John White: Bravado over lightning gone in a flash

Editor John White discloses why he’s wary of lightning.

Do they make the Thundershirt for people? I’m asking for a friend.

As I may have mentioned in this space previously, I grew up in prime prairie thunderstorm country — Winnipeg.

I recall many legendary thunderstorms blowing through the city in the hot summer months, causing localized flooding and damaged trees. Tornadoes also hit, mostly in the rural areas nearby.

There were several cracking storms that sent us scurrying to the basement for cover, just in case a tornado ended up hitting our street.

When looking back at my childhood, I really didn’t respect the deadly potential of these storms until I had a close encounter when I was 11 or 12.

We were playing at the neighbourhood pitch in an organized game of soccer. There were no storm warnings broadcast that morning, so we figured we had the “all clear.”

Sometime late in the first half, it got very dark. Still, we thought it was no big deal. There was no rain or wind, so on we played.

It was at this point that we noticed Murray’s hair — shoulder length and normally hanging low and free — was standing straight up. We were near centre field, gathered to laugh at this crazy display. Then we heard the boom and saw the bolt.

It was the loudest explosion I had ever heard. We heard the zzzzzziiiiip of the lightning simultaneously with the boom. The smell of ozone in the air was intense — I can smell it right now like it was happening again.

The bolt struck the goalpost in our end. Our goaltender was launched 20 feet down field by the force of the bolt. He was able to jump up and run to his family’s car.

I ran as fast as I could all the way home. Seriously. It was a full four city blocks. If they’d have clocked me, I might have broken the record for that distance.

It took me several hours to calm down. In hindsight, the fact that we were almost killed in a sporting event managed by adults who likely should have known better made it that much worse for me. I was mentally scarred for years by this close call.

I remember attending one of my dad’s baseball games a few years later, and a similar storm system was making its way through the area. I wasn’t about to be in a similar situation, so I went to our car to ride it out. My mom had promised me that the car was actually the safest place to be when lightning was threatening because of the rubber tires.

Cut to a scene of me sitting in the very middle of the back seat, with the windows rolled all the way up, because I’m guessing lightning could make its way through an open window. It was 30 C that day, did I mention that?

A while later, my mom decided to come and check on me. When she got to the car, she was shocked to see me locked in tight. I was sweating profusely, but safe. She managed to get me to roll down the windows as I hid from certain electrical death.

For years since, I was what some would deem “overly cautious” when it came to lightning. I would leave baseball games early, or walk off of the golf course mid-round if there was any chance of lightning strikes.

I was probably 15 when I had my next close encounter. Coincidentally, I was riding in the middle of the backseat of a car. I was not in that position intentionally, it just worked out that way. A thick bolt of lightning struck the hood of the car, dead centre. It was loud, but it bounced off and went in another direction. I’d always wondered if the grounded vehicle thing was an urban myth. We didn’t feel a thing from the lightning, but I felt surprise, relief and gratitude that mom was right.

That phobia — can you call it a phobia if it is actually rational fear — has eased over the past 20 years.

But if there’s a level 10 rager heading our way, don’t be surprised to find me in the car with the windows up.

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