When Lightning Strikes: A Personal Account

June 20, 2011; 6:00 AM
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Lightning is a giant spark of electricity in the atmosphere or between the atmosphere and the ground.

"Lighting had struck my small apartment building at the exact moment I had tried to use my computer."

According to the National Weather Service, there are roughly 25 million lightning flashes in the United States every year.

William Bryce Fricke never expected to encounter one of those 25 million flashes firsthand.

"It was before the start of my junior year in college, the first night in my new apartment," said Fricke. "I was awoken by thunder and knew there was a pretty strong storm moving through the area."

Fricke was studying to be an engineer, and he knew the dangers of operating electronic devices during severe weather. Startled by the storm, he left his bed to shut down his computer, potentially saving it. The intended and actual result turned out to be two quite different things.

"The instant I touched the mouse, there was a bright flash and I felt a strong jolt going from my right hand, all the way through my right foot," said Fricke.

What exactly had happened to cause this surge of power? You could call it bad timing.

"Lighting had struck my small apartment building at the exact moment I had tried to use my computer," added Fricke. "I laid there shaking for a few minutes although I really can't say for sure if it was due to the electrical shock or the rush of adrenaline."

Fricke spent the next several moments in a daze, unsure of the best course of action. His first instinct, rather than to call for medical assistance, was to call his mother.

"Feeling nothing was seriously wrong, I called my mom to say 'Guess what just happened,'" said Fricke. She was a bit more concerned about the situation than I, so we called the apartment office who, in turn, called the paramedics."

Paramedics quickly arrived at Fricke's apartment and checked his vital signs. Besides some redness on his right hand and foot as well as some tingling and an accelerated heart rate, he was fine.

As lightning passes through air, it can heat the air to 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit: about 5 times hotter than the surface of the sun, according to the National Weather Service.

"I later learned that when the apartment staff went to investigate the damage to the building, they found a basketball-sized hole in the roof and a lot of fried electronics," said Fricke.

Luckily, Fricke had escaped unscathed as had his computer. His mouse, unfortunately, did not.

Fricke did not require hospitalization and has had no long term effects from the lightning strike, but he did say he's much more careful during storms.

"I was lucky not to have taken a more direct strike," added Fricke.

While Fricke suffered quite a shock brought on by bad timing, the damage could have been much worse.

From 2001 to 2010 there were 390 deaths caused by lightning, according to the National Weather Service. So far, there have been five deaths in 2011.

Learn more about how to reduce the shock of a home lightning strike.


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