Lightning rattles Marble Falls EMS director when bolt strikes his vehicle

DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR

MEADOWLAKES — The storm that rolled across the Highland Lakes on April 2 left hail and wind damage in its wake, but it also left Marble Falls Area EMS Inc. Executive Director Johnny Campbell a little shaken and very thankful.

“It sounded like somebody had thrown a grenade into the vehicle,” Campbell said. “There was this bright light and then a loud ‘boom.'”

Campbell was on Firestone Drive about 4:30 p.m. after checking out some low-water crossings in Meadowlakes when a bolt of lightning struck the Marble Falls EMS sports-utility vehicle he was driving. The bolt hit a VHF antenna on the top of the SUV.

“Which was about 12 inches behind my right ear,” Campbell said. “When that antenna fell, it melted to the (emergency) light bar. It was that hot.”

According to the National Weather Service, lightning strikes killed 28 people across the country in 2012, three of them in Texas.

While not the best place to be during a thunderstorm with lightning strikes, Campbell was safer in the vehicle than if he had been outside of it. According to NWS, vehicles offers some refuge from lighting, but not because of their rubber tires.

According to the weather service, it’s the metal roof and sides of a vehicle that offer “a good, second choice” to getting inside an actual building, though no shelter offers a 100-percent guarantee against lightning strikes.

After lightning hit the SUV, Campbell began smelling smoke, but with the main radio knocked out, he had to use a second one to contact the Marble Falls Police Department Dispatch. But with the lightning still flashing around him and his ears still ringing from the blast, Campbell didn’t feel safe standing outside the SUV, nor did he think it wise to have firefighters out in the tempest.

“So I asked them to meet me at the station, where we could check (the vehicle) out,” he said.

The strike caused about $1,600 of damage to the vehicle, Campbell said. And it also left him with a new respect for lightning.

“I don’t want anything to do with lightning, ever,” he said.

According to NWS, the safest place to be during a thunderstorm is inside a large, enclosed building with plumbing and wiring. But the service cautioned that once inside, people should stay away from electrical appliances, electric sockets and plumbing.

If outside and a vehicle or structure isn’t available, NWS stated people should avoid open areas, elevated places and tall isolated objects such as trees and poles.

While lightning isn’t attracted to metal objects more than non-metal objects, NWS advised people to avoid things such as metal fences and bleachers because they can conduct electricity.

As for characteristics that make something more likely to be struck by lightning, those include height, isolation and shape rather than composition, according to NWS.

For more information on lightning and lightning safety, go to www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov.

daniel@thepicayune.com