You smell it before you see it

At 5 a.m. the lightning's ovehead.

At 5 a.m. the lightning’s ovehead.

I woke up at 5 a.m. with a smell in my nose.

Something burnt.

Without opening my eyes, my groggy mind sorted the scent. Not a skunk, not wood, not food, not quite electrical, we’re safe …

I felt Ellie B aka Dogamous Pyle press close to my lower leg just as the final tumbler clicked into place: scorched ions. Then the lightning flashed in the sky to prove me right and the thunder boomed just an instant thereafter.

We had a big one immediately overhead our house in our Syracuse city neighborhood of Eastwood, and it remained to rattle my bones for a dozen light-and-booms. How my dear wife Karen didn’t wake up, I don’t know. Ellie B kept her contact until I grabbed the iPad off the nightstand to quietly snap the photo out the bedroom window.

This morning, my look out the back porch, and front and side windows noted no trees down.

Sound, rain and a light show, but we’d escaped a bigger hit.

Upon fully getting up and hearing my side of the story, Karen reports that she did note the bolt, and heard the lightning sizzle. Add another sense to the list.

Have you experienced the flash-and-boom lightning? Have you seen lightning strike? Have you felt the electrons of lightning, and what was it like?

52 thoughts on “You smell it before you see it

  1. I can relate to the smell but not the electrons. I get a tingling in my hands when there is something like a disaster near me, like when the Buns Restaurant, burned down. I think this was sad, when the lightning hit the ocean and there were some deaths recently. So glad you, Karen and Ellie B. are safe and sound!


  2. I haven’t felt the electrons of lightning, Mark. Nor smelled anything distinctive after lightning flashed. When we lived on Prospect Ave., a huge bolt of lightning struck the church on Butternut Street just a few doors down from our apartment. As I recall, it took out the bell in the belfry which had to be replaced.

    As rachelcarrera noted, Florida is the lightning capital of the U.S. and many deaths as a result of it. That’s a scary thought if you’re out walking when the flashes of light begin. I’m so glad that you, Karen and Ellie B are safe.


  3. I live in the lightning capital of the country. Formerly the lightning capital of the world until Rwanda, Africa took over. (Sadly, it’s also the meth capital of the country, but that’s another story.) What was cool here though is when the space shuttle would come back and we’d hear the sonic boom wake us from our sleep. Sweet post!


  4. Funny you should ask. Just last night, as a matter of fact. A giant bolt from the heavens. A series of them, in fact, with the torrential rains to go with them. 2:15 a.m. Power out. Daughter up crying. The dog yelping her head off. Real biblical, violent stuff. On the way out of the house at 5:00 I saw branches in the streets but couldn’t stop to assess the damages. It’ll be a fun surprise waiting for me. I have to get through my workday AND the play I have tickets for tonight on just a few hours of sleep. It’ll be a long one.


    • That’s a stinking night served by the Mother, Mark.

      Get through The Job. Try to enjoy the play. And I hope she Nature didn’t mess up the neighborhood too much. Damn.

      Now I must go get ready for day one, week three of my new job and get producing.


  5. Wow Mark, that was a close one. I’ve never smelled lightening but I’ve been close enough that the hairs on my arms have rustled and I felt a tingling sensation. I was surprised at the number of your readers that have had close calls. Smell is a strange one – people have very different senstivities – you’re obviously sensitive to the smell of lightening. Cool and petty special. I’ve had a few close calls but most were when driving, which is not very dangerous as the car is not grounded. We had to learn a lot about lightening when I trained to haul gas. It turns out that when lightening strikes it doesn’t just come down from the sky. A tendril of ions reaches down but a tendril also reches up from the highest graounded poin t on the graound. When the two meet they create a pathway the the lightening follows from clouds to ground. That accounts for those who can feel or smell the lightening before it comes – like you said it is the ions making their way upwards. My most memorable moment was crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel in the middle of a thunder storm with the family in our van. It was eerie even though my intellect told me we were OK, my hindbrain was screaming – Run, you fool! Lightening was striking the water all around the bridge – the explosions and the steam and water flying. There must have been 30 or 40 lighteneing strikes within a half a mile of us as we crossed. If ever I’ve seen a sight that suggested the River Styx – that was it. Eeks! My arm hairs were standing up that time but it was hard to tell if it was from the absolute fear or the ions. Schew.

    Neat post Mark – as I said the comments were great too. Oh, on another topic, I Guest Posted my very first blog post today over at Willowdot21 . The blog owner picked the topic -“If we were having coffee…” If you get the time please drop by and say hello. Any and all comments, criticisms and suggestions are welcome. I’m nervous of course as this is #1 post.


    • I can hardly imagine being surrounded by lightning strikes crosing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge/Tunnel expanse, Paul. That must have been otherworldly. I crossed that baby plenty when I lived in Maryland from 1977 to 1983.

      Hey, congratulations on accepting the invitation for blog post No. 1. I am clicking over there right now.


  6. I got zapped once by a lightning “side flash” as it went through the house and the metal storm door that I was (stupidly, stupidly, stupidly) holding. I was well buzzed and quickly ran into the bedroom in a panic since that seemed to be the best place to flee to. It wasn’t. The wind immediately toppled an old tree onto the roof over the room. I believe I may have started just running in circles at that point. Needless to say, I deeply dislike thunderstorms.

    The lightning last night only half-woke me and, while I didn’t smell it at all, the flash was incorporated into my dream. Weirdness.


  7. We experienced a very small tornado about a month ago. Minor, fixable damage. Last year, lightning hit and knocked my phones out. I always unplug the computer and DSL during severe storms, so all was ok. It did hit every tv and appliance at the next door neighbors. Thankfully, the dog was inside with me during these nasty weather events.


  8. I know a lot of people who are afraid of lightening and thunder, too. I am not, at all.

    However, I was afraid, when I read the beginning of this post, that some harm may have come to you, those you love, or your property. I was glad to let go of that fear, immediately!


  9. I love watching lightning….. from a distance. I’m deathly afraid of it though. I will not go outside if it even looks like it’s about to lightning…

    That said, I do have a close encounter story to add. I was at the ballgame on April 19, 2000 (Padres in town to face the Cardinals). A storm was passing over, but the rain was apparently not bad enough to call for a delay, so the two teams continued playing. I was sitting about 1/3 of the way up the upper deck behind home plate… just far enough back that I was covered from the rain (and lightning, I assumed) by the old Busch Stadium’s famous arched ring. In the middle of an at bat (it was Craig Paquette, one of my all time favorite players), lightning hit one of the flagpoles on top of the stadium… and the lightning actually traveled the entire circumference of the roof creating a brief, but nevertheless awesome looking electrified ring. Despite my phobia, I couldn’t help but smile in wonder at what I’d just seen, and didn’t even run for cover after it had happened (which is more than I can say for the on deck hitter Eric Davis, who bolted into the dugout!)

    And the game went on, even after the light show! Paquette kept his cool and singled on the next pitch…


    • Now that’s like the St. Louis version of the Aurora Borealis, ESN. The Northern Lights over Auggie Busch’s house. Good for Craig Pacquette for rewarding your bravado with a hit, and shame on Eric Davis for bolting from the bolt! Great story, dude.


  10. We had a very similar night in the mountains – the dogs and I watched the show (they were undoubtedly more anxious though) – Andy slept through it all.


  11. i love storms, i think it’s a combo of wonder and awe, mixed with fear. i always wake up when they are that dramatic and love the pic, it looks like a still shot from a film noir.


  12. I’ve had several bolts of lighting right over head and believe me they actually raised the hair on my head. I felt it. One actually struck a tree close by and severed the trunk in half. Scary? Yes. Mother Nature … we are mere specks of dust in comparison. Great post, Mark! Love, Amy


  13. I used to work on a Marina–one of my jobs was to ferry clients back and forth to their buoyed boats in my work boat, a peppy little 14″ aluminum john boat with a purring Mercury 15 on the back. Man, that cat would move, and turn on a dime. One of our policies–stay off the lake in lightning. Well, one time, with a storm coming in, one of our best customers tied up just ahead of the rain–I buzzed out, picked up his wife, son, and daughter, and son-in-law and ran them back to the dock while he battened things down. Thunder and lightning cracked around us as I docked, and my boss wagged a finger at me from the office deck–our client would have to wait things out on his boat. I didn’t like that–he was a big tipper who boated as much as 5 days a week and a really good guy, but what could I do? Well, just then, the world flashed white–an explosion of blinding white light and a simultaneous detonation of sound. I could feel static in my hair and beard, like a strange itch, and my nose was filled with what I only guessed was ozone–but it reminded me of gunpowder, but not, at the time. Our office manager, a little metalhead chick from Salt Lake CIty, called down on the radio, “HOLY SHIT MAN DID YOU SEE THAT!!” I wasn’t sure what I’d seen, but she said the lightning had hit the water just a few yards from where we stood, “Like a fucking star trek phaser, man” I looked at the son and we both started laughing, then without calling my boss back on the radio I pointed at the john boat and said “Let’s go get your dad–it’s not going to get any closer than that.” (Tip: $20, 1990 value. $2-3 was standard).


    • Perfect illustration, Chuck. Two close strikes for me:

      When I was a teenager growing up on Long Island, I was watching the storm out my bedroom window and saw the bolt hit the metal garbage can at the curb in front of our house. The pail flew in the air and landed on its side, with a dent in it. That’s the first time I knew that lightning smelled, too. I saw the hair on my arms stand up, also.

      The second time, about 10 years ago, a sucker hit the DirecTV satellite dish on the corner of our one-story ranch house here in Syracuse. It tripped all the breakers. The dish’s inside electronics were fried. The old-style tube TVs were fine, but I immediately took the occasion to cancel satellite forever, order cable, and buy two high def flat screens and enter the new world.


  14. I know exactly what you mean about the smell, but I’ve never smelled it inside!! That’s one strong sniffer you have there, Mark. And I sort of live in fear of those violent storms with these giant old oaks all around us. Glad all is well up there.


    • We had a giant silver maple out back that I really fretted about in the cracklers, Barb, a double-shooter off a single root only two-feet off the ground that grew to be the biggest tree in our neighborhood. The tree expert said we ought to take her down, and we did about four years ago.


  15. I don’t think I’ve felt the electrons. But I have definitely been motivated out of bed or chair by thunder and lightening when it (thunder) shakes the house. I think the huge storms passed over us yesterday but we are the possibility range of storms again today.


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