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Dutch Town Ravaged By Weird Lightning Storm

By James Donahue

If you think the weather is strange where you live, consider what happened to the people in Soesterberg, Holland, on July 19. Authorities said a strange electrical storm created a multitude of rare ball lightning strikes that hit trees, buildings and damaged nearly 100 homes.

A local newspaper said the lightning “wrecked hundreds of televisions, computers, telephones and central heating systems.” Some people said they saw flames shoot out of their electronic equipment. Others said electric sockets were blown out of the wall.

“I saw the lightning shoot through the street,” one observer was quoted as saying. He said the fireball struck a large fir tree before going into a house. Yet others told of a purple light shooting out of the roof of another house.

The local cable television service reported damage to 97 connections to homes in the district.

While the locals identified it as “ball lightning,” some people question if that could be true. The very existence of ball lightning was considered a myth by many professionals. Yet the stories of balls of dancing lights observed during electrical storms, and St.Elmo’s Fire, large balls of light observed on fence posts, in swamps and even on the masts of sailing ships at sea, persisted for years.

In our research of unusual stories of the sea we came upon one tale of a crew of a Great Lakes schooner that stood awe-struck when a large fireball appeared at the tip of one of the masts and remained there for an unusually long time. Finally one bold sailor climbed the mast, got close to the ball, and dared to put his hand up to it. They said there was a large hissing sound and the fireball suddenly disappeared. The sailor was not hurt.

This writer personally recalls a fireball that literally entered one wall, danced across the living room and exited through the other wall of the Michigan farm home occupied by his family while he was a young man. We were gathered in the living room, a large room on the main floor, while a severe electrical storm passed through the area.

Because we had a large television antenna mounted on the roof, the house was frequently hit by lightning every time we had a storm. My father had the antenna and the house well grounded, with a thick copper cable connected to the antenna and several lightning rods mounted on the roof. The cable passed down the outside brick wall of the house and was attached to an iron rod driven deep into the earth. Thus it was common to have lightning hit our house. We also were used to hearing the strange crackling noise as the lightning passed down the cable only inches from where we sat.

While the storms always excited us, we were not concerned until the day that ball of light pranced through the room before our eyes. As I remember it, the ball was slightly smaller than a basketball. It did not move in a straight line but jerked and jiggled as if dancing its way across the carpet. And there was an add crackling sound. The whole thing lasted but a few seconds, but left an indelible memory. After that, no one could convince me that ball lightning did not exist.

Our experience with ball lightning did not damage our home. That may have been because my father always took great care to disconnect all of the household electrical appliances and especially our television set during storms. He actually had an electrical plug and socket mounted on the television so disconnecting it was simplified.

That may have been the error made by the people of Soesterberg. Note that all of the reported damage involved household electrical appliances and television cable connections. Even though people said the ball lightning was observed entering and coming out of houses, there were no reports of structural damage of fire.

After reading of the Soesterberg storm, one blog writer told of a strange storm in his or her community, but did not identify just where this happened. The writer said: “I too had a breakout of strange lightning in my area. It may not have been ball lightning, but there was a thunder clap every second or more, and sparks were cracking all around my home.”

The blog writer added that his neighbors suffered damage to a lot of electronic equipment. “I did not because I unplugged everything,” he said.