Oregon State UniversitySpecial Collections & Archives Research Center
Electric Shock Induced by Lightning Stroke
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Letter from Eugene Starr to L. V. Bewley, December 27, 1941.
Letter from Eugene Starr to L. V. Bewley, December 27, 1941.

Recognizing the further danger of our exposed position, we gathered our wits together as best we could and proceeded on toward lower ground in the most stooped attitude we could assume. Because of the flat, barren character of the terrain surrounding us, we felt safer in making a desperate attempt to get out of there than in attempting to reduce our exposure by lying flat on the ground.

Subsequent lightning strokes in this storm, which developed into one of severe intensity and considerable extent, particularly at the lower altitudes, seemed more than 500 to 1,000 yards distant.

The evidence seems to indicate that, at the time we received our severe shock, a lightning stroke probably terminated on the ridge in our near vicinity and heavy streamer currents passed upward from the ground through our bodies. There is a second possibility that a cloud-to-cloud discharge occurred and that the sudden increase in potential of the cloud immediately above us caused heavy displacement currents to flow through our bodies. The corona streamers developed as a result of the suddenly increased voltage gradient in the space between the cloud and ground. A third possibility is that the release of a "bound charge," resulting from the discharge of a cloud immediately overhead, gave rise to the impulsive corona streamers and the accompanying shock.

In any event, the magnitude of the shock, particularly in the case of the second companion, approached very closely the intensity required to produce paralysis. I feel particularly fortunate in having escaped a direct stroke, or a critically severe induced stroke. However, from a professional angle, now that the experience is over, I should regret having missed it. The one outstanding impression that I have retained since the moment of the experience is the perfect similarity between the sound of the corona streamers that burst all about my head and those that are produced by a suppressed discharge in a large sphere gap. The shock seemed very similar to that obtained from a capacitor discharge. Careful inquiry revealed that my companions could recall details exactly similar to those outlined.