Thursday, October 05, 2006

What not to do when you're about to be struck by lightning

Yesterday some titanic electrical storms blew through the area.

We've been having some big ones lately, with bright, almost continuous flashes of cloud-to-cloud lightning and short, intense shots of cloud-to-ground (or, more accurately, ground-to-cloud) lightning. A line of powerful storms stretched diagonally across the northeastern part of Pennsylvania yesterday afternoon, but I thought the worst was over by the time I headed home. I was wrong.

As a result of making some stops, I didn't get to my new house until almost 8:00 last night. I had things I needed to unpack - a set of pots and pans, a big box full of kitchen odds and ends. I needed the space in my car today, so leaving the stuff in my car wasn't an option.

It was still storming when I pulled up. The rain was pounding a little less insistently, though, so it seemed like a good time to hustle the stuff into the house. I parked the car, unlocked the passenger's side doors (no automatic locks for me, baby!), turned off the ignition, took the keys in my left hand, grabbed an umbrella in my right, opened the door, stepped out onto the road.

My car keys began to tingle. My, that's peculiar, I thought, in exactly the same voice that Eddie Murphy used when he said those words on his Comedian album. Car keys usually don't tingle and squirm like there's electricity running through them.

I hunched over and ran around to the passenger's side of the car and began to unpack, shielding the boxes with my umbrella. When I touched the metal shaft I noticed that it, too, was tingling and crawling.

I'm gonna die, aren't I? I thought.

Well, needless to say, I didn't. But I could have. Vast fingers of electropotential were reaching out of the street around me, trying to shake hands with oppositely-charged fingers in the clouds above. Had they met, the resulting lightning bolt would have taken the shortest possible path, possibly through the top of my head. The safest place would have been inside the metal shell of my car, since all the electrical current from a lightning strike would have washed over the outer metallic skin and left everything inside unharmed.

That's what I should have done: retreated to the safety of the car's interior, maybe even gotten the hell out of the area. Instead, I walked around my car and unpacked it, tingling keys and umbrella in my hands. I could have been killed. I wasn't. I was stupid, and I was lucky. And I'm still alive.

Kids, don't try that at home.


dee said...

I guess we'll never know how many people's last thought was "My, that's peculiar."

I live across the street from a softball field. Someday I'm going to get a great show when some idiot is standing there holding an aluminum bat while they try to get the game in before "the storm gets closer."

I'm so glad you were spared, despite your flirting with qualifying for a Darwin Award.

anne said...

I always tell my hubby that I have seen my death and it involves lightening. I'm not sure why - I've never had a particular fear of lightening but I just have this feeling...

Weird, I know.

I know someone - two people actually - that were struck by lightening. They were holding hands while the one was trying to unhook their dog from a tie-out. The lightening hit the one, travelled through the other and killed the dog. Stranger still, the one in the middle was pregnant at the time and the baby was unharmed. I said - whatever the name was - its nickname should be sparky.