This past Saturday (7/14/2012) a thunderstorm developed and moved through Tuscola, where I live. I go so excited when I felt the cool outflow ahead of the storm it was almost silly. When the rain actually started, I went out and stood in it for a minute; it was that big of a deal to actually feel some rain in the middle of a drought. As the storm got stronger, though, I went inside. Just a few minutes later, my whole house shook from the thunder generated by a nearly simultaneous lightning flash.
I knew the strike had been close, but I had no idea HOW close until Sunday afternoon. It was then that I realized that the lightning had struck a tree just outside my back yard fence. This is a beautiful older cottonwood tree, about 75 feet tall, and about 3-4 feet in diameter at the base. Strangely the lightning did not appear to strike the TOP of the tree, but farther down, toward the middle of the branches.
It inflicted a tremendous amount of damage to the tree, stripping a channel down BOTH sides of the trunk, something I have never seen before. The channels are several inches wide and anywhere from 2-3 inches deep, exposing the living core of the tree. The bark that was blown off when the sap boiled instantly to steam was strewn quite a way from the tree. Remember, all of this damage occured in a fraction of a second! Such is the power of several BILLION volts of electricity and a short-term temperature hotter than the surface of the sun.
For me, this is a reminder about the incredible power of nature, and that ANY thunderstorm can kill. I know it will make me more mindful about getting to shelter in a thunderstorm. The neighbor who owns the tree has a little cleaning up to do, and the rest of the neighborhood will be watching, and hoping the tree survives.