did their job.


My wife, watching out the back door, said sparks were crackling off the blade of my shovel just before the lightning bolt hit. All I remember was a bright flash and boom that left me temporarily blinded and deafened. Patti pulled me in the house and I realized I was OK as I started to see and hear again despite the loud ringing in my ears.

It was pitch black inside the house and by the time we had located a flashlight, with the aid of the continuing lightning, we noticed an orange glow outside the house. The power pole and the area around it was on fire from the burning oil inside the transformer. The transformer had taken the direct hit from the lightning bolt and had been blown apart and ripped off the pole.

The heavy rain soon extinguished the fire as the thunderstorm rumbled off toward Calipatria. Our phone no longer worked but I called the repairmen from the radio-telephone in my pickup and we turned in for the night using our flashlights and candles.

The next morning IID repairmen replaced the transformer but when they snapped in the new fuse, it instantly blew. Checking our meter box, they discovered the two fusible links built into the back of the meter box had blown so violently, deep holes had been burned into the studs where the meter was mounted. They suggested I check the main breaker and when I did, I found it was welded open.

The phone repairman arrived and discovered the telephone fuse was blown. In addition, all the phones had been fried by the lightning bolt. After replacing the fuse and phones we had service again.

It was the next morning before the electrician could replace the main breaker as well as some of the others that had been vaporized. This time when the IID repairman snapped in the fuse beside the transformer, power flowed to our house.

Every electronic item in our house that was turned on at the time of the lightning strike was fried — the burglar alarm, our new digital clock, the TV, a sound center, and even the coffee maker. The damage was so extensive, nothing could be fixed.

All these memories returned when I received an e-mail from my friend, Jose. Jose is one of those rabid bass fishermen, always on the lookout for that magical bait or fishing tip that will give him the upper edge against old bucketmouth. He was participating in a bass fishing forum on the Internet and the question was asked: What was your worst experience with lightning? The 15 answers that Jose forwarded to me were not only amazing and frightening, but drove home the fact that you don't want to be on open water during a thunderstorm.

The following is one person's story as written in the forum: "While fishing an evening tournament on Portage Lakes we had a thunderstorm pass just to the north of us. All it did at the lake was spit a little rain so we were safe, right? WRONG! Made a cast and after my worm hit the water my line bowed upward, when I moved the rod it buzzed just like a transformer! I dropped the rod and hit the floor of the boat and stayed there for quite a while. Scary stuff. I don't mess around anymore. If a storm is close I'm seekin' shelter so I can fish another day."

A friend of mine found himself in a similar situation at the Bass Master's Classic. Every contestant is paired with a different member of the press each day. The outdoor writer's job is to verify the bass caught by the contestant are legal.

A thunderstorm moved in while they were fishing and the contestant refused to quit. My frightened friend, a well-known outdoor writer, removed all the rods from the boat's rod locker and crawled inside, where he stayed for the rest of the day as thunder and lightning boomed around the boat. Every time he heard flopping he would raise the lid to verify the fish was legal. Luckily nobody was hurt.

Outdoor Tales columnist, Al Kalin, may be reached by e-mail at

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