Lightning and other nuisances

Tuesday was an eventful day for Sterling resident Terry Smith. While dipnetting that morning he discovered a nest of bees in his boat, which swarmed him when he tried to start the motor. He got rid of the bees by flooding the boat and managed to fish without getting stung. Before filleting the morning’s catch at home that evening, Smith went to attend to a customer at Kenai Coach, the RV lot he manages about four or five miles from his home. As he left, a dark thundercloud was gathering.

“I said to somebody, ‘That’s the blackest, darkest, ugliest-looking cloud,’” Smith said. “Somebody else … said, ‘It looks like the devil could be in it, it looks so nasty.’”

Around 2:00 p.m, Terry Smith heard a loud boom. His wife Kelly Smith was in their house.

“It was real loud crack and a bang, like a high-powered rifle had gone off in the house,” Kelly Smith said. “Then there was a wall of light that flashed in the room about eight to 10 feet away from me and that’s what blew the phone line and blew the receiver off the phone. … The filter on the line disintegrated and blew all over.”

The Smith’s home had been near one of the Kenai Peninsula’s rare lightning strikes.

“Then a few hours later the earthquake hit,” Smith said, referring to the magnitude 6.2 earthquake that occurred on the west side of Cook Inlet at approximately 6:35 p.m Tuesday.

Lightning had struck the Smiths’ yard, leaving a large hole in the ground near the place where Terry Smith had intended to fillet his fish.

“On top of the ground it was about eight to 10 inches diameter,” Terry Smith said of the hole. “Then you go down through the sod and it was about a four-inch hole like somebody had drilled it, just that clean of a hole. It went down about three feet to where the gas line was.”

The lightning had struck immediately over their home’s Enstar gas line, burning the tracer wire but causing no damage to the pipe.

In addition to creating the hole, Terry Smith said the lightning “traveled through the ground and tore up the ground in an area about 12 feet wide by 30 feet long. Through the trees, splattered mud all over two of my trailers and a motor home.”

Following the lightning strike, the Smiths inspected their home.

“All the breakers were tripped, all the phone connections inside were burnt up, where the piping comes in from the well the insulation was burned. I went out to the well and the cable had burned in two that goes to the pump … a lot of the dirt underneath the trees was gone and the roots were exposed, and the bark was stripped off them. It was really tore up out there.” The electrical transformer on the home’s power line was also damaged.

The Smiths called their electrical provider Homer Electric Company, their phone provider ACS, and gas supplier Enstar, as well as the contractor who had built the house to check for smoldering spots in the insulation. By Wednesday evening, Smith said that the power and phone systems had been repaired.

“The only major issue I have, other than replacing all the phone components inside, is getting an electrician out there to rewire from the breaker to the downstairs mechanical room where the well wiring got fried,” Smith said.

However, minor issues remain. Aside from the phone system, several smaller electronic devices inside the home were damaged.

“It fried the DVR, it fried the modem,” Smith said. “We had a brand new fax-printer-copier. It fried it.”

National Weather Service forecaster Matthew Clay said although lightning strikes are not common on the Kenai Peninsula, they “are a yearly occurrence.”

“It’s not going to happen like, say, in the Lower 48 when you’re in the plans and you get a thunderstorm that moves through almost weekly. But every summer we see multiple thunderstorms that develop along the Kenai Mountains, and depending on the winds aloft, we’ll actually see some of the thunderstorms move off the mountains towards Soldotna, Sterling, Kenai, Homer. But a lot of the time those thunderstorms do stay confined to the mountains.”

Although thunderstorms tend to remain penned in by the mountains, Clay said the Peninsula sees “somewhere between five and 10 thunderstorm days a year.”

For the Smiths, the most recent thunderstorm day was eventful enough. However, Terry Smith is not making a fuss over it.

“My wife wasn’t hurt, the house didn’t catch on fire,” he said. “There was really no major damage. It was just an inconvenience.”

 

Reach Ben Boettger at ben.boettger@peninsulaclarion.com.

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