General Notes

This page consists of data that ought eventually get moved elsewhere in the site. It's mainly a collection of quotes from various sources, and observations of my own.


Type Attached to Objects? Localised? Electrical or Plasmoidal? Scale Explained?
St. Elmo's Fire Yes Yes Yes (electrical) Small Yes
Ball Lightning No No Yes (both?) Medium Maybe
Earthquake Lights Maybe? Yes Unknown Large Maybe
Mountain Top Discharge Yes Yes Yes (electrical) Medium/Large Maybe
Earth Lights No Yes Probably (plasmoidal) Medium No
Will-o'-the-wisps Yes Yes Probably Not Small Maybe (contentious)
Foxfire Yes Yes No Small Yes

Earth Lights: Quotes

1. Elsewhere on the planet, people watched an earlier inflammatory discharge from the Earth that echoes the one proposed for Binbrook.

This exchange (in 1900?) ensued between Keklujek and Ziaret, two peaks in the Taurus Mountains south of Harpoot, Mesopotamia. "The weapons were balls of light," the respected climatologist Ellsworth Huntington was told by resident natives. "A ball of fire is sometimes seen to start from one mountain and to go like a flash to the other." This fiery bombardment occurred day or night, but only when the sky was clear. Wrote Huntington in Monthly Weather Review (July 1900): "I became thoroughly convinced of its truth."

- Larry E. Arnold,

Will-o'-the-Wisps: Quotes

From The Times of 4th November 1862:

               THE WILL-O'-THE-WISP.
  Sir,--I observe with surprise, by a letter from
Mr. A. C. Wellesley in your paper of to-day, that
the fact of flames issuing from the earth near Pietra-
mala, in Italy, has been called in question.
  I visited the spot in broad day in the autumn of
1846, saw the flames issuing from the ground (in a
common ploughed field), over a space of no great
extent, and lighted sticks, &c., from them, so that
there could be no possible doubt of their nature. It
was a thin smouldering flame, such as, I suppose,
might be due to the spontaneous ignition of inflam-
mable gases rising up in no great volume from the
lower strata, if that be cymically possible. I do
not remember any very strong or peculiar smell.
         I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
                         ROUNDELL PALMER.
  6, Portland-place, Nov. 3.

Ball Lightning: Quotes

"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?

OED: 1857 J. P. NICHOL Cycl. Physical Sci. 431/2 *Ball lightnings or globes of fire..move slowly from the clouds to the Earth. (Nichol, John P. A cyclopaedia of physical sciences 1857). 1888 TAIT in Encycl. Brit. XXIII. 330/1 '*Globe-lightning' or 'fireball'.

An Instance of Ball Lightning at Sea.
By Robert Seyboth, U.S. Weather Bureau.

The description in a local paper of a recent display of ball lightning near Cumberland, Md., has induced the present writer to relate his personal experience with this rare phenomenon, of whose strange vagaries no satisfactory explanation has as yet been offered, and the actual occurrence of which has sometimes been doubted. It is indeed difficult to formulate a theory that will cover all the peculiar manifestations attributed to ball lightning, especially as regards shape, color, slow and erratic movement, and, finally, explosive effects.

But whether all its visual manifestations are physical realities, or whether they are partly the result of an optical illusion, this occurrence and destructive effects of ball lightning can not be doubted, as has been attested by numerous witness, and made unpleasantly patent to the writer of the following narrative.

The summer of 1867 found me, then a mere boy, abourd the New Bedford whaling bark Orray Taft, outbound from the desolate harbor of Marble Island, in the northwestern corner of Hudson Bay, where the vessel had wintered in the ice from September until June, and whence she had resumed her cruise in Arctic waters after "blubber and bone." On the night of June 30 to July 1 the bark encountered a genuine hurricane with the (for the latitude) unusual phenomenon of a violent thunderstorm. A rock-bound lee shore and the presence of floe ice in large quantities, with an occasional berg, necessitated the carrying of all the sail possible, in order to "claw off" from the rocks on the one hand, and steer clear of the madly heaving and tumbling ice masses on the other. At about 2 a.m. wind and rain ceased with startling suddenness, and the sky showed signs of clearing, though a portentous cumulus cloud or "thunderhead" still hung low over hte troubled waters.

The sudden cessation of the uproar, together with the violent pitching and rolling of the ship, brought the captain to the companion hatch, whence he shouted the emphatic order "Stand by to wear ship," adding, somewhat profanely, "We'll catch h— presently from the opposite quarter." Inured as the crew of a whaler is sure to become to unusual and critical situations, and apathetic as the writer felt to the peril of the present one, the nevertheless had a distinctly uncanny sensation at this sudden transition from howling hurricane to dead calm, associated with a large degree of skepticism at the captain's assurance in predicting and preparing for a still more violent change to come; for he had never before passed through the center of a cyclone, and his theoretical knowledge of the laws of storms was decidedly limited. But the man or boy who, aboard a whaler, would let skepticism stand in the way of his prompt compliance with an order from the captain would find his berth an exceedingly unhealthy one, and would most likely have cause to regret the day of his birth; so all hands rushed to their proper stations, to "stand by and haul," as and when directed. Happening to secure the upper hold on the fore-topsail brace, the writer facing sternward, again noticed the evil-looking thunderhead apparently but a few yards above the truck, and, while waiting in silent expectancy for the things to come, saw a ball of fire, the size of a man's head, detach itself from the cloud and sail quite leisurely to the mizzen truck, striking which it exploded with a deafening crash and sent a shower of hissing sparks over rigging and deck.

Of the immediate consequences, save one, the writer can only speak from hearsay. When he regained consciousness, he found himself sitting, propped up against the weather side of the mainmast, paralyzed in the right half of his body, and his shipmates busily engaged, some in clearing away the wreckage of the shattered mizzenmast, others in sounding the pump to discover whether or not the bolt had knocked a hole in the vessel's bottom. The latter calamity was probably averted by the fact that the lightning had found an easier escape to the water by way of the anchor chains through the hawsepipes, as both anchors had been made ready to let drop in case of the vessel's inability to weather the rocks. The one exception above noted, and which he has accepted as proof that the velocity of thought is greater than that of lightning, was his distinct realization, at the critical moment, that he had been struck by lightning and was being hurled to the deck, though consciousness failed him before he struck it. He also had time to firmulate the thought, "Well, it is all over with you this time," and feel rather gratified at the supposed fact. THere was absolutely no pain felt, not even an unpleasant sensation; on the contrary, he seemed to sink into an agreeably restful position, though, according to his shipmates' statements, he was hurled with great violence into the lee scuppers. Of the other men on deck, especially those having hold of the brace, every one was more or less shocked, but none were rendered insensible. The writer's uppermost hold on the rope had evidently deflected the greater part of the charge through his body. The paralsis of his right side was gradually succeeded by a prickling, tingling sensation, and the movement of his limbs had again become possible by the time the watch was told to go below. His former skepticism of the captain's prognostication had to be atoned for by a mental apology, for hte hurricane began with increased fury, and from the opposite quarter, almost immediately after the lightning had struck the mast.

One rather amusing story was told of the third mate, whose station in wearing ship was forward of the windlass. Standing inside of a big coil of the anchor chain, along which the lightning flew so that it looked like a huge fiery serpent, the mate was said to have been swiftly turned around his own axis a number of times, looking more like a dancing dervish than a grim old tar, while the lightning folloed the convolutions of the coil. When he had regained his breath, the profanity of the veteral whaleman was said to have bordered on the sublime.

At a later period, while in charge of the newly-established Signal Service station on the summit of Pikes Peak, the writer had ample opportunity to familiarize himself with many different manifestations of atmospheric electricity, but never again has he witnessed that mysterious and weird phenomenon known as ball lightning.

—Robert Seyboth, "An Instance of Ball Lightning at Sea", Monthly Weather Review (pp. 249-50), 29:249 (1901). Credit: NOAA Central Library Data Imaging Project, with permission from the website. Source: mwr-029-06-0249.pdf (


The Air Force sent in Blue Book astronomer and UFO expert Dr. J. Allen Hynek who, after a whirlwind probe that lasted two hours and 45 minutes, dismissed the sightings as "swamp gas."

Hynek quoted a description of marsh gases by Dutch astronomer Minnaert: "The lights resemble tiny flames, sometimes seen right on the ground, sometimes merely floating above it. The flames go out in one place and suddenly appear in another, giving the illusion of motion. The colors are sometimes yellow, sometimes red and bluegreen."

(Minnaert is also cited in Stenhoff's Ball Lightning work).

OED: (a) 7-9 Will with the or a wisp (whisp); 7 -with-wispe, with th' wisp, 9 wit or wi' t' wisp; also 7 Will the Wispe. (b) 7-9 will of the wisp, o' the wisp (8 o' th', 9 o-the-); also with hyphens and one or two capital initials. (g) 7 will-a-wisp, 8 will o' whisp, 9 will-o-wisp (or o'); also with one or two capital initials. (d) 7-8 Will in the Wisp (8 i'the whisp). (e) 7-9 Willy-wisp (7 Wispe), 8 Willy wi' (Willie with) or and the wisp, Willy's wisp.


Sean B. Palmer