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No. 114: Nov-Dec 1997

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Lightning Strikes Jet And Possibly Spawns Ball Lightning

June 17, 1996. Tewkesbury, England.

On this day, two remarkable observations were made a few seconds apart. Even so, one cannot be certain that the first caused the second.

For the first observation, there were two witnesses. Both saw lightning strike a low-flying USAF jet. Mrs. E. Shobli wrote the following account:

"Two forks of lightning came from the clouds in front of the plane, converged on it and gripped it. The tail end of the plane became illuminated -- vapours came from its end and formed into a bright, dense mass. I thought I was witnessing damage to the plane. The light continued to separate from the plane, downwards like a flare. It appeared as yellow, lit-up gases. These seemed to take shape, becoming brighter and denser, and then move downwards in the same direction as the plane (south). About two seconds after disappearing behind the roof there was an ear-splitting explosion. To my relief the plane reappeared unscathed."

At the time of the lightning strikes, the jet was passing over a factory, where a fork-lift driver saw a dazzling blue-white ball bounce along the factory roof and enter the building. Many workers inside were treated to an amazing pyrotechnic display as the ball made its way through the building.

"It entered the factory through an upand-over door and was seen as a 'pulsating light' or a 'fiery sphere the size of a tennis ball'. Once inside the building it moved very rapidly for two seconds, following the course of the overhead girders without touching them and lighting up each girder 'blue, white and orange' as it raced along. It produced what one witness described as 'unbelievable sparks'. Intensely bright, the object illuminated the whole printing works and was seen by about 40 people. After thus racing around the interior of the building for two seconds, the 'fireball' hit a window which glowed orange, and the ball disappeared with a bang so loud that the report was even heard by a deaf worker."

(James, Adrian, and Meaden, Terence; "Ball Lightning at Tewkesbury, Glos. on 7 June 1996," Journal of Meteorology, U.K., 22:106, 1997. Journal address: 54 Frome Road, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, BA15 1LD ENGLAND.)

From Science Frontiers #114, NOV-DEC 1997. 1997-2000 William R. Corliss