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No. 59: Sep-Oct 1988

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Lightningless thunder?

August 22, 1987. Wotton-under-Edge, England.

"There had been thunder about, but the clouds were high, and there was intermittent sunshine. I was at work with a friend of mine, sawing logs, in one part of the garden. My wife was picking beans, about 80 yards away. Without any kind of warning, there was a violent detonation overhead, at what might have been tree-height. Service in war enables one to describe an explosion better than those whose experience is limited to Guy Fawkes' Day. This seemed to me about the same as an air-burst from a German 88 mm high velocity gun. My friend and I took it to be lightning; but neither of us saw any flash -- perhaps because we were both looking downwards at the time.

"Shortly afterwards, my wife appeared, dazed and shaken. The explosion had evidently been closer to her, for she (having served in the WRNS) was reminded of an ammunition ship blowing up 'whoosh,' suggestive of a very high speed aircraft flying very low. That is what she momentarily thought it was, coming from the ridge of the Cotswold escarpment, under which this house lies; and she instinctively ducked. Immediately before the detonation, there seemed to her to be a sound not unlike machine-gun fire; and there was a movement of the air which disturbed the surface of the soil where she was working. She also saw no flash. For some hours afterwards she had a massive headache.

"Two near neighbors of ours observed the explosion, which they too assumed to be lightning. One of them, about a quarter of a mile away, says he saw a flash. The other saw none."

(Carter, G.; "Two Unusual Lightning Events on 22 August 1987," Weather, 43:58, 1988.)

From Science Frontiers #59, SEP-OCT 1988. 1988-2000 William R. Corliss