Longtime tornado chaser Gene Moore of Oklahoma City intercepted a
lightning bolt while chasing in Oklahoma this year. He came out of it with only
minor damage -- but tells a hair-raising story.
Gene has been chasing for nearly fourteen years and has recorded scores of successes. His 'crew' on the day of his mishap (May 23, 1981) were also experienced storm chasers. They were Mike Neese (seven tornadoes in '81) and Steve Cone (two-year veteran of the vortex. Gene's mission was to obtain videotape footage of tornadoes for the television which he worked for at the time. Gene was cameraman, Mike operated the support package and Steve was to document with slides.
As Gene tells it, they had just begun filming a tornado near Katie, a small town about fifty miles to the south of OKC. Another group of chasers had arrived, and one (Chuck Robertson) was leaning against a wire fence that ran beside the road. The scene was almost pastoral. A mile and a half to the north-northeast a tornado had touched down. It was quiet -- birds could be heard singing in the vicinity. They had seen no lightning, heard no thunder, nor felt even a drop of rain. The location seemed perfect. Then, all hell broke loose.
Gene suddenly began hearing a loud, continuous buzzing, and his hair reacted to the static by literally standing on end. An anvil to ground bolt struck a nearby power pole. The energy traveled down the pole to the fence and jumped out to Gene before he realized what was happening. (Gene told the Editor that he just had time to say "Oh.." and was knocked to the ground ten feet back before he could finish "...God"). Gene flew off his feet, spinning, and as he did so a spark, accompanied by a loud crack of sound, flew from his hand and hit Steve Cone. Steve went down. Mike had already been knocked to his knees, when the charge crossed the cable connecting the mini-cam to the support package.
Gene landed near the road, on the brink of consciousness, feeling 'numb'
from head to toe. Meanwhile, Chuck Robertson, who had been leaning on the
fence, caught the brunt of the shock in his hands and rushed out into the road.
Gene raised himself to look around. Mike was down, trying to rise. Steve was up
on his feet, but a little wobbly. As Gene sat up, then stood, a tingling washed
over his body, similar to the tingling one feels when a foot or leg has been
asleep. The tingling was overpowering and forced him to sit back down. After a
few more minutes of recovery time, the group tried to resume the chase. (Gene
told the editor that, after driving a few miles up the road, one of his two
passengers asked why he was driving north while the tornado was moving east.
Gene turned around and said something to the effect that, "Why, I'm chasing the
tornado." At which point, one of the 'crew' turned to the other and said, "I
think we've got problems." At this point, they took Gene home to recover).
The next day, Gene reports, all of them had symptoms very similar to the flu; namely a feverish feeling, nausea, aching muscles/joints and an overall weakness. Within 48 hours, small portions of Gene's hair had turned gray. However, as I write this note, all have recovered and none report any long- term effects. So, what is the point of this account -- apart from the entertainment? It is that even the most experienced chaser should remind himself regularly of the thunderstorm's greatest killer: lightning. Every one of us should be constantly aware of our surroundings regarding conductors, etc. We should consciously remind ourselves to 'feel' for incipient lightning strikes as we work the storm, and we should all be aware of the safety position to assume at the slightest hint of trouble (i.e. squat down on your haunches and then make your body as small as possible). Continuing to stand invites the first strike, and laying flat on the ground maximizes the area of electrical potential). Remember, you may not get quite as great a charge out of your chase if you conduct yourself properly, but you sure can avoid a lot of static. (Sorry Gene, I couldn't resist).