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MCSD board member was relaxing at home — then lightning struck 10 feet from his chair

Homeowner recounts harrowing story of lightning striking his home 10 feet from where he was sitting

Despite having to live the next several weeks in a hotel, MCSD board member Mark Cantrell is feeling grateful after surviving without injury a lightning bolt that zapped his home and struck 10 feet from where he was sitting.
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Despite having to live the next several weeks in a hotel, MCSD board member Mark Cantrell is feeling grateful after surviving without injury a lightning bolt that zapped his home and struck 10 feet from where he was sitting.

Despite having to live the next several weeks in a hotel, MCSD board member Mark Cantrell is feeling grateful after surviving without injury a lightning bolt that zapped his home and struck 10 feet from where he was sitting Tuesday afternoon.

“The Lord has blessed me,” Cantrell told the Ledger-Enquirer in a phone interview Wednesday morning.

Cantrell saw lightning in the sky while driving home Tuesday afternoon on J.R. Allen Parkway, near Beaver Run.

“It was dry as can be,” he said. “No rain, not even cloudy.”

About 15 minutes later, he arrived at his Upatoi home and was relaxing in the master bedroom’s recliner. Around 4:30 p.m., “a monster lightning bolt” created the “loudest boom I’ve ever heard in my life,” Cantrell said.

“Everything turned bright and white in front of my eyes, like a flashbulb going off,” he said. “I jumped out of my seat and I could smell smoke in the air.”

The lightning had entered his home through the garage, penetrating the adjoining wall in his bedroom approximately 10 feet from where he was sitting.

“I know good well I could have been dead,” he said.

His wife, Bonita, and daughter Jeanita, weren’t home, but his Maltese dog was, so after calling 911, he grabbed Sugarpie, and went outside, fearing the house would catch on fire.

Cantrell never saw flames, but breakers and outlets throughout the house were burned out. He praised the firefighters who responded within what he estimated was 5 minutes.

The lightning punctured a few walls, knocked down an electrical panel, destroyed six windows, blew up a 6-inch-thick cement walkway and tossed chunks of it more than 60 feet away, and “exploded a hole 2 feet deep and 3 feet wide” from the house and through the front yard, Cantrell said.

“It threw mud all the way around the house and into the pool in the back yard,” he said.

Firefighters knocked out the adjoining wall in the computer room. They waited an hour to ensure a secondary fire didn’t ignite, Cantrell said.

“They had just left, and in the back bedroom, my daughter starting smelling smoke again,” he said. “So we called 911 again and told them, ‘Y’all need to come back.’ Then they had to knock out that wall because it was smoldering. … All the firefighters were saying they had never seen a power surge like this. I was lucky that it went out through the attic instead of inside the house or it would have killed me.”

Cantrell didn’t have a cost estimate yet, but he expects all the damage to be repaired, and he is grateful he didn’t lose anything that’s irreplaceable.

“I’ve got my whole lifetime of memories and pictures that could have burned down with my whole house,” he said. “… I’m just dealing with the insurance now. They told me we will have to live in a hotel for six to eight weeks. There’s no power. They’ve got to rewire most of the house, and there’s no water because we’re on a pump system from a well.”

The two English bulldogs he keeps in a pen outside will need to be put in kennels while his family stays in the hotel. Sugarpie is staying with Bonita’s father.

The outpouring of support from hundreds of phone calls, texts, emails and Facebook messages, have lifted Cantrell’s spirits.

“Yesterday, I was sort of numb,” he said. “It’s weird having to go to a hotel in your own city. … So I appreciate everyone’s concern. It makes you feel good that so many people care.”

WRBL chief meteorologist Bob Jeswald explained the science behind the lightning strike at Cantrell’s home.

Although rare, lightning can strike even with a blue sky overhead, Jeswald told the Ledger-Enquirer in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon.

The National Weather Service lists seven types of lightning. Based on Tuesday’s weather evidence and Cantrell’s description, Jeswald concluded the type of lightning that struck Cantrell’s home probably is what’s called “bolt from the blue.”

The NWS defines it as “a positive lightning bolt which originates within the updraft of the storm, typically two-thirds of the way up, travels horizontally for many miles, then strikes the ground.”

In the Cantrell case, severe thunderstorms that were in Taylor County weakened and generated a new storm that traveled approximately 30 miles west toward Columbus. The storm fizzled in Muscogee County’s northeastern panhandle, Jeswald said, but lightning popped out of it.

“That lightning bolt doesn’t necessarily come from the physical core of the storm,” he said. “That’s why they call it a bolt from the blue.”

Such a bolt has been known to strike as far as 20 miles away from the thunderstorm, Jeswald said.

The damage to Cantrell’s home is understandable, Jeswald said, considering that lightning is estimated to be as hot as 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, roughly five times the surface temperature of the Sun. The power generated in a lightning bolt is typically around 300 million volts and 30,000 amps, according to the NWS, while household current is 120 volts and 15 amps. So the average bolt could light a 100-watt incandescent bulb for three months or a compact fluorescent bulb for a year, the NWS says.

“Each one has its own strength and static charge,” Jeswald said, “but, obviously, Mark’s was remarkable.”

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE
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