Archive for Wednesday, June 2, 2004

A close call

Resident narrowly escapes lightning

June 2, 2004

Peewee nearly cost John Lenahan his life.

Shortly after last Monday night's thunderstorm ended, Lenahan took his dog -- a 20-year-old Chihuahua -- outside.

And that's when Lenahan saw a flash of light he'll never forget.

"The lightning hit the ground out there about 30 feet from me and hit the whole yard," Lenahan said. "Boy you never saw an old man run so fast -- I took off back to the house."

Immediately before the strike, Lenahan said, his hair stood on end and a chemical odor filled the air.

Lightning is an "underrated killer," said Noelle Runyan, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Pleasant Hill, Mo. Just because a storm has ended, it doesn't mean it's safe to go outside, she said.

"You really have to watch out for lightning -- it can strike many miles away from the storm," Runyan said. "So even though you think you're safe because the storm is 15 or 20 miles away, you can still be struck."

Don't be deceived by clear skies, she said.

"You can have blue skies overhead with a storm 15 to 20 or so miles away and lightning comes straight out of the storm," Runyan said. "It can even hit when there's blue skies above."

When it comes to storm safety, Runyan said, there's one rule to follow: "If you're close enough to hear the thunder, you're close enough to be struck by lightning."

First brush

Lenahan, who is fast approaching the age of 82, said this was not his first brush with lightning. When he was a young boy, he was herding cattle when a storm broke out. Fortunately, he remembered his father's advice to stay away from trees, and sure enough, lightning struck a nearby tree and split it down the middle.

And, he recalled when his mother, Lucille Lenahan, was in her 90s and lightning struck her house while she was inside. The bolt came through the wall of her house and knocked out a kitchen light.

Lenahan chuckled when he recalled his mother's response: "She said, 'When you get this old, nothing scares you,'" Lenahan said.

Repeated strikes

And, then there are people who just seem to attract lightning.

Tom Ahart, who is moving to Tonganoxie, stopped to shop at Lenahan's Hardware store last Thursday afternoon. Upon hearing Lenahan's tale of frightening lightning, Ahart related a few of his own.

"Three times in my life, lightning has missed me by only three feet," Ahart said.

The first time, Ahart was at an Air Force base in Texas where he was working on a B-25 bomber when lightning hit the plane.

"A bolt went across in front of my face," Ahart said.

The next time, he was in a basement apartment, having breakfast with his wife. A bolt of lightning came through the window, went between him and his wife, and struck the kitchen sink.

And the third time, Ahart said, he was finishing up pouring a concrete basement floor in a new house. There was a concrete floor above him, on the first story of the house. And even though a storm was going on overhead, Ahart felt he was safe and continued his work.

"I had just moved about six inches when lightning struck the floor right above where I had been working," Ahart said. "It blew a hole in the floor above me, and pieces of the floor rained down on me. Fortunately I had a hat on, but I got bruised a little."

Peewee's warning

In looking back at last week's lightning strike, Lenahan said perhaps Peewee realized the danger before he did. Usually, Lenahan said, Peewee likes to go outside. But this time, he didn't want to go outside.

And just before the strike, Lenahan said, Peewee was agitated. It's possible, Lenahan said, that after all, Peewee was trying to keep both of them out of danger.

"He got all excited," Lenahan said. "He started shaking because he could tell something was going to happen."

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