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July 12, 2013

Lightning is beautiful but deadly, so be careful

The Daily Star

---- — As you all know, we’ve had an overabundance of rainfall this summer. And if it isn’t raining, the humidity has been intolerable at best. This leads the weatherman to remind us that there’s a 30-percent chance of thunderstorms every afternoon.

But there’s something special about thunderstorms — it’s the lightning. I recently wrote about the beauty of spider webs, but there’s something spectacular about lightning.

The other night as the storms roared through, Pat and I sat by a picture window and watched as Thor threw his lightning bolts from the heavens to the ground below. Our camper shook as the thunder echoed across the valley. Off to our right, a huge, brilliant, purple-colored bolt hit on the Marcy South Power Line. Sometimes, two or three flashes of lightning could be seen at the same time. It was as good as any Fourth of July fireworks.

When I was little, I loved to be out in the rain. As lightning flashed and the thunder roared, I’d run back onto the porch for protection.

One late afternoon in my early teens, I was bringing the cows down from the pasture on my horse. The lightning was so close and so intense that I got off and walked down the hill, afraid that I was the tallest object around.

Why you ask? Lightning may be beautiful, but it’s also very dangerous. A lot of people are struck and killed every year during lightning storms. Since I like hiking and climbing in the Adirondacks, I’m very wary of being caught on those bald summits in the High Peaks during a thunderstorm. That’s a perfect place to become a lightning rod.

Years ago, I was camping at Lake Colden when one of those summer storms came through like an out-of-control freight train. We watched as several lightning bolts hammered the top of Algonquin Mountain, New York’s second highest peak.

Later that evening, we talked with hikers who were just a few hundred feet from the summit. “It was real scary,” one of them said. “The lightning was so close it made my hair tingle.”

The last time I was in Colorado hunting elk with bow and arrow, I was in an aluminum tree stand high up in an aspen grove when it started to thunder. Within minutes, the sky turned black and the wind howled.

Suddenly, a bolt of horizontal lightning flashed across the valley in front of me. In mere seconds, I had that tree stand on the ground and I lay as tight to an old log as I could get. The air was filled with the smell of ozone. I figured I was lucky not to be smelling burned hair and flesh instead. It was that close.

An hour later, I was back up the tree and watched a dozen cow elk and one nice bull trot down the drainage, but they were too far away for a good shot.

There are millions of volts of electricity in a single lightning bolt. If it hits you, you’re more than likely dead. It stops your heart. If someone in your party is struck, start CPR compressions at once. Many people have been revived by this method. But the best defense is to seek shelter in a low area.

I remember one night a few years ago when the sky was so bright with multiple lightning flashes you could have stayed outside and read a book. It was truly a thing of beauty, but I was glad I wasn’t in a tent someplace hoping to survive ‘til morning.

What’s happening?

The Otschodela Council of the Boy Scouts is holding a Sporting Clay Target Tournament at the Oneonta Sportsmen’s Club on top of Franklin Mountain from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. July 20. For more information, call Thomas Wright at 607-432-6491 or email

Rick Brockway writes a weekly outdoors column for The Daily Star. Email him at