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Great Balls of FirePosted Friday, November 7, 2008, at 11:18 PM
A couple years ago, a bolt of lightning struck an oak tree in my parents yard, about 20 feet outside the window where my mother was standing at the time. She told me it was very loud and the whole room became a bright pink.
A neighbor across the street witnessed the strike. There was an explosion, followed by a gigantic ball of fire, followed by a huge puff of smoke.
The tree was totally destroyed, scattered into pieces across the entire front yard. Being very particular about the appearance of his landscape, my father immediately made an emergency phone call to his tree people to remove the debris before any neighbors could get a glimpse of the ghastly sight.
This was the fourth time in the 16 years my parents have lived in that same house, in a retirement village in northern Arkansas, whereby a tree in their yard has been hit by lightning. Apparently, whatever message Mother Nature is trying to convey to them hasn't sunk in yet.
Lightning is a very dangerous natural occurrence, much like an unexpected visit from my ex-wife.
A lightning bolt can generate between 100 million and one billion volts of electricity. Temperatures in the channel (bolt) can exceed 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, hotter than the surface of the sun.
On a daily average, the earth experiences 44,000 thunderstorms which produce 8,000,000 lightning strikes.
In the United States alone, lightning strikes cause approximately 150 deaths per year, plus some $20,000,000 in property damage, and ignite 10,000 forest fires destroying $30,000,000 worth of marketable timber.
During a lightning storm, the safest spot indoors is away from electrical appliances and plumbing. Other safe places are in your vehicle or on the moon.
According to the Guinness Book of Records, a National Park Ranger in Virginia named Roy Cleveland Sullivan has been struck by lightning seven times.
In 1942, Sullivan was struck by lightning and lost his big toenail.
In 1969, a bolt of lightning burned Sullivan's eyebrows off.
In 1970, a bolt of lightning seared Sullivan's shoulder.
In 1972, Sullivan's hair was set on fire by a lightning strike.
On August 7, 1973, while driving his car, a bolt of lightning hit Sullivan on the head, through his hat, setting his hair on fire once again. The strike knocked him ten feet out of his car, went through both legs and knocked his shoes off.
On June 5, 1976, Sullivan was struck a sixth time, hurting his ankle.
On June 25, 1977, Sullivan was fishing when struck a seventh time by lightning. He was hospitalized with burns on his stomach and chest.
Two of Sullivan's Ranger hats, burned through the crown by lightning strikes, are on display in Guinness World Exhibit Halls -- one in New York City and the other in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
The Guinness people would be more than happy to list anyone in their Book of World Records who manages to be struck by lightning eight (or more) times. If pursuing the record, you'll need a witness or two to verify the incident and be sure to save articles of shredded clothing. Plus, you must actually survive all eight strikes. It doesn't count if you expire during one of the strikes and your friends drag your body outside during a storm with a lightning rod attached to your butt.
Some people who have been struck by lightning lose their memory of the event. There are several signs that may provide a clue.
1) Your face looks like you fell on a barbecue grill
2) The only hair you have left is a couple of strands stuck between your teeth
3) You have an overwhelming urge to do the Tango, with no music playing
4) The only piece of clothing you're wearing that isn't smoldering is your left sock
5) You believe you just had a conversation with Elvis
6) You smell like Cheech and Chong's couch
7) The first words out of your mouth form a smoke ring
8) You had the most brilliant idea ever conceived by mankind, then quickly forgot it
9) You believe you were a spark plug in a previous life
10) You decide to run for President
Lightning is nature's way of letting us know we're not in charge. If you don't believe me, fasten a lightning rod to the top of your head and stand outside during the next thunderstorm.
And be sure to say "hi" to Elvis.
Quote for the Day -- "Goodness, gracious, great balls of fire." Jerry Lee Lewis
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Bret Burquest is a former award-winning columnist for The News (2001-2007) and author of four novels. He has lived in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Miami, Atlanta, Kansas City, Memphis and the middle of the Arizona desert. After a life of blood, sweat and tears in big cities, he has finally found peace in northern Arkansas where he grows tomatoes, watches sunsets and occasionally shares the Secrets of the Universe (and beyond) with the rest of the world.