July 6, 2008

Lightning a Striking Fact of Life

By Brian Evans, The Lima News, Ohio

Jul. 6--LIMA -- Its devastating forces jolted through homes recently, blowing out electronics in its path.

Its estimated 50,000-degree temperature destroyed trees and power lines throughout the region, knocking out the lights across the city for days at one point.

There were even two Shawnee Township parents shocked and injured recently while waiting for their kids at a local dance studio.

It's enough to leave residents to wonder if this force of nature's wrath is on the rise. But it's not, experts say.

Benjamin Schott, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said scientists have no data showing an increase in lighting, which has existed far longer than life on earth.

"We record ground strikes, and we have a good idea when they hit and where," Schott said. "Most lightning occurs in the clouds, from cloud to cloud. When it comes into contact with the ground, we record it -- we know."

However, Schott said, urban sprawl and media attention creates a perception of there being more lightning hitting things more often these days.

"People always claim they were struck by lightning," said Richard A. Tarney, the chief consultant for Lightning Experts, which works across the world making commercial structures lightning-proof. "It's a very difficult situation. However, if someone was actually struck directly by lightning, they would be dissipated; they would be gone. ... No one would live through it to talk about it. The temperature would be hotter than the sun in that split second."

Ever since Cindy Bruin felt the powerful jolt of lightning -- and watched sparks fly around in her house near Cable Road -- she's developed a slight fear for it.

"We were very lucky," Bruin said, explaining that only she and a teenaged son were home when it hit. "It did damage, a lot of damage. ... From the gas line to the water heater, it sent sparks flying. ... It started a small fire."

Bruin stomped most of the initial fire out, as smoke detectors emphasized the shock with warning sounds, she said. By the time firefighters arrived, the flames were out.

Before it hit, Bruin said, something drew her attention to the laundry room.

"I looked in there, and, suddenly, it lit up like fireworks," Bruin recalled. "My son said it was the loudest thunder he'd ever heard. My neighbor, at the time, said, 'Oh God, that was close.' It was terrifying and strange."

The damage spread throughout the home, she said. Numerous appliances were destroyed, inside and out, including three television sets, a computer and its monitor, an outside light, a compact disc player, a radio, a phone and an air conditioner, among others.

The electricity entered their home through the front, Bruin said, and reached its peak in the laundry room, causing $4,500 in damage, according to early estimates.

What surprised Bruin about the incident wasn't the damage, however.

"It wasn't even storming that bad," Bruin said of the storm of the June 13 storm, eerily on a Friday the 13th. "Now, when it storms, I am a little bit leery; I am worried about it. ... And, the date made it stranger."

Not long before this incident, two people waiting for their children in the basement of a dance studio in Shawnee Township were injured when they were shocked by a lightning strike during a storm.

Platoon Chief Todd Truesdale, of the Shawnee Township Fire Department, said the victims were parents. He said they were sitting in chairs at the dance studio/home in the 2700 block of Oakhill Court when they were shocked.

Although their injuries weren't serious, they went to the hospital because an electric shock, such as one caused by lightning, can disturb one's heart rhythm.

Tarney said none of the local cases, including last month's storm, sounded too unusual.

"I've been at it for 31 years," he said. "It's very dangerous stuff, but it's really good for the environment. It's all part of the natural mix. It's all part of the plasma of the world, of the universe."

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