Storm chasers who have seen ball lightning?

Karl D. Stephan

Enthusiast
Sep 2, 2021
6
4
1
San Marcos, Texas
I am an electrical engineering professor with a research interest in ball lightning. For those unfamiliar with ball lightning, it is a glowing sphere usually under a foot in diameter that forms typically near thunderstorms (both outdoors and indoors sometimes), drifts around for a few seconds, and then vanishes or explodes. There is currently no good scientific understanding of it. People who chase storms should have a better than average chance of seeing ball lightning. If anyone reading this has seen ball lightning, here is my request: go to our ball lightning report website, https://tinyurl.com/BLReport, and fill out the questions there, and let us know that you heard about our site through Stormtrack. We are especially interested in any eyewitnessed photographs of something that might be ball lightning.
 

Jeff Duda

EF6+, PhD
Staff member
Supporter
Oct 7, 2008
3,466
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Broomfield, CO
www.meteor.iastate.edu
I claim there is no such distinct scientific entity as "ball lightning," especially in light of the complete lack of recent reports despite the increasing number of photographers and chasers over the past few decades, as well as the lack of accounts from prominent chasers and lightning researchers (many of whom have captured excellent high speed recordings over the past 10-20 years).

Along with never having seen any photo or video evidence of ball lightning, I find it peculiar that reports of ball lightning seemed to disappear after about the 1980s or so.

My guess is that what people call "ball lightning" is just some transient aspect of electricity related to a nearby lightning strike that causes an apparent ball appearance despite not being anything distinct. It could just be a spark jumping/arcing from an overloaded circuit or from metal shards being thrown from an object that was riddled by current. In other words, people used to have a label for something we now see as part of something else.
 

Karl D. Stephan

Enthusiast
Sep 2, 2021
6
4
1
San Marcos, Texas
Dear Dr. Duda,

You are undoubtedly correct that many things people identify as ball lightning are really something else. But there remains the possibility
that there is a distinct phenomenon that has not be objectively observed yet. While the subject doesn't get as much publicity as it used to,
there have been numerous recent sightings of something that can't be definitively identified as anything else. So thank you for your opinion,
and time may tell if you're right.

Karl Stephan
 
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Hi Karl, I have never seen ball lightning, but I fondly remember my father's story about it. So it is second hand, but interesting. My father was a nuclear physicist and he recalled the details quite vividly. When he was younger, his father owned a saloon up in the NY Catskills (Livingston manor) One summer evening, there was a severe thunderstorm in the area. He recalls a ball of lightning, about the size of a basketball, bounced into the saloon--it then bounced into an open phone booth, and exploded in a loud bang, taking out the phone booth in the process. I believe he said it was green and luminescent.
 
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Karl D. Stephan

Enthusiast
Sep 2, 2021
6
4
1
San Marcos, Texas
Thanks. Such stories tend to be passed down in families because they are so unusual. Ball lightning is still occurring, as we got a report on one sighted last Aug. 15 in North Carolina on our ball lightning report website.
 

Karl D. Stephan

Enthusiast
Sep 2, 2021
6
4
1
San Marcos, Texas
I have permission from the author of the following to publish this anonymized report from Aug. 15, 2021. I have interviewed the author and I think there is no question that the description is from someone with ordinary observing and mental capacities.

"I was inside looking out our window. Ball was approximately 40' away outside near a large tree. We do have power lines but where the ball lightning occurred was over 100' from the power lines. I am writing to let you know that Sunday, August 15th, 2021 in Greensboro, NC in my backyard my granddaughter and I saw a lightning ball. It was close to 5:00pm. It happened before a storm came. It was a little bigger than the size of a beach ball. It was brilliant white and lasted about 10seconds and then exploded with a very loud boom. It sounded like an explosion or a bomb going off. It was off the ground approximately 8ft and there were leaves above the lightening ball that were swirling wildly above it. When the lightening ball exploded there was a debris like dust and the leaves dropped. There were no burn marks, smoldering, or any marks on the ground, nor could the leaves be identified as burned and no smell of fire. The next door neighbors saw a bright light, not the ball, but heard the loud explosion sound. My husband also saw a brilliant light, not the ball and heard the sound. The neighbors came out and asked if we were okay. I have never seen anything like this and have never heard of ball lightning before I actually saw this lightning ball."

This could not be described as "not being anything distinct," as it was stationary in mid-air for an estimated 10 seconds. While I am sure that some things described as ball lightning are in fact corona, molten burning metal, etc., I do not think categorizing the above as either of those things is appropriate.
 
Mar 28, 2009
103
13
6
58
Hagerstown MD
Seen it, but not while chasing.
Powerful bolt struck a 100 foot pine just outside window where I sat watching TV.
It was not raining (yet), so possibly this was a positive "anvil strike".
These are often >100,000 amps.
A quick thin spark about 6 feet long jumped from TV screen to a nylon carpet in front of it.
TV shut off and a ball of blue-white light about 8" diameter appeared instantly,
just above where the spark had traveled.
It stayed in place for about 3-4 seconds then drifted off slowly to my left.
It disappeared with a load snap.
Loud enough that I could hear it with my ears still ringing from the blast behind me.

There is a large enough body of "anecdotal evidence" that suggests something rare,
but real is happening.
There are ancient accounts that coincide in nearly every detail with more modern ones.
Nearly all are associated with thunderstorms and nearby lightning strikes.

I wonder how many of them are/were simply retinal "after-images" from a bright flash.
Particularly at night time, -- most accounts were are in dark conditions.

It is entirely possible that plasma formed by vaporized metal (or even ionized air) might linger
for a while in the 5000+ volt/meter electrical fields associated with CG lightning.
The ball shape would be likely due to electric charge distribution seeking to minimize field strain
-- like a soap bubble it would assume the minimum energy configuration for its environment.
(The so-called "skin-effect" -- electric charge -- or current -- only resides on the surface of the media.)

As far as storm chasers go, the camcorders are running mostly in daylight hours, but a lot of us
do chase at night, and many like to film lightning. But the only chaser footage that comes to mind
was taken by Shane Adams, I saw it about 15-20 years ago. He had submitted to some place for
analysis, If I remember correctly. Never heard anything else about it.

Anyway good luck with your study. --Have you read any of Martin Uman's books/papers ?
Please let us know if you publish.

Thanks, -T

I have some thoughts about might trigger the Snap/Bang sound assoc'd with dissipation.
IF there is any interest I might try to write it up.
 

Karl D. Stephan

Enthusiast
Sep 2, 2021
6
4
1
San Marcos, Texas
I am familiar with Dr. Uman's "Lightning: Physics and Effects" (with V. Rakov), and other material he has published on
ball lightning. If we manage any significant new publications I will announce it here.
 

Jeff Duda

EF6+, PhD
Staff member
Supporter
Oct 7, 2008
3,466
2,422
21
Broomfield, CO
www.meteor.iastate.edu
"I was inside looking out our window. Ball was approximately 40' away outside near a large tree. We do have power lines but where the ball lightning occurred was over 100' from the power lines. I am writing to let you know that Sunday, August 15th, 2021 in Greensboro, NC in my backyard my granddaughter and I saw a lightning ball. It was close to 5:00pm. It happened before a storm came. It was a little bigger than the size of a beach ball. It was brilliant white and lasted about 10seconds and then exploded with a very loud boom. It sounded like an explosion or a bomb going off. It was off the ground approximately 8ft and there were leaves above the lightening ball that were swirling wildly above it. When the lightening ball exploded there was a debris like dust and the leaves dropped. There were no burn marks, smoldering, or any marks on the ground, nor could the leaves be identified as burned and no smell of fire. The next door neighbors saw a bright light, not the ball, but heard the loud explosion sound. My husband also saw a brilliant light, not the ball and heard the sound. The neighbors came out and asked if we were okay. I have never seen anything like this and have never heard of ball lightning before I actually saw this lightning ball."
1) "lightening" - why do so many people remain incapable of correctly spelling this meteorological event?
2) Given how hot lightning is and how vivid it is when it strikes closely, I'd be surprised if a human could stare at a ball of it for 10 consecutive seconds without suffering some kind of vision impairment or permanent damage. Such an occurrence is not mentioned.
3) Where this strains credibility as some kind of special event is where the eyewitness claims there were no burn marks, smoldering, or any marks on the ground, nor any burnt leaves. Seems reasonable to think that anything carrying the level of electrical charge that would be needed to produce the reported optical effects should leave some type of detectable thermal impact in its immediate environment. And it doesn't take much heat/energy to burn a leaf.

I'm not saying the eyewitness is not mentally sound nor that they're lying. However, human memory recounts of events can be notoriously embellished, altered, or just flat out different from reality. As a degreed scientist, this kind of report screams "lack of reliability" and "inconclusiveness." Who knows what she really saw? But more detailed and more specific (and numerical) information is needed for a testimonial like this to be more seriously considered.

Such a testimonial is a good example of the Barnum effect - without specifics, there are any number of actual physical phenomena that are consistent with this reporting. I do suspect that there is an atmospherically/meteorologically generated high-energy electrical event occurring, but that's about all I accept at this point.
 
Last edited:
May 26, 2005
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Houston, TX
www.PecosHank.com
You see very similar and bizarre eyewitness testimony circulating herpetology. Piles of steaming elaborate eyewitness reports of "hoop snakes" biting their tails and rolling down hills, milk snakes milking cows, and the most popular still circulating is the ball of water moccasins floating down the stream that an uncle fell into and was bitten to death (This is not water moccasin / cottonmouth behavior and there are no medical records anywhere of any person ever receiving multiple bites from a cottonmouth). I have personally heard these same stupid stories from "eyewitnesses" in my own neighborhood who were angered at my disbelief. Almost all the viral social media posts about snakes that cross my paths are complete fabrications or hoaxes and I'm amazed at the publics belief in them.

Red sprites were reported on numerous occasions prior to discovery and met with skepticism in the scientific community. Then one was accidentally photographed in 1989. Nowadays with wide access to light sensitive cameras, 100's of sprites are documented everyday it seems... Clear, crisp in focus photos of red sprites. This also parallels Ted Fujita's predictions of multiple vortices and anticyclonic tornadoes that were originally met with skepticism by the scientific community. This differs from ball Lightning (BL) reports in that we have had an overabundance of resources to document it. A plague of surveillance cameras, and iPhone selfies have uncovered nada (insert Japanese spectroscopy report). I'm anticipating some amazing Adobe BL videos in the years to come.

Conclusions: Humans are full of shit. It's a very good bet that 99.8% of BL reports are BS. But I'm still rooting for that .2% to prove me wrong.
 

cdcollura

EF5
Jun 12, 2004
1,412
197
11
52
Sunrise, Florida
www.sky-chaser.com
Good day everyone,

Ball lightning is a highly debated phenomenon. In these posts / pictures below, I saw my chare of some phenomena that can be mistaken as real ball lightning.

p062396c.jpg

Above: A CG bolt of lightning strikes a telephone pole and causes a power flash on the powerlines. This is a second video frame taken from this strike, the first showing a leader feed coming off the front of my truck!

p062396d.jpg

Above: A spectacular and elusive phenomina with a very logical explanation, ball lightning. This is a telephone pole after being struck with a CG bolt of lightning during a severe thunderstorm on June 23, 1996 in Western Broward County, Florida, near Griffith Road. The surge of voltage initiated an arc between two of the high-voltage lines on top of the pole. The arcing continued up to 10 minutes after the strike which created this fireball of plasma that appeared to dance atop the wires. I would consider this just an electrical phenomena that is considered a TYPE of ball lightning.