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No. 116: Mar-Apr 1998

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Ball Lightning Collides With Car

Summer 1991. Southern Bavaria, Germany. R. Urbanek, a teacher from Wasserburg, recalls her encounter with ball lightning.

"I was with a friend in the area of Traunstein. My friend drove a minibus...150-200 meters...ahead of my car. Golf and several other cars were following behind me. It (had been) raining with heavy lightning and thunder. I did not drive at normal speed in such a weather...Then came a straight stretch of road with a bicycle path to the right, and an open wide field...Suddenly I saw a bright green, phosphorescent...ball about the size of a medical training ball, that dropped to the ground behind the minibus...It fell to the road and rolled towards me. I knew immediately it was ball lightning, and from school physics I knew a car acts as a Faraday cage. So I kept my feet to the floor mat and grabbed the wheel with both arms. 3 to 5 seconds passed until the ball reached my car. It came in a straight line, with a slight deviation to the right (as seen from my position). When the ball caught my car at the right front side, it gave the vehicle a strong shock or jerk, as if I had driven against an obstacle. All that was on the right side of me lit up bright green -- the hood, the windscreen, the instrument panel, and even the padding. In the rear-view mirror I could observe that the ball went off the road behind my car. It rolled about 50 meters on the bicycle path, then went into the field and was gone after about 100 meters."

This event was observed by people in the cars behind Urbanek. Later examination of the car found no physical damage, no magnetic anomalies, and no indications of contact with lightning.

(Keul, A.G.; "Ball Lightning-Car Collision near Traunstein, Bavaria," Journal of Meteorology, U.K., 22:284, 1997. Journal address: 54 Frome Road, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, BA15 1LD, ENGLAND.)

From Science Frontiers #116, MAR-APR 1998. � 1998-2000 William R. Corliss