By Larry Dablemont
Some years back I took a pair of northerners on an Ozark float trip and in mid-afternoon dark clouds began to form to the west, with the ominous roll of thunder in the distance. I knew of a big, deep cave nearby with a dry floor, so I secured the boat in a protected spot and we carried our gear up to the cave.
One of the men wanted to keep floating, thinking the storm might miss us, and confident that if it didn’t, we could be a least a mile or so downstream before it got to us.
I told him that when on the river in a coming storm, I live by the rule, “It is better to sit in a cave and wait for the storm than to sit in the storm and look for a cave!” We spent about an hour and a half in the cave that afternoon listening to a raging electrical storm with heavy winds, rain and even some hail. When we left, the skies were clearing and the afternoon calm again.
A strong fear of lightning is known as keraunophobia, which makes me a keraunophobic. I can endure the rain, and you can prepare somewhat for a tornado no matter where you are, but lightning is unpredictable and awesome in its power. People who ignore the danger of lightning often become part of the statistics.
For instance, statistics show that lightning kills more people than hurricanes tornadoes or floods. Death from lightning does not always come from a direct strike; it can happen as a result of the spread of voltage through the ground or water. People in boats on lakes or rivers are perhaps in the greatest danger from lightning, especially if the boat is metal. But there is also great danger to anyone holding a fishing rod or firearm, or anyone taking shelter beneath high trees.
A lightning bolt can be two miles long, and travel at speeds of 400,000 miles per hour, with 100 million volts of electricity and temperatures of 30,000 degrees. I read that somewhere…I didn’t come up with it through any scientific investigation on my own.
A half dozen times in my life outdoors I have been within 100 yards of powerful lightning bolts, and when I was a teenager, I was flattened by a lightning strike beneath a river bluff as I was heading for its protective shelter. Authorities say that too many people wait for the main burst of the storm before taking shelter from lightning. Casualties seem to be greater during the weaker storms and at the beginning or end of heavier storms, suggesting that less caution is taken when it appears the danger hasn’t yet arrived, or has passed.
So don’t fool around when you see a storm approaching. Get to the best shelter you can find and don’t “make a run for it” across an open lake or down a river. Lightning does have a good side. It converts nitrogen in the air to an oxide that falls to the earth with the rain and fixes nitrogen in the soil, without which, there would be no green growth.
I often tell the story of my admiration for mark twain, who was born under the passing of Haley’s Comet, and then died about 80 years later when Haley’s Comet passed a second time, he passed away. I would like to think he and I had much in common, except for the fact that he never was as good a duck hunter and smallmouth fisherman as I. But on the night, I was born, in a little farmhouse way out in the sticks near Yukon Missouri by the light of a kerosene lantern, a raging thunderstorm was going on and lightning hit the farmhouse just when I came into the world, killing a couple of chickens in the other room! So, with my figuring that my life parallels Mark Twain’s as it does, I fear that I will leave this world riding a bolt of lightning. When I see a dark cloud, I marvel that one has not already nailed me, and wonder if that brewing storm may be the one with my name on it. Mark Twain didn’t have to worry like that because back then; no one had the slightest idea when Haley’s comet was coming back!!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Larry Dablemont is an outdoor writer from Bolivar, Mo.