Funnels and Tornadoes and Lightning, Oh my!

MAJeff with your morning weather.


My dad took this picture and sent it to me last weekend. It’s a cold water air funnel. I thought it was cool, so I’m sharing it

When I first saw the picture, my reaction was, “OH, NO!” A couple summers ago, my dad’s business was hit by a tornado. As he tells it, the sirens went off, so he and everyone in the building went to the central storage room because it had no windows (no basement in this building). The building starts to rumble and shake, as it tends to do when you take a direct hit from a tornado. After a bit, things start to calm down, and folks begin to leave the storage room. One person asks, “Where is it?”

“Right there,” comes the reply from another staffer who was pointing out the window as the tornado made its way through a neighboring cornfield.

They ended up with some glass from the windows embedded in the cement walls, and there was structural damage that required a new roof. A couple of employee cars were damaged or destroyed, but no one in the building was injured. The houses next door and across the street, however, were flattened. When the news crews came to visit town from the Twin Cities, they had to go to one of the local bars to find the owner of the house across the street from Dad’s business. He’d also had a house destroyed in a tornado 9 years previously.

I remember that previous tornado. I had been driving home–I was living with my parents while finishing my MA–and got into the house before we got nailed with a severe thunderstorm. Got into the house, and made my way to the basement with Mom and the pets. After it calmed down a bit, I did what rural Midwesterners do: I went to the front steps to see what was happening.

When folks talk about an eerie calm, they aren’t kidding. Above my house, I watched what turned out to be an F5 tornado forming. It touched down about a mile away, and caused massive damage. The town’s power generating station was destroyed, and I ended up staying with a friend in a neighboring town, just so I could work on my thesis in light.

I had a very strange near miss this summer, but it wasn’t a tornado. Earlier this spring, we had what seemed to me to be an unusually high level of thunderstorm activity for this area. I love thunderstorms, but I love them when I’m inside watching through the windows. I was walking to class one evening in June, when all of a sudden a tree about a hundred yards or so from me was hit by lightning. My hair was all on end, and I started to move a lot more quickly to get to my classroom. I only had one city block to go, but by the time I got to my building, it had started raining HARD and hailing. I took my shoes off so they could dry and taught barefoot that night.

At least we haven’t had any “green sky” thunderstorms yet this year. Hopefully, I’ll be in the house if we do.


  1. maxi says

    Awwww man! You guys get all the interesting weather! Though I did hear somewhere that the UK actually gets the most tornadoes every year. It seems disbelievable but I think QI told me this so I am hesitant to doubt it!

  2. Nerd of Redhead says

    I don’t have any good tornado stories, but the Redhead has a few. Like the time she was shopping at a department store, and the store tried to evacuate the building due to the tornado warning. During the evacuation, the wall that contained the door they were exiting just disappeared. A few people were hurt by flying debris, and there were a couple of fatalities. The intense, but very localized damage from these storms is amazing.

  3. Lynnai says

    So do rural midwesteners tend to have particularly comfortably apointed basements with cooshy chairs and lots of books or other non electric hobbies? It would seem to be a logical extention.

    I’m been in a few stunners of storms but never a tornado, closest I came was driving through a town that was hit (not badly) about a half hour after we were through and yeah the sky did look kinda funny. Not as weird as the wind/thurnder storm on Georgian Bay where the system was just moving straight across the Bay, my folks barracaded the doors and windows and I (I was about 4) stepped out the other side of the cottage and looked up, one side of the sky was clear blue the other was black. No twisters the wind was straight across the water but people were missing rooves none the less.

  4. True Bob says

    I have three good storm stories:

    1. When I was a tyke, I went to YMCA day camp, which was in the woods in FL. We were moved into the cafeteria/activity building due to a thunderstorm. Lightning hit a short (~20′) palm tree nearby, in among the 80′ pines, lighting it on fire. The sound and light stunned us all. After a few minutes, the fire was rained out. Within 10 minutes, lightning hit the same tree, in the same place! The lesson there is lightning will go where it wants to.

    2. I lived right behind the dune line in FL for awhile. We had a storm come by, heading east. About a quarter mile offshore, we saw numerous waterspouts – 4 at once, touching the water, but very dynamic – forming, shrinking, others forming, dissipating. An awesome sight I’ll nevere forget (although we probably should’ve stayed in shelter, duh).

    3. When I was matriculating at GaTech, I got caught in a storm (Georgia gets LOTS of them) between the student center and my dorm. At the time, there was a solar concentrator along the path, and it had a two walls and a roof shelter, with info about the solar project. So there I was, in the shelter maybe 100′ from the tower, hearing the lightning coming closer and closer. I could see on the collector tower the air terminals, so I thought, “wouldn’t it be cool if I saw a lightning strike”. Well I got to see one strike, while I was looking right at it. A most awesome and shocking experience. The “bolt” looked to be several feet wide (an irradiance effect, I’m sure) and contacting the air terminal. But the light and sound was incredible. I knew I was lucky to observe it, but my immediate thoughts went “Wow, I hope I can see a lightning strike OMG I HOPE THAT DOESN’T HAPPEN AGAIN!!1!!” I just about jumped out of my skin. Careful what you wish for…

  5. csrster says

    Nearest I’ve ever been to dead was walking down the street in Chester, England one evening when I was a kid on holiday with my parents. Damn lightning bolt forked across the street right in front of us and earthed through a burglar alarm, best as I could make out.

  6. Fernando Magyar says

    I invite all of you to come down to my neck of the woods (beach) in sunny south east Florida. A couple of weeks ago I was kayak scuba diving with friends on my local reef. We started the dive with calm seas and some clouds far away on the horizon. When we came up at the end of the dive a gale with thunder and lightning and a full blown water spout was churning up the waves probably less than a mile away, fortunately it was traveling parallel to the beach. I think we all managed to break Olympic paddling records on our beeline trajectory back towards the closest beach. This particular experience is not all that uncommon around here. Oh, and our Hurricane season is just swinging into full gear, though it’s been what seems to be shaping up as another quite year, hoping those are not going to be famous last words…

  7. True Bob says

    Fernando, Florida is the world capital for storms. Back in a prior life, NASA had a program out of cape Canaveral Air Force Station. They had an aircraft fitted out with all kinds of measurement gear. When a storm came up (every afternoon at 3:00), those guys went flying. From the ground, rockets would be launched into the storm, trailing wire, to induce lightning. The idea was to get lightning to STRIKE the aircraft. Those aircrews must’ve been crazy.

  8. Ploon says


    Yeah, I’m always surprised when I watch those home improvement shows and they build a house out of slats and plasterboard within a week. And then people complain when their house gets blown away by a stiff breeze or goes up like a pile of tinder when it gets hit by a spark. Come on, people, you’re supposed to be the most advanced nation on earth and you still haven’t figured out the moral of the story of the Three Little Pigs?! Use bricks!

  9. True Bob says

    Ploon, we didn’t learn the lesson about the Little Dutch Boy who put his finger in the dike, either. And STILL haven’t – we’re rebuilding SOS*

    *Same old shit

  10. Ploon says

    Don’t even get me started on the LDB and the dyke. I’m Dutch and you wouldn’t believe how many times English speaking people have asked me to tell that story just to get a laugh. Yes, I know “dyke” has another meaning and the idea of putting a finger in one is kinda funny (to some people), but please…

  11. True Bob says

    I have some Dutch blood in me, as well. And, uncharacteristically, I avoided the pun. The only good pun is a bad pun.

  12. conelrad says

    Disciple of Bob (#8…are we talking about, you know,
    that Bob?) I disagree. The three pinch hitters have
    done OK, IMO.

  13. speedwell says

    I was cooling my heels one early summer in rural Illinois, working temp at an insurance agency, when a tornado screamed through. It actually, as best I can figure, hit the part of town east of me, jumped directly over my house, hit the next town west of me, and cut through like a hot knife for a couple miles. It literally looked like someone took a lawnmower about three houses wide and ran it through town. Some houses were cut in half. I did go to work the next day expecting the office to have been in the path, but we were a few lots over from the damage. We had a busy couple days….

  14. Nerd of Redhead says

    I think the minions have done a good job of keeping the ilk aroused. Keep it up.

  15. True Bob says

    Well they are minions, so you can’t expect the level of perfection of a tentacular overlord. That being said, I think they are doing a pretty good job. From the perspective of ilk, of course.

  16. Chief says

    I too am in MA, re-located from the Midwest. My beef for 10 years has been the lack of a good thunderstorm. When I went to TX in ’04 for my brother’s wedding, I sat on the front porch for over an hour and watched two thunderstorms converge. Here in MA, you’re lucky if T-storms last 15 minutes. We’ve had some decent ones this summer, and the quantity sure makes up for the quality.

  17. speedwell says

    By the way, for those of you following tropical storms, the best resource is at

    There is also great information at the Weather Underground (yeah, they really named it that) website’s main blog,

    There’s evidence that the forming hurricanes are going to become a greater threat to the Gulf Coast starting next week, because of the way the pressures are shifting over Eastern North America. The blog post explains more. The last half of August through September is, roughly, the peak time for tropical weather.

    Folks, if you live on the Gulf Coast or in Florida, get your prep together NOW. Keep a full tank of gas. Keep your cell phones charged. Know where your safe inland destination is. Know where to meet up with family members in case you get separated. Keep some cash money tucked away in case you can’t get to an ATM or can’t get out of the area. Know what to do with your kids in school and with your pets.

  18. Carlie says

    I was personally lucky that I was never in a tornado when I was growing up in the midwest, even though they hit my town a few times (it was always the other side of town). I do remember once when I was about 9 seeing that quiet green sky, though. That’s just like brain-stem instinctive; you don’t need to have ever seen or heard of it before to instantly know that something is very, very wrong.

  19. MAJeff, OM says

    The three pinch hitters? Is that like the fork handles?

    There are actually four of us.

  20. Darrell E says

    Intense weather can be awe inspiring. It can get pretty scary when you find yourself exposed to it and realize how vulnerable you are, especially if you are too stupid to seek shelter.

    My scariest moment came when I was on my way home from a vacation riding motorcycles with some friends in the mountains of NC and TN. Right before I left home in Florida for this vacation we had a near miss from a hurricane (can’t remember the name, might have been Ivan). The day after we arrived at our campground in NC the remnants of this hurricane swept right over our area and caused land slides and washed out roads all over the area.

    So, I was riding home, had just separated with my last friend in Jacksonville and was now by myself on I-95 somewhat south of Jacksonville. It was dead calm and a light rain had been falling for sometime. I was wearing armored leathers with a rain jacket over and was nice and comfy. It was about 12 AM and I had already ridden about 600 miles and was down to the home stretch, about 2-1/2 hours left. I was cruising at about 100 mph and I could see no vehicles in front or behind me. Everything seemed perfect but little did I know that the same hurricane had moved back out over the Atlantic and circled back down to FL and was now making land fall, for the second time. One moment perfectly calm. Then, with no warning, I hit a WALL of wind and rain that pushed me from the left lane across three lanes onto the right shoulder in about two seconds. I think my asshole took a bite out of the seat. Visibility dropped to nothing and within thirty seconds I could feel water running down my upper body and into my boots, even with all the gear I had on. I should have pulled over at the first opportunity and found shelter, but I really needed to be at work in the morning. I continued on the most harrowing ride I’ve ever experienced. If there had been any traffic to speak of I wouldn’t have been able to do it. The only other vehicles I came across was the occasional tractor trailer, which were pure terror to get around under these conditions. Erratic winds were constantly pushing the bike around and I couldn’t see for shit. I finally made it home, chilled to the bone and enervated from three hours of adrenaline. I stripped down in the garage and poured the water out of my boots. Then I poured myself a large snort of Grand Marnier, filled the tub with steaming water, and soaked myself into oblivion.

  21. says

    Tornadoes are my secret phobia (not so secret any more). As a child I would sit up at night, straining to hear the sound of a tornado approaching. Yet I’ve never been through one or even near one.

    Hurricanes, however, are awesome. Living in Florida, I get a front row seat. The best was sitting in my living room as Charlie approached, eyes glued to the radar feed on my laptop, watching the bands approach the little dot on my map that indicated my house. The family was out of state, so I didn’t have to worry about anything but tracking this guy. The first band hits that dot and, bam! power goes out. It didn’t occur to me that when the power goes out, so does the computer and internet (DUH!) :( I didn’t have a single flashlight or candle near by. I had to stumble to the kitchen and while fumbling through the cabinets for candles, I knocked over a crystal bowl that we had gotten for our wedding. Luckily that was the only damage sustained during that fierce storm.

    It was amazing to go out the front door into 80mph winds, watching the palm trees do their thing, just like on tv. Off in the distance, transformers were exploding on power poles, blue-green flashes in the distance.

    Very intense experience.

  22. says

    Ignore comment #8, MaJeff et al – you’re doing a great job with plenty of interesting posts. As for Disciple of Bob – you know when PZ’s coming back. Wait ’till then and save your meanspirited whinging in the meantime.

  23. True Bob says

    CyberLizard, you’ve reminded me of my experience with a hurricane in FL (David?). We lived on the beach (this was the one just behind the dune line), but luckily owned a condo inland. Naturally, we fled the beach and went to the condo. We stayed inside until the wind stopped. Then we went out, and saw the eye. It was astounding. We could see miles up, huge curving walls of cloud, and this was at night. Incredible. And of course, everything started blowing the other way when the eye passed, which was eerie.

    And I will second that seeing that green sky, and/or that sharply delineated line, just looks wrong.

  24. CortxVortx says

    I’ve had two near-encounters with tornadoes. Back in the mid-80s, when I lived in Shreveport, Louisiana, there was a really bad storm late at night, lots of rain and lightning and howling wind. The next day, we found our neighborhood blocked off by police as utilities crews worked to remove downed trees and powerline poles. A house a few blocks away was demolished; several were damaged. It was plain that the tornado “skipped” across the neighborhood, as there were places where trees were downed and shrubbery and grass were stripped off, then you cuold see where the tornado had lifted and only taken off the tops of the pine trees before touching down again. Our electricity was out for four days.

    Most recently was the F5 tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, in 2003. My first week at a new job; I drove to my apartment after work, and saw people standing around in the parking lot and on balconies. My inquiries were met with “tornado coming.” This didn’t seem to be the correct reaction to such an announcement. I went on up to my apartment and propped myself on the balcony railing and, sure enough, a few minutes later a tornado passed less than a mile south of us. It was odd in that the horizon was clear, and there wasn’t much debris in the funnel, so it was difficult to see. But it did a lot of damage. And I missed meeting it on I-35 by about 10 minutes.

    The only tornadoes I want to see are on TV.

  25. Todd says

    I’m partial to torrential down pours and large hail myself. You cannot beat baseball sized hail for fun, especially when your only protection is a campground picnic shelter. My tornado experience was the Omaha tornadoes of 74. Not so much the tornadoes, which were devastating, but the aftermath with the National Guard patrolling the streets. I was a kid at the time, fascinated with all things WWII, and seeing NG troops deployed in my neighborhood with cool automatic weapons was awesome.

  26. True Bob says

    Even though tornadoes are scary and dangerous*, they now have tornado chasing for tourists, in the Merkin Midwest. That’s right, you pay cashola, and they load you in a van and try to get you close to a twister, for your viewing and photographing pleasure.

    So save your nickels…

    *Or more likely because they’re scary and dangerous.

  27. Mercurious says

    Growing up in northern Indiana we had our share of T-storms and tornadoes. One thing I heard about constantly was the Palm Sunday storm that had gone through our area and wiped out a large portion of .. everything. I do love T-storms myself. I like to sit on the porch and just sit in awe of the amazing power and force of them. We do get some pretty intense storms here in Arizona, where I’m at now, but they are much more rare. That is one of the main things I miss about living here.

    Closest I ever came to seeing a tornado was when I was 18. I remember the sirens going off and the warnings were out. My father and I walked out side to see how things looked and were talking with our neighbor. One of us looked up and noticed there was a very cool spiral cloud formation directly over our house. The tornado never formed that time but it was still a pretty cool sight.

  28. Richard Harris says

    Oh, you fools, you are blinded by your scientism!

    Genuflect in awe, at the holy Flying Spaghetti Monster, reaching down with His noodly appendage, to touch the faithful.

  29. Amber says

    I live in suburbia south of Chicago and have listened to the sirens go off a few times. My little brick house has no basement and the only interior “room” is the linen closet. We’ve been hit by two wind events within a couple weeks of each other. One was something akin to a microburst and the other with just a regular old wind storm. Both took down trees all over the place, snapped even the biggest ones like twigs. My particular patch didn’t suffer any damage but all around my immediate neighborhood was a real mess.

  30. co says

    maxi, @ #1: Yeah, that episode of QI claims that one is most likely to see a tornado in England, because of the relatively high number of them there, and the high population density, though there are more per year in the US. And, of course, you’re much more likely to be killed by one in the US, because of their severity.

  31. Shadow says

    Just reading that made my blood go all cold. I’ve been terrified of tornadoes ever since I can remember, even though I’ve never been through one – unless you count the time my mother hid in the closet while she was pregnant. She was in the Midwest, then.

    Now, we live in a tiny house in Georgia that’s a straight line from front to back. No interior rooms, and no rooms without windows – and surrounded by trees that are just waiting to come down. My mum works just a few minutes away in an office that has some very nice walls and windowless halls, though, so we’ve come to the conlusion we have to try and make it there if we can. And we’ve had to do it once already – grabbed the dog, fretted because the cat was hiding somewhere inaccessible, and ran through sheets of rain to the car. Ruined my favourite (and easiest-to-put-on) pair of shoes. We huddled in the office and watched the local news through antenna TV, and when the warning was over, we left.

    As I was standing under the canopy waiting for her to bring the car back around, though, I thought I heard a siren. She didn’t, so we went on home. In our own yard, I heard it again – and so did she, so we turned sraight around and went back to the office.

    Warning ended, we stepped out to get in he car, and sure enough, the sirens started again.

    This went on all morning. We never did get a tornado in town (thank squid), but they had some down by the coast. Worst mother’s day ev-ar.

  32. says

    I believe the averages are about 30 tornadoes per year in UK, vs. over a thousand in the US. The US is just much larger, so fewer torandoes per square mile – however most tornadoes in the US are concentrated in a few sections of the country, and if you live in one of those you are more likely to see a tornado than UK.

    And green skies are actually not completely understood, but likely caused by water in clouds refracting light against a darker background – late in the evening, usually. Thunderstorms tend to be large and have lots of water, so may exhibit this effect. Green seems to be completely unrelated to hail or tornadoes, though. Green doesn’t mean there will be either, and lack of green doesn’t make you safe.

  33. says

    It is a common belief, referenced in the blog post, that if the clouds look green during a thunderstorm, there are tornadoes. The most common ‘debunk’ belief is that its caused by hail in the storm instead. Neither of these appear to be true.

  34. dNorrisM says

    I saw a pretty weak funnel cloud at Riverbend Ampitheatre (Outside of Cincinatti) and I was thinking “Wow man, what a trip if all of us Deadheads went flying “Way, way up in the middle of the air”.

  35. raven says

    Tornados, hurricanes (typhoons), and T storms are rather uncommon on the west coast. Although I’ve seen all 3 at one time or another.

    What makes up for it is earthquakes and wild fires. Wild fires are ubiquitous and seems like there is always one somewhere. Earthquakes come and go but you always know there will be another one.

  36. says

    I grew up in Midland and Houston Texas. We got our fair share of Tornadoes. Also, during the months I attended technical training school in Biloxi Mississippi, we got two tornadoes and a waterspout.

    I’ve seen the sky go green on several occasions. It’s a sort of green tint to it. Green means scary bad weather is possible, usually accompanied by enormous thunderheads. When the clouds build up, the winds die out to a calm, the sky gets a green tinge and you can feel / smell the electricity in the air – THAT’S the time to flee to shelter!

    I live in California now, and talk to friends who have lived here all their life. When I talk about the green skies they just think I’m making things up.

    But the other posters are right… when it happens, you just *know* it isn’t going to be good. I wouldn’t be surprised to find there is something instinctive in our reactions.

  37. Qwerty says

    I remember reading somewhere that shark attacks actually kill less people per year than tornadoes. I guess we fear sharks more as they look ferocious while we are use to storms.

  38. El Herring says

    “Right there,” comes the reply from another staffer who was pointing out the window as the tornado made its way through a neighboring cornfield

    I couldn’t make sense of this at first, until I realised you meant “pointing out of the window”. I read it as meaning you were pointing at, and thereby drawing attention to, a window being blown across the field.

    Small niggle but I just thought I’d “point it out”.

  39. MikeM says

    Gawd, it’s almost impossible to tell mine without giving away the punchline.

    My son played T-ball for one year. One day, there was a lot of wind during the game, but we figured, eh, we can do this. We played anyway.

    During the game, it just got windier and windier (probably gusting to 50 mph near the end)… And there was lightning… But still no rain. Extremely threatening skies. We knew we’d just barely beat the rain.

    So, we’re all standing around, watching our kids “dig in” at home plate, all holding — no, gripping — aluminum bats as high as they good. They pretty much appeared to be the path of least-resistance. I actually started to get a little nervous.

    Finally, a City parks official came around, and told us we had to stop playing. Not one single parent argued.

    We found out later a tornado had touched down out near Arco Arena, which is about 10 miles away from where our kids were digging in. Not that close. But even at that, when we left the game, it started to rain hard, with VERY heavy wind gusts, and the lightning was coming hard.

    We NEVER get tornadoes in Sacramento. We might get one a decade, and they’re always wimpy ones. But we just happened to send our kids out to play a stupid T-ball game in one.

    Basically a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

  40. Pablo says

    I think the UK thing has been explained sufficiently, but to just reiterate, the most tornados in the world will be found in the mid-section of the US. That is because that is the place with the best structural features that lead to tornados: the warm air from the gulf coast reaches up and meets the cold dry air coming off the Rockies.

    There is an interesting aspect of Europe, though. When you control for atmospheric conditions, Europe is much, much, much more likely to have a tornado than is the US. There was a talk on this at the ASA meeting in Denver last week. Basically, given the same atmospheric conditions (mainly wind shear and CAPE (potential energy)), Europe is about 10 times as likely to have a tornado. The difference is that Europe is maybe a 100 times less likely to experience those atmospheric conditions (see the middle US again) that tend to spawn tornados, so they get fewer tornados overall.

    The folks at NSSL are pretty excited about this discovery, because they think it will help them solve their biggest problem, which is figuring out what triggers these tornados when the atmosphere is ripe.

  41. says

    MikeM, around here, you see lightning, you go inside. Lightning can strike up 30 minutes before the storm actually reaches you and 30 minutes after. At least the city park official had his head on straight and had you get out. Lightning is scary, unpredictable business.

    That being said, I once sat on the front porch during a massive thunderstorm. You could feel the electricity in the air. I then heard the loudest sound that I have ever heard in my life. The house two doors down got nailed and caught fire.

    I went inside after that :D

  42. Pablo says

    You do not need rain to have lightening. When I was just starting high school, I remember there was a track meet at a local school where a girl got struck by lightening. It was cloudy and overcast, but no rain at all that day (before or after). Fortunately, all of the coaches around knew CPR and revived her. A very scary situation.

    Severe weather on one hand is thrilling and impressive, but on the other is legitimately scary and dangerous. In the end, keep a good respect for it, realize what it can do, and don’t take big risks. It’s just not worth it.

  43. travc says

    Reminds me of many a storm growing up in TX. I never had a close call with a tornado, but some relatives in Missouri had their house flattened by one. They rebuilt into the side of a hill (benefits of having 40 acres to choose from), ended up with pretty cool 3/4 underground house actually (very energy efficient too).

  44. Dahan says

    I grew up in central Minnesota and have seen a couple tornados. We had one hit within a half mile of our house. No extensive damage. One hit our base at Camp LeJeune too. I slept through it. Pretty tired back in those days, Also, the barracks were made to take more of a pounding than any tornado can give. Another one destroyed my parents neighbor’s house in Nashville, but left theirs practically untouched. They weren’t home, they were visiting my wife and me at the time. Good thing, considering my Dad’s heart problems.

    Tornados are the only natural disaster that I dream somewhat regularly about. I take em pretty seriously.

  45. says

    I’ve been struck by lightning four times. Oddly enough I’ve taken no serious damage from it, but it has been a cumulative learning experience:

    1) The first time, and only time I was struck directly, I was cutting across a field to get home quickly. I guess that made me the tallest thing for a wide enough area (though there were trees around the edges). It knocked me out briefly (I think briefly), and for a couple of weeks afterward I had a sore scalp, some headaches and backaches (muscle spasms I guess). That was all. I did have an EKG done, but it showed no abnormalities.

    2) The second time, I was caught outdoors again but sensibly avoided crossing open areas, so it hit a tree instead and I caught some flashover. It didn’t do any real harm this time, other than a ringing in my ears and a really bad case of the shakes, but it did hurt. A lot.

    3) The third time, I was indoors and smugly standing on my upstairs apartment balcony watching the storm, and you guessed it, the house got struck and I got shocked again, with more or less the same (lack of) effects as the second time, only less so. The weird part is that the building did have a lightning rod, so it seemed like it shouldn’t have been struck at all.

    4) The fourth time, I was indoors, well away from the walls and sensibly reading a book instead of stormwatching. The phone rang, and like an idiot I answered it. Apparently it was the storm itself calling to give me an earful. I took even less harm from this instance than the others, but the phone was totalled. I use a cell phone nowadays.

    When I tell these stories to my theist friends they sometimes suggest that Someone (never mind Who, exactly) Was Trying To Tell Me Something. I like to point out that the severity of my bodily damage (which was essentially nothing anyway, even for the direct hit) has been in direct proportion to my steadily declining religious beliefs, and since I made the final step toward firm and outspoken atheism I’ve never been struck again.

    I also survived Hurricane Hugo’s landing on my birthday in a sheet metal storage shed full of booze in Goose Creek, SC, but that’s another and less clearly remembered story. (The shed wasn’t as full of booze at the end of the storm as it was at the beginning, put it that way.)

  46. Pablo says

    Yeah, that episode of QI claims that one is most likely to see a tornado in England, because of the relatively high number of them there, and the high population density, though there are more per year in the US.

    Of course, doing it on country basis biases things a lot, too. For example, there are huge areas of the US (see Alaska, and, in fact, most of the area starting in the rockies and going west) where there are almost no tornados. Then there are other areas.

    The best place to see tornados is in the tornado belt in the US. This comparison is like saying that a pot full of water with a temperature of 20 C is warmer than two pots of water, where one is 38 C and the other is 1 C. True, the average is higher, but if you want to find the hotter water, go to the second set.

    For example, whereas whereas you might be more likely to see a tornado if you drop randomly into GB than in the US, but if you drop into Oklahoma, you will be 9x as likely to see a tornado than you are in GB (the tornado density is 9X higher in Oklahoma than in GB).

  47. MikeM says

    BT, at least the storm was polite enough to call first.

    Those are some funny stories. I bet they’re a lot funnier now than they were at the time, though.

  48. says

    Posted by: Ploon | August 14, 2008 7:40 AM


    Yeah, I’m always surprised when I watch those home improvement shows and they build a house out of slats and plasterboard within a week. And then people complain when their house gets blown away by a stiff breeze or goes up like a pile of tinder when it gets hit by a spark. Come on, people, you’re supposed to be the most advanced nation on earth and you still haven’t figured out the moral of the story of the Three Little Pigs?! Use bricks!

    A tornoado can rip a brick house to shreds, too. A dome home is the way to go, although still not immune.

  49. Crudely Wrott says

    I have three lightning stories. Here’s the funny one.

    I was at an open house at McDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, back about 1974. I was out on the flight line admiring the aircraft on display when a squall moved in off Tampa Bay. The “Vertical Wall O’ Water” was approaching fast and I was too far from any structures to beat the rain. Close by was a C-5 Galaxy transport, but it was full of people. Even the rain shadow of the wings was crowded. I was about to make a dash for it when I noticed legs and feet surrounding the main landing gear. (The belly of this beast is very low to the ground, barely more than knee-high. I ducked down, waddled a for a yard, then stood up. There were eight or ten people standing in the wheel well! A most unusual gathering of strangers in a most unusual place. Everyone was standing on wet pavement and I, like the others, was leaning against or touching part of the massive undercarriage. And I, like the others, was doing my best to act nonchalant. We were all getting pretty good at nonchalance, trading platitudes, when a bolt hit the tail of the aircraft. In the blink of an eye every one of us started doing a spastic little dance and making loud, inarticulate noises. So much for nonchalance!

    The squall was over in just minutes and we left our shelter, each heading his own way. I wonder if any of them remember how funny we all appeared to each other or if I’m the only one who recalls that incident as an insight into human behavior, the funny side, that is.

  50. SDChad says

    Growing up in New England, I always thought tornadoes were a midwest thing. Wrong. Several years ago (~2000) I was on vacation in Maine and awake at 4:00 am to a giant tree falling outside my bedroom. Rain were horizontally coming into the living room and a window got ripper off. Turned out to be a tornado.

    Just a few weeks ago, a tornado ripped through central New Hampshire and went right over my in-laws lake house. Several homes were flattened or damaged, but their’s (being newer construction) only suffered minor damage.

    I’m not a big fan of rain, but I do miss thunderstorms since moving to San Diego. There is nothing like seeing those yellowish/green skies. On the cool side, though, earlier this year I saw about 6 water spouts (at once) out over the Pacific from the highway. I thought I was mistaken until I saw it later on the news. Very unusual here. I can’t even recall the last time a rain drop fell from the sky here.

  51. Rowan says

    Soon after moving to San Diego from the midwest in the late 1980s I had gone out to lunch with some coworkers. On the way back to the office I noticed the skies which had been overcast and very cloudy when we had left were now green. I made the comment that it was tornado weather.

    The three of them looked at me like I was from Mars. I was told there are not tornadoes in southern California. Well, about half an hour later one touched down at Miramar Air Station.

    Hah! Green skies never lie!

  52. says

    I had one of those close lightning calls this spring. It was thundering a few km away but nothing close — until there was fast hiss-spit-CRACK right overhead. My arm hairs were standing on end but I don’t know if that was electricity or fear. I think if you hear the air sizzling, it’s too close.

    However, since you never see an object thrown without a thrower, it’s obvious that lightning bolts are thrown by Thor and that he has bad aim. Or that was just a warning that I’m not sacrificing enough goats.

  53. biogeek says

    “I had a very strange near miss this summer”

    A near miss means you were hit. I hope you weren’t injured too badly. ;-)

    I live in Earthquake country, California. I’d much rather have them sneak up on me than spend hours and hours looking at the sky and wondering if there would be a tornado, and if so where it might be. Also, there are lots of tornados, and hundreds of homes destroyed every single year by tornados, while we go long times with no serious earthquakes. Most earthquakes are kind of fun, if you’re far enough away of course.

  54. Shigella says

    So if there are patches of glowing bluish-green in a crazy looking thunderstorm (like the one right outside my apt. right now), is that just light refraction or is that bad?

    Maybe it’s the aliens finally coming to claim their own. I always knew I was different. :)

  55. Opus says

    I saw lightning hit near our house years ago. The neat part was that it vaporized an electric fence and for about five seconds there was a ribbon of smoke around the pasture where the fence had been. The only thing left of the fence was a circle of metal around each insulator.

  56. Bride of Shrek OM says


    I’ve lived through two cyclones, including one that was a pretty nasty category 5 but I’m pretty sure if I saw a tornado coming my way I’d need a new pair of knickers afterwards.

  57. s says


    Better than any T.V. I have ever seen.

    The result of disconnection of electron transfer from two or more bodies of potential. Gotta love it!
    On a particular stormy night I stopped on a lonely country road to observe the cloud to cloud action as it developed overhead. The air was unusually dense with potential, the power lines started an intense very loud humming over our heads (I was not alone) It was as if the electrons were so thick that the normal 2 to 300 volts we normally operate in had risen to 1000 or so. So cool but we soon baled for the truck feeling our luck draining away.Looking back as we drove towards home, a bolt clearly defined where we once stood. Thanks for the procrastination THOR.

  58. John C. Randolph says

    Any discussion of tornados always makes me think of how to approach the problem from an engineering standpoint: how to make buildings that won’t explode when the exterior pressure suddenly drops by several pounds per square foot.

    The flying debris problem is pretty easily solved with concrete block construction. The pressure problem is quite another matter. You’d almost have to have blowout walls the way that fireworks factories do.


  59. John C. Randolph says

    The weird part is that the building did have a lightning rod, so it seemed like it shouldn’t have been struck at all.

    Ohm’s law. If you body forms a parallel path, and you can conduct at all, you’re going to get some of the current. The better the other conductor is, the less you’ll get, so the lighting rod probably did save your life.

    As far as electricity is concerned, we’re basically large bags of saline solution, with a very thin layer of a poor insulation around the outside.


  60. Sphere Coupler says

    so the lighting rod probably did save your life.jcr

    Or the lightning rod provided a better path that brought the connection closer to BT than it probably would have without the (protection) in the first place.

  61. Leigh says

    I was in a tornado about 18 years ago. Fortunately it was a very weak one, or I wouldn’t be telling the tale.

    I was looking out the window, which was open slightly and was whistling, as sometimes they do when they’re just cracked . . . I thought. I raised the window a little, and the sound got louder — it was coming from the tornado. I saw a 2-foot diameter pine tree 20 feet from me lift straight up out of the ground, its roots trailing under it. Strangest and most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen. Luckily it feel the OTHER way, or it would have been right on my silly noggin. I was too dumbfounded to react.

    Nearby trees’ tops twirled and broke off at 15 feet. I was too mesmerized by the pine tree to realize it at the time, but the tornado was literally right in front of me.

    For years I sat by the window during green-skied thunderstorms, waiting for that bizarre whistle. I still have nightmares.

  62. Leigh says

    Last August I was working in my greenhouse as a thunderstorm blew in. My husband came out with an umbrella and suggested that I should, perhaps, get out of the wet gravel and come inside. As he stood in the greenhouse doorway holding the umbrella, a bolt of lightning struck in the woods about 40 feet from us. It induced enough current in the umbrella handle to knock it out of his hand, shocking him quite a bit. We hightailed it into the house, where we discovered that the induced current had also knocked out all my network equipment and one of my servers, which reside on the wall nearest the strike.

    Need I add that both these weather incidents took place in Texas?

  63. dwarf zebu says

    #10: Bricks are all well and good for hurricane country, but here in SoCal, where you are generally within a couple dozen miles of a fault line, unreinforced brick masonry is not the way to go; you want something with a bit more “give” to survive prolonged movement of the ground…

    No place is totally immune to tornados, either. We had a small series of them in February of 2005 that did some damage to the local golf course and threatened the local Indian casino a bit.

  64. Dahan says

    On the topic of lightning.

    Just curious, has anyone out there seen ball-lightning before? I’ve seen it, and so has my Dad. Both of us just once. Him when he was about 20 and me when I was 14. Considering how rare this event is said to be, that’s kind of amazing. I know some scientists still doubt it even exists (it does). So, anyone else seen it, and if so how would you describe it?

    My experience was literally of seeing what appeared to be a ball of lightning fall from the sky during a thunderstorm and bounce around in a neighbor’s field for about three seconds or so before winking out with a thunderclap. My Dad’s experience was similar, although he was actually in the field it fell into, and his didn’t so much bounce, but roll around for 5 or 6 seconds.

    Just curious. I’ve always wondered if it’s as rare an event as it’s reported to be and just what causes it.

  65. Graculus says

    Any discussion of tornados always makes me think of how to approach the problem from an engineering standpoint: how to make buildings that won’t explode when the exterior pressure suddenly drops by several pounds per square foot.

    You’d be engineering for a problem that doesn’t exist. Houses don’t “explode” from pressure differential, they just get ripped apart by winds.

    Poured concrete is about the only solution, we had an F1 here that didn’t have much trouble buckling a cinderblock wall. Of course, we don’t build for tornadoes here, that was the first one inside city limits ever.

  66. Sphere Coupler says

    Dahan A few questions if you can remember?
    Was it raining at the time of occurance?
    Or had it been raining? Very strongly?
    Did the air feel very close?(very humid)
    Was the air still or windy?
    Was normal lightning prevelant before occurance?
    Was their normal lightning after occurance?