Monday, April 7, 2008

from Thunder and Lightning, 1905

(Page 73)

In some cases, fireballs have been seen to come down from the sky apparently, and then, after almost reaching but not actually touching the ground, to ascend again. Thus on a hot day in summer 1837, M. Hapoule, a landed proprietor in the department of the Moselle, standing in front of the entrance to his stables under the shelter of a porch during a storm, saw a fireball about the size of an orange moving in the direction of a dung-heap not far from him. But instead of going right into it, it stopped about a yard off, and changing its route, it went off at an angle, keeping the same level for some distance, when it suddenly seemed to change its mind again, and rose perpendicularly till it disappeared in the clouds.

These sudden changes, as we have seen, are strangely characteristic of the habits of fireballs. The Garde Champêtre of the village of Lalande de Libourne (Gironde) was traversing the country one evening about half-past ten, engaged in organizing a garde de surveillance, when he suddenly found himself surrounded by a bright and penetrating light. Astonished, he looked behind him, and saw a fireball, just broken loose from a cloud, descending quickly to the ground.

The light vanished presently, but he made his way
towards where the fireball seemed to be falling. When he had gone about two hundred yards, he saw another brilliant light breaking out from the top of a tree and spreading itself into a sheaf of rays, every point of which seemed to emit electric sparks. At the end of a quarter of an hour the light became weaker, and then disappeared. The tree was afterwards cut down, and it was found that the lightning had gone down the centre to a distance of three yards, and had then passed down outside to the soil, leaving trace of a semi-circular route; and finally, after rising again on the opposite side of the tree to a height of four yards, tearing off two narrow strips of bark, had disappeared. At the foot of the tree a small hole, about an inch and a quarter in diameter, retained a certain degree of warmth for an hour and a half afterwards.

Fireballs often keep within the frontiers of cloud-
land. They may be seen passing sometimes from one cloud to another in the high regions of the atmosphere.

On September 22, 1813, at seven in the evening,
M. Louis Ordinaire saw a fireball leave a cloud at the zenith—the sky being very much lowering at the time—and go towards another. It was of a reddish-yellow and extremely brilliant, lighting up the ground with a bright radiance. He was able to follow its movements for at least a minute, and then saw it disappear into the second cloud. There was an explosion followed by a dull sound like the firing off of a cannon in the distance.

After a violent storm which broke out near Wake
field on March 1,1774, there remained only two clouds in the sky, just above the horizon. Balls of fire were observed gliding from the higher of the two into the lower, like falling stars.

In high mountainous districts—in the Alps, for
instance—you may often look down from above upon a storm. It is fascinating thus to watch the grandiose spectacle of the elements at war. Here from the pen of Pere Lozeran du Fesch is a striking picture of such a scene—

It was on the 2nd of September, 1716, about three o'clock in the afternoon. A traveller was making his way down towards Vic from the summit of Cantal, accompanied by a guide.

The weather was calm and very warm, but down below, about the middle of the mountain, a vast sea of mist stretched out in wavelike clouds.

These clouds were furrowed continually by lightning flashes, some going quite straight, some zigzag, some taking the shape of fireballs. When the two men came near this region of clouds, the mist grew so thick they could hardly see the bridles of their horses.

"The air became gradually more cold and the darkness more dense as they proceeded downwards. Now they were in the midst of the fireballs flying in every direction all round them, revolving as they went, reddish in colour, like saffron lit up.

They were of all sizes—some quite small on their first appearance, seeming to grow immensely in volume in a few moments. Drops of rain fell when they passed. Up to this point the sight had been curious but not terrifying, but suddenly now, one of these fireballs, about two feet in diameter, burst open near the traveller and emitted streams of a bright and beautiful light in every direction, and there was a dull report followed by a tremendous crash. The two men were much shaken and the air all round them seemed polluted. After a minute or two, however, all trace of the explosion had been dissipated, and they proceeded on their way."

On January 6, 1850, near Merlan, about six in the afternoon, a fireball burst above the heads of two men, enveloping them in a bluish light, without hurting them or even damaging their clothes, but giving them a momentary thrill as from an electric battery. It left no traces of any kind, not even a smell.

Mr. G. M. Ryan records an instance which he
witnessed at Karachi in Scinde. While in his drawing room one day with two friends who were taking refuge from a storm, he rose from his chair and went to the door to open it, the windows as well as the door being shut at the time. Returning, he saw in the air and between his friends, a ball of fire of about the size of a full moon. At the same time there was a terrible clap of thunder. Two of the spectators were slightly wounded; one felt a sharp pain on the left side of the face, the other, a sensation in one arm with a feeling as if his hair were burning. There was a strong smell of sulphur. In the next room there were two rifles in a case; one was intact but the other was broken, and there was a hole in the wall at the point where the muzzle leant against it, and there were two holes in the
same wall a story higher.

On Sunday, August 19, 1900, several people were
assembled in a room in the château of the Baron de France at Maintenay (Pas-de-Calais), when there was a violent storm raging over the country.

Suddenly there appeared in the midst of the eleven
people who were there, a globe of blue fire about the size of an infant's head, which quietly crossed the room, touching four people on its way. None of them were injured. An awful explosion was heard at the moment when the electric ball disappeared through an open door in front of the great staircase.

On August 3, 1809, a fireb
all struck the house of a Mr. David Sutton, not far from Neweastle-on-Tyne. Eight people were having tea in the drawing-room when a violent clap of thunder knocked down the chimney.

Immediately after they saw on the ground, at the
door opposite the fireplace, the brilliant visitor which announced itself in the sonorous voice of Jupiter the thunderer. It remained discreetly at the entrance of the room, no doubt waiting for the sign to advance. No one making a move, it came into the middle of the room, and there burst with a crash, throwing out fiery grains like aeroliths. The spectacle must have been magnificent—but, we must acknowledge, rather disquieting.

On September 27, 1772, at Besançon, a voluminous
fireball crossed over a corn-shop and the ward of a hospital full of nurses and children. This time again the lightning was merciful—it spared nurses and children, and went and drowned itself in the Doubs.

Nearly thirty years before, in July, 1744, it showed
the same regard for an honest German peasant woman. She was occupied in the kitchen superintending the family meal, when, after a terrible clap of thunder, she saw a fireball the size of a fist come down the chimney, pass between her feet without hurting her, and continue on its course without burning or even upsetting the spinning-wheel and other objects on the floor. Much frightened, the young woman tried to escape; she threw herself towards the door and opened it, when the fireball at once followed her, played about her feet, went into the next room, which opened out-of-doors, crossed it, and through the door into the yard. It went round the yard, entered a barn by an open door, climbed the wall opposite, and reaching the edge of the roof, burst with such a terrific noise that the peasant woman fainted. The barn at once took fire and was reduced to cinders.

Towards the middle of the last century, March 3,
1835, the steeple of Crailsheim was set on fire by lightning. The guardian's daughter, aged twenty years, was at this moment in her room and had her back turned to the window, when her young brother saw a fireball enter by the window-sill and descend on to his sister's back, giving her a sudden shock all over her body. The young girl then saw at her feet a quantity of small flames, which went towards the kitchen, the door of which had been opened, and set fire to a pile of mossy wood. There was no further damage than this attempt at incendiarism, which was easily extinguished.

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