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No. 122: Mar-Apr 1999

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Bizarre Physiological Effects Of Lightning

July 1969. Lawson, Missouri. Lightning is unpredictable and produces many weird effects, but the following case pushes the weirdness envelope.

An electrician was driving home through an intense rainstorm that was accompanied by severe lightning. He parked his truck outside his house. Then it happened:

"As I started up the drive, I took about three or four steps, and then it was as though I had stepped into a very soft cotton ball. My whole body felt as if my head was behind my shoulders and being pulled down between my shoulder blades."

When he awoke, he was about 50 feet away on the other side of a fence and on his neighbor's property. His boots had been knocked off. The coins in his pocket and his belt buckle had melted. A visit to a doctor proved that he had been struck by lightning, and that his spine had been severely damaged.

Much stranger was his reaction to the ambient temperature. He was now impervious to cold. He was most comfortable between -10 and 0F. His normal body temperature was low, just 95.2, not terribly far from normal. He just didn't feel the cold. He never wore a coat and was comfortable working that way even at -23F!

The electrician is far from being disabled. He even poses for photographs in the snow wearing just shorts and a T-shirt. He is now Publicity Director for a group called Lightning Strike and Electrical Shock Survivors International.

(Sunlin, Mark; "An Unusual Case of Lightning 'Victimization'," Journal of Meteorology, U.K., 23:309, 1998.)

From Science Frontiers #122, MAR-APR 1999. 1999-2000 William R. Corliss