HARRIET L. HUTTO
My plan to write this column was intensified by a tragic event on August 4th. A couple celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in Washington, DC were struck and killed by lightning in LaFayette Park in front of the White House. Because it’s that time of year when thunderstorms are common, we all need reminders of the importance of not taking risks when the claps of thunder warn that lightning will follow. Unfortunately, there are times when, like the couple I mentioned, we might get caught up in one of those storms with nowhere to run. We all need to stay on top of weather alerts.
When I was a young child, even though I knew how potentially dangerous lightning was, I can’t say I was really afraid of it. However, I remember a storm when I was around 7-8 years old. At the time, when this severe storm started, my father was outside helping my grandfather feed the cows in the pasture about a mile from our house. Because my brother, sister and I were very scared, my mother made us sit with her in a circle on our bedroom floor. She even made us put on our galoshes, because, she told us, the rubber would crush the lightning. I don’t know if there’s really any safety to sitting in a circle, but we weren’t hit! Anyway, once the storm passed, Dad came to tell us that several cows had been killed by lightning as they huddled under a tree. Several years later, the same thing happened to the cows at Hutto Farm – some were struck by lightning while standing under a tree.
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However, my real fear and respect came in 1980. Until then, although I knew of the experiences with cows, there were times when, even after thunder and lightning, I did not think of running outside to grab something I didn’t have. I don’t want to stand in the rain.
COMMENT: Many ages and years
Forty-two years ago, an event one weekend in early September changed my mind! Charlie and I were in Washington, DC, for several days. We got a phone call that made a difference forever in what I will and won’t do when lightning dances across the sky. You see, my uncle and his son were struck by lightning while on a golf course on Kiawah Island (near Charleston). The lightning struck them both as they stood under a rest/shelter area during the storm. My uncle AB died this afternoon and my cousin, Asa, lived until December without regaining consciousness.
Asa was my oldest first cousin. I remember how happy I was when he was born because all my friends had first cousins and until then I had none. He became a dentist and practiced in Richmond, Virginia. His wife and three young children, along with his parents, were enjoying a vacation on the South Carolina coast. That day, while Uncle AB and Asa were playing golf, Asa’s wife rode the course with them. When this storm rose, they were near a shelter, so they took refuge there. Mary Lou went to the bathroom while the two men stood on the porch. She heard a very loud noise, but she was unprepared for what she would find on the way out. Her husband and stepfather were on the ground. Other people who were nearby came to help. Both victims were taken to MUSC.
We went to Uncle AB’s funeral and Mary Lou stayed in Charleston with Asa for almost three months, visiting him in the hospital every day, reading and talking to him. However, he never responded to anything. Just before Christmas, doctors made the decision to have him transferred to a hospital in Richmond so that Mary Lou could be with her young daughter and sons. (Immediately after the accident, Mary Lou’s parents, who were retired, had moved in to provide some stability for the children.) Asa died before the end of the year. Losing family members to this force of nature was enough to make me swear never to run outside during a thunderstorm again.
COMMENT: Who is really calling?
While the rules for team sporting events are much stricter now than they were years ago, I guess neighborhood golfers still use their own discretion in knowing when to leave a course. While the outdoor sports teams our sons played on were never casual about thunderstorms, I don’t recall their games being stopped for any specific amount of time when we heard thunder.
We also had our own experience with one of these dangerous bursts of energy just two years ago. One morning in August, just as we opened our blinds, there was such a clap of thunder and a great flash of light that Charlie and I knew immediately that lightning had struck something nearby. Then we discovered that it was our house! It was pretty amazing what that burst of electricity knocked out and what he jumped. It took a while to even KNOW that some things had been damaged. It was obvious that the televisions were gone, as were our landline phones and internet. A few lamps no longer worked while others were fine. Kitchen appliances and washer/dryer continued to work. It wasn’t until later that day that we discovered that our irrigation control panel had been blown to pieces. A day or two after that, because it was time for our generator to have its annual check-up, the serviceman found that it had also been hit.
Since that devastating storm, we’ve taken a few extra precautions by having a whole house surge protector installed. They told us it was supposed to protect the whole house from a strike. I just hope it works out if another storm like the ones I mentioned decides to head our way.
COMMENT: What are the odds?
Because I have seen time and time again how much destruction can be wrought by a single lightning bolt, I urge you to remember that all storm warnings and weather alerts, whether it is a thunderstorm, of a flood, hurricane or tornado, have a purpose. Try to be safe.
Harriet L. Hutto of the Providence Community is a periodic contributor to The Times and The Democrat.