Thursday, March 18, 2010

St. Elmo's Fire

We were off Cape Hatteras in a thunderstorm, and I went forward to hand the main. As I looked up I saw that the mast and rigging were glowing blue. Cool, I thought, St. Elmo's Fire. The skipper thought otherwise. "Hurry up. And don't touch anything." Sound advice, if impractical.

Bowditch tells me "St. Elmo's Fire is a luminous discharge of electricity from pointed objects such as the masts and yardarms of ships, lightning rods, steeples, mountain tops, blades of grass, human hair [yikes!], etc. when there is a considerable difference in the electrical charge between the object and the air. . . . An object from which St. Elmo's fire emanates is in danger of being struck by lightning, since this type discharge may be the initial phase of the leader stroke."

I have seen it a few times on aircraft, where it is more interesting than worrisome, at least to me. On a boat it just scary.

I am not sure this photo is authentic - the lights looks like the glow of the landing light to me.I can find almost no photos of this phenomenon, but there is no mistaking the real thing.

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