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No. 128: MAR-APR 2000

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A Different Sort of Crop Circle

Ball lightning reports are very common, but here is one worth recording because of its unusual physical effects. It was investigated and reported by O. Stummer.

In May or June of 1988 or 1989 around 2 P.M. CEST, Mr. Alois Fuehrer, a farmer of 38 years from Jungschlag, a small village south of Ottenschlag, northern Lower Austria, 850 meters above sea level, returned early from fieldwork because a heavy thunderstorm moved in from the north-west. Fuehrer stood in the open on a wooden plank at the rear of the diesel tractor driven by his father. The vehicle had passed the last Ottenschlag houses southbound, when he noticed a falling object. It was round, 20 centimeters across, and "seemed to come down like a toy balloon", vertical, soundless, without rotation. It was brilliant white, a steady light, and had "something like a smoke trail". Only 20 to 30 meters to the right of the tractor and of the road, after 4 to 6 seconds, the object hit the surface of a green summer barley field, flashed up and "exploded with a loud, very high pitched bang". Mr. Fuehrer said "this was no thunder", and noticed no heat or pressure wave. However, what he felt caused panic--a tingling, and his hairs stood on end on his head, neck, even on his hands. Ile urged his father: "Get out of here, the next one will kill us!", who also felt the electrostatic effect in the driver's cab. The diesel tractor continued to function normally.

Arriving home, the Fuehrers still wondered what had happened and they went back to have a look on the same evening. They found a circular patch about 6 meters across in the impact area where green barley plants had been reduced to ashes and smoke, "as with a cutting torch". The burn effect was strongest in the center. The soil had not been moved.

(Keul, Alexander G.; "Two Exceptional Ball Lightning Cases," Journal of Meteorology, U.K., 24:178, 1999.)

From Science Frontiers #128, MAR-APR 2000. � 1997 William R. Corliss

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