Struck by Lightning on Devils Lake!
“I was casting my (graphite) fishing rod and the static in the air was so high I could see arcing on the guides of the rod. After that I remember commenting that something was wrong and asked my daughter if she felt the static. She said yes and that it felt like ants were crawling through her hair.”
Despite all the weather related catastrophes occurring each year in this country, lightning seems to take more lives than any other.
Where lightning casualties are concerned, boaters, and associated water recreationists lead the list.
Count Devils Lake angler Ed Kraft, his daughter Patsy Edland and her son, Christopher among those who’ve shaken hands with lightning and lived to tell about it. But not without some hardship.
The anglers were fishing near Camp Grafton on the southeastern shores of Creel Bay. Also on the final day of the annual Devils Lake Chamber Walleye Tournament. Lots of boating and fishing activity was taking place on the lake that Sunday, amidst humid, unstable weather that promised strong thunderstorm activity before the day would end.
Sometime during the late morning, Kraft and his family watched a storm develop to the west of them. As it approached, it seemed to be heading north of them. But still close enough to warrant constant attention.
“It was a mile and a half from us and it was going around us,” Kraft said. “I didn’t feel any urgency to get off the water then.”
The storm, with fierce lightning grew in intensity, and the boaters finally decided it was time to get off the water. But, it was already too late.
“I was casting my (graphite) fishing rod and the static in the air was so high I could see arcing on the guides of the rod,” Kraft said. “After that I remember commenting that something was wrong and asked my daughter if she felt the static. She said yes and that it felt like ants were crawling through her hair.”
Before the anglers could get moving, a bolt of lightning came up from the water, through the motor first, in its search for a conductor. The storm they were viewing more than a mile away had released a lightning bolt that struck the water, then traveled instantaneously across the water to their boat.
At this point, things happened very quickly, although Kraft said it seemed to take much longer.
After the lightning bolt left the motor, fireballs traveled from the motor along the steering cable, blowing two baseball-sized holes through their fishing boat. Smaller balls of fire arced everywhere, Kraft said, “just like little jelly beans coming into the boat”.
The hot bolt had already burned out the motor in its search for a ground, and in its path the few seconds it was in the boat, it also destroyed their three depth finders, a speaker, blew up a cooler, then eventually found an umbrella Kraft had erected in case of rain.
As the trio stood under the umbrella waiting for what seemed an eternity, their fate resting in the outcome of the traveling bolt, the electric arc hit the umbrella, shot upward, blowing off the top, then dissipating into the sky.
The strike had done its damage. And while it seemed to take a long time, Kraft said it was in 8- to 10-seconds. His daughter Patsy, however, had suffered leg and back burns severe enough to be take to the local Devils Lake hospital for treatment. Additionally, when the strike hit the umbrella, it threw 9-year old Christopher to the back of the boat. But he was uninjured.
“I thought it got him,” Kraft said of the lightning bolt hitting the youngster. “But it just threw him aside. If not for the umbrella, it would gone through our heads. The umbrella saved our lives.”
Several things fell into place that saved the boaters lives. First, none of them were “grounded”. Secondly, they were in a Crestliner fiberglass boat, a material which did not establish a ground. If the boat had been metal, Kraft said, “we’d have all been dead”.
Through all of this, the storm continued to develop above them. Without power and several miles to the nearest dock, they were forced to stay in their position for another 45 minutes until the storm had ended and help had arrived.
From under the Hwy 57 bridge some distance away, Curt Enert, watched Kraft and his family weather the storm and went to their rescue when it had finally passed. After the boat was towed in, the family went to the hospital for examination, which included EKGs. All were treated and released.
Kraft and the Edlunds were very lucky, but this wasn’t the first time Kraft came close to meeting lightning. In fact, it was the 3rd time, he says, both other occasions also taking place on the water while fishing.
“We just couldn’t move quick enough,” he said of his latest encounter. “The whole thing, it was just weird. It was like “fingers” arcing all over… one of the worst storms I’ve seen in Devils Lake.”
As a result of the holes blown in the side of the boat, Kraft had estimated that between 500 and 600 gallons of water had entered the boat by the time they arrived back at the dock, with the rig sustaining a very significant amount of damage.
Kraft, a well driller for some 37 years, said he won’t let it come that close ever again.
THE SIGNIFICANT POWER OF LIGHTNING
Lightning is one of nature’s most awesome displays of power. The bolt that hit the Ed Kraft boat in the waters of Devils Lake had actually hit the water at least a mile from them, then traveled instantly to the boat as it searched for a ground.
According to meteorologist Jim Fors at the U.S. National Weather Service in Bismarck, actual lightning strikes frequently occur some distance away from potential targets and victims. Then travel until they reach a ground.
“Yes, it will happen on the ground,” Fors said of lightning strikes. “It will hit some distance away, then search for a ground. But water is much better conductor than the ground.”
Despite the distance from the strike to the ground, which can be a mile or more, the time it takes for the bolt to travel to its desired object is instantaneous. Thus, boaters would be wise to get off the water quickly whenever they are able to see or hear lightning in the area. No matter how far away it may appear.
This is especially important if you’re fishing big lakes since a lightning bolt can hit water miles away and travel through the water instantly looking for a ground.
When a bolt hits water, it may not necessarily kill fish as it travels because the fish are not grounded. This applies to other objects, too.
OTHER LIGHTNING FACTS
• A lightning bolt is a channel of electricity an inch or two across, 200 feet to 20 miles long. Its temperature has been documented to reach 50,000 degrees F., or four times hotter than the skin of the sun.
• A lightning bolt races form the earth toward the base of a cloud at a pace of 90,000 miles per second, not the other way as it appears.
• The thunder following a lightning bolt is caused by a massive expansion of air within a large pressure wave.
• A single lightning bolt can deliver up to 125 million volts of electricity, 10,000 times the current of an “electric chair”.
• To determine the distance of a lightning strike, divide the lapsed time of the thunder by five. A thunder “shock” 15 seconds after the bolt would indicate it was about three miles away. The sound wave from a bolt travels at the rate of one mile in 5 seconds.
• Humans are well known to be good conductors of electricity, but not as good as metal. However, people are better conductors than air, wood, rock or dry soil.
• Lightning is blamed for starting some 75 percent of the forest fires in the U.S. each year, burning hundreds of millions of dollars worth of timber and property.
• Despite its awesome power, your chances of being struck by lightning are about one in a million, depending on where you live. •