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No. 86: Mar-Apr 1993

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An Electrical Virtuoso

August 12, 1992. Conwy, Wales. Here is carefully observed case of ball lightning with rather spectacular side effects. Mrs. P. Stafford was looking through her front window:

"...when she saw what she first thought was a 'ball of white fire', larger than a football, about 20 to 30 feet from her, travelling horizontally at a constant height up her drive. There was very heavy rainfall, perhaps with some hail, but no lightning or thunder. The ball was seen against the background of other houses and her view of it was not interrupted. It was round, opaque and predominantly white with some yellow, and surrounded by a blue, irridescent halo. She said it was reminiscent of a meteor or comet and the light from it was like that from a fluorescent tube. It was bright enough to be clearly visible in daylight and appeared to be spinning or rotating. It hit the oak tree, perhaps 12 or 13 feet away, in Mrs. Wignall's front garden, with a terrific crack and explosion.

"The ball was in sight for about 10 to 15 seconds, and its appearance did not change until it struck the tree, whereupon it became smaller. It hit the trunk about half way up and split the bark and trunk, showering splinters of wood over a distance of about 50 yards. As it did so, it rolled down the tree and dispersed in flashes -- she said that there seemed to be 'waves of lightning' passing from it into the ground and radial sparks streaming out of it in all directions. Her husband, however, thought he saw the ball, now smaller in size, cross the lawn."

(Stenhoff, Mark; "Ball Lightning Reported in Conwy," Journal of Meteorology,U.K., 17:308, 1992.)

From Science Frontiers #86, MAR-APR 1993. � 1993-2000 William R. Corliss