The Mystery of Ball Lightning

Photo: theparadigmshifter via Flickr

Bizarre, personal encounters with the most puzzling of all weather phenomena

Much of what we call "paranormal" are facets or properties of the natural world that we do not yet understand. And although ball lighting is not usually considered a paranormal phenomenon -- and is almost certainly a natural phenomenon -- its mysterious nature has puzzled scientists and paranormal researchers alike for centuries.

There currently is no fully satisfactory or generally accepted scientific theory for ball lightning, mainly because it is so rare, and when it does occur it doesn't stay around long enough to be studied; it generally has a lifetime of less than five seconds. According to one researcher, "ball lightning is the name given to the mobile luminous spheres which have been observed during thunderstorms. Visual sightings are often accompanied by sound, odor, and permanent material damage." Many scientists still deny its existence, but there are so many eyewitness accounts of the phenomenon that it's difficult to deny its reality.

It's these personal encounters with ball lighting that have given it its mysterious reputation. Many eyewitnesses describe its movement or "behavior" as seemingly intelligent, as if it knows where it wants to go. When it enters houses, it often enters through doorways or windows and travels down hallways. But people tend to personify such peculiar events and it's ludicrous to think that the balls of light have any intelligence, but the anecdotes are no less intriguing.

Here are some fascinating first-hand accounts.

Unusual Experiences with Lighting includes many strange reports, including these two accounts:

  • In January 1984, ball lightning measuring about 4 inches in diameter entered a Russian passenger aircraft and, according to the Russian news release, "flew above the heads of the stunned passengers. In the tail section of the airliner, it divided into two glowing crescents which then joined together again and left the plane almost noiselessly." The ball lightning left two holes in the plane.
  • A "ball of sparks" about the size of a basketball entered a commercial aircraft, apparently through an engine airtake, moved into the fuselage, and proceeded to chase a flight attendant up and down the aisle. She was screaming as she tried to outrun the ball lightning. It dissipated quickly before striking her.

Glenn R. Frazier relates at incident at his grandfather's cottage in upstate Pennsylvania:

  • "I was sitting on a screened porch. I remember a brilliant flash of lightning and a large clap of thunder. Seconds later, my mother screamed. My grandfather and I turned to look in through the doorway and saw what looked like a ball of electricity coming down the hallway from the back door. It was about the size of a basketball and had an off-yellow kind of haze. It sounded like a large stream of water coming through a faucet. When it got to the kitchen area, it flickered and flashed a little brighter, and then was gone."

Bill Melfi was on vacation on a small farm in Tennessee when he had this experience:

  • "I saw two balls of light, one about three feet and the other about four feet in diameter. They were glowing with a blue-green light that was about as bright as a 50-watt bulb and translucent as a balloon. They moved side by side, the larger one leading. The movement was quick and somewhat zigzag. I chased after it with a stick in hand, but they were faster than me. They didn't break up, just disappeared in the woods."

Next page: More incredible experiences

This incident occurred in Bavaria in 1921:

  • A nine-year-old girl and her uncle were in the first floor of a building during a severe morning thunderstorm. Ball lightning appeared on the left side of the window sill. The ball fell to the floor where it jumped up and down once or twice, then started to roll slowly toward the observers across the wooden floor, leaving no marks. It was translucent, and the rapidly changing colors showed spots of light green, crimson, light blue, and pale yellow. It then rolled toward the tile stove, crept up the iron parts, leaving a deep groove about the width and depth of a thumb. Then it exploded in an air vent.

A Coast Guard officer reported this enormous ball lighting sighting in 1977, which because of its size, others might declare as a UFO encounter:

  • "The ball lightning phenomenon was very large and estimated to be about the size of a bus. It was a brilliant yellow-green transparent ball with a fuzzy outline. Intense light was emitted for about three seconds before flickering out. Severe static was heard on the radio. The object slowly rotated around a horizontal axis and seemed to bounce off projections on the ground."

Here are several more reports from various locations:

  • "I saw a ball of light moving along the ground across the street from my house, says an observer in Canton Ohio. "It seemed to be about 10 inches in diameter. I saw the light move through the window of a church building. The light moved in and out. It seemed curious and not something frightful. I continued to watch the light 'explore' the building, and move into a tree - without any sign of damage."
  • "During a light thunderstorm in July of 1991," says Joanna Bosse of Nashville, Tennessee, "a ball of plasma about 3 inches in diameter entered through my den window. The ball passed through the window leaving no marks on the plastic screen or the window glass. The ball was orange and blue and made a frying sound as it moved across the room, through the door into the living room where it exited through the front storm door back outside, leaving no marks on the glass."
  • Kim LeVeque of Ann Arbor, Michigan tells this incredible story: "I first saw the ball lightning when it came out the front of the stereo. There was an explosion, smoke, and debris, and a large orange ball. It went into the front of the television set and exited through the wall behind the TV. With the explosion, cupboard doors flew open and were torn from the hinges, glass jars broke, the refrigerator door blew open and eggs cracked inside."
  • In 1936, a reader related this story to the editor of the London Daily Mail: "During a thunderstorm I saw a large, red hot ball come down from the sky. It struck our house, cut the telephone wire, burnt the window frame, and then buried itself in a tub of water which was underneath. The water boiled for some minutes afterwards, but when it was cool enough for me to search, I could find nothing in it."