Ball Lightning

There are occasional accounts in the media of strange forms of lightning, e.g. the following account sent in a letter to the Daily Mail in 1936*: "[d]uring a thunderstorm I saw a large, red hot ball come down from the sky. It struck our house, cut the telephone wire, burnt the window frame, and then buried itself in a tub of water which was underneath." This phenomena is often termed Ball Lightning in English, and due to its rarity is a controversial topic amongst meteorologists. But the ability for lightning, and other natural sources of light, to form stable self-contained structures is one that's attracting increasing interest from a range of researchers: there are international symposia on Ball Lightning itself, and sporadic papers on some of the other forms of anomalous luminous phenomena invesigated herein.

"In a case reported in 2003, a man was fussing with wood in the fireplace of a Belgian farmhouse during a thunderstorm while his five-year-old daughter played at a nearby table. A glob of ball lightning--a rare, poorly understood phenomenon that behaves like a mixture of electricity and fire--emerged from the fireplace and shoved the man back three meters, burning him and knocking him unconscious. According to his wife, an eyewitness, the ball lightning then made a 90-degree turn and drifted over to the little girl, burning 30 percent of her body; glided underneath the table, through the kitchen, and into another room; and finally exited through the open back door and vanished in the garden." - Are thunderstorms really dangerous?

Sean B. Palmer