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Old 08-12-2006, 00:21   #1
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St. Elmo's Fire

Talking about lightning strikes reminded me of another electrical phenomenon I witnessed in 1986 in Lake Superior. Standing at the helm of a steel square rigger I looked up and saw a green glow at the yardarm. It seemed to be focused around the iron fitting out there. It was one of those strange days where the wind is light and variable, with occasional gusts 15-20 knots out of various directions and lasting only a minute or less. The air felt charged and the clouds were doing very strange things, like one cigar shaped one rolling across the sky like a log down a hill. (Sounds crazy but others saw it too!)

The green glow, more or less in the shape of a ball, made it's way inboard along the yard to the mast and then travelled down the shrouds to the lifelines. It came aft a little then stopped. At least 20 people saw it and all of us had hair standing up on our arms. No one had much to say and none of us were going near it. Eventually it dissapated and, as you can imagine, we all expected the worst. Nothing quite like a "supernatural" (ok, really natural but strange) experience to make one superstitious. Nothing bad happened though and the squall we anticipated based on the 360 degree winds never materialized. Eventually the prevailing westerliesfilled in and we made for Michipicoten Island.

Any one else ever seen St. Elmo's fire? Anyone have a tech explanation for it?
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Old 08-12-2006, 01:38   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by yotphix
Anyone have a tech explanation for it?
Try this, then come back and tell me what it all means.

http://www.islandnet.com/~see/weathe...nts/stelmo.htm
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Old 08-12-2006, 01:41   #3
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I have heard of it, but never seen it. I have seen strange things when the air is charged, especially when you get those strange cloud behavours as you said. Usually a small flash of light, not a lightening strike, just a very small and quick flash that you kinda catch out of the corner of your eye sort of thing. No noise.
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Old 08-12-2006, 01:56   #4
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St Elmo's fire!!!
Now that was one crappy movie.

I have seen the green sunset, but not what you guy's are talking about.

Dave
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Old 08-12-2006, 05:55   #5
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I too have seen the "green flash" at sunset, but not all that often. To those who haven't seen it its not a huge flash but a little flicker as the top of the sun disappears over the horizon.

It was always a good excuse to go to happy hour in the Boatyard in Prickly Bay, Grenada to have a couple of cheap ones while waiting for sunset. I wonder if the phenomenon was invented by some bar owner to boost his custom - "Come to see the green flash and while you're waiting have a few half price beers"
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Old 08-12-2006, 07:41   #6
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Same here.. only have seen the "green flash", but usually with a couple drinks and everyone looking for it at a bar. Group psychology? Probably real, I guess, but I never put much thought into that one.
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Old 08-12-2006, 11:49   #7
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Ever noted if the flash was through the bottom of the beer glass??? ;-)
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Old 08-12-2006, 14:12   #8
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Yotphix, AFAIK that's the same as "ball lightning" which is a ball of plasma (charged particles). They've been said to come down chimneys on land, float around a room, and eventually burst in various ways that make the inhabitants run screaming about spirits and banshee.
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Old 08-12-2006, 18:44   #9
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Great link TDW unfortunately when I gat to the explanation my eyes began to cross and I drooled a bit! I will save it and try it again when I haven't been painting in the engine room all day. Interesting that it is usually described as blue. I may have to apologize to all the people I have argued blue/green with in my life. Perhaps I have a touch of colour blindness. Also interesting was the mention of the hissing noise. I was going to mention that but I figured I was asking alot of you folks to believe what I did tell you about without adding the sound that we all heard as well!

I have never seen the green sunset but know several people who swear that it is real. A good number of my friends who work in the charter industry claim to have seen it several times each in the Carib.

Quote:
I have seen strange things when the air is charged, especially when you get those strange cloud behavours as you said
Alan, those days really do inspire awe don't they?

Hellosailor, I had heard the term ball lightning before but never considered that they were one and the same. I remember watching chain and sheet lightning with my uncle on the prairies as a child and having him tell me about the ball lightning he once saw on the lightning rod of his barn.

I would be very interested to hear of any other bizarre weather phenomena (SP?). I have seen a spectacular Aurora Borealis in the Straight of Georgia that started with a focused light so intense that night became day and morphed into a pure white fireworks show that slowly added colour and lasted all night. I have also seen several water spouts appear magically on Lake Ontario. You have to shake your head when they stand up from nothing and do their dance, only to lie back disintegrate before you can fetch anyone else to witness it!

Anyone else?
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Old 08-12-2006, 21:10   #10
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So I'm not nuts after all huh. It's nice to know others sit and stare at clouds ;-)
We like getting into a mooring earlyish so as we can settle back and have a few wines with cheese and crackers etc. I love sitting looking at the clouds, if it's cloudy and windy that is. The hills around make them roll and lift and drop and so on and you get a feel for the swirling mass of atmosphere above your head.
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Old 08-12-2006, 21:12   #11
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Well, there is a male colorblindness that among other things makes the color cyan (usually miscalled blue) invisible to some men. Enough of a problem that the makers of some major software packages, that used cyan lines for guides on the screen, had to offer alternatives after customers insisted "but there's nothing on my screen!"

There are some common color tests using dot mosaics that ask "which number do you see?" to test for color blindness:

http://www.toledo-bend.com/colorblind/Ishihara.html

and ophthamologists usually have a set of test chips to test finer color perception. If you are getting an eye exam (like the dentist, everyone SHOULD do this sooner or later, especially since they don't poke sharp objects into you<G>) it is simple enough to ask for a check on that.

Paint companies hire folks with good color perception, they've counted 4000 variations of "red" that can be distinguished.

Even though I test as having excellent color vision, each of my eyes sees color very very slightly differently. I think of them as one Kodachrome eye and one Ektachrome eye after the old Kodak films with a similar difference in color response. Unless I'm looking at a very white surface very closely, I don't notice it. But when I really try, I can just barely pick up a red/green shift from one eye to the other--only in a pure white field.

Back to wx...I still get creeped up out when I see a small dust devil or whirlwind blowing down the street past me. The old "reptilian" brain just rears back and says "THAT can't be right!" Maybe that's why I throw one libation to Poseidon, and the other aloft to Aeolus.
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Old 09-12-2006, 01:09   #12
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Thanks for the link HS, good to know that I'm not colourblind. And those dust devils really are something too. Just not the way we expect dust to behave is it.
Alan I can't say for sure whether you are nuts or not I do know that a good bit of cloud action beats even a campfire for ability to mesmerize. Another neat place to watch them from is the mountains where one man's cloud becomes another's fog.
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Old 09-12-2006, 13:20   #13
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Hi Yotfix,
You asked about other phenomena - we all witnessed the Australis Borealis back in 1990.
We were sailing north from Fremantle to Bali - maybe 27 degrees S - and I came up the companionway to take over a 11pm watch. The sky behind the yacht looked like striped green and orange wallpaper - from horizom right up to the stars and from side to side as far as one could see.
I'd never expected it to look like this - and the guys in the cockpit who'd not looked back at it until I gasped out and pointed - were equally amazed.
Anyway - that was only once - in 20+ years of sailing - but I'll not forget it.
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Old 09-12-2006, 13:23   #14
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HoHum, can and do see the green flash everyday from our lanai if the horizon is clear at sunset.

My one and only experience with St. Elmo's fire was a bit unnerving. I flew A3's in the Navy. It was large carrier based plane, crew of three but only one pilot, me. About an hour into a non stop flight from NAS Miramar, CA to NAS Norfolk, VA I got violently sick. Threw up my guts, retched, dry heaves, chills, etc, filled mine and the rest of the crews flight gloves up with puke for the rest of the flight. Of course the autopilot didn't work so had to fly the airplane the whole way between stomach eruptions. As luck would have it, Norfolk weather was terrible, thunderstorms, solid overcast from the deck to above our near 40,000' cruising altitude.

I'm miserable, semi conscious, trying to fly the airplane in the soup, had a galloping case of Vertigo, in short, at the limits of my ability to get the plane and my crew back on the ground. Suddenly the windshield frame is all dancing lights and the refueling probe has a glowing ball the size of a huge exercise ball on it's tip. Scared the **** out of me as I thought the airplane was blowing up and really kicked my vertigo into high gear. I'm fighting the feeling that we're flying in a steep bank which my senses are telling me is right, while the instruments are telling me I'm flying straight and level and totally confused by the mystifying light.

With the bad weather, FAA is stacking traffic up all over the East Coast and begins to vector us every wehich way to hold us up there for an indeterminate amount of time. That was all I could take!! Told my Nav. to declare an emergency and get most direct routing to an approach to Norfolk. Amazing how fast FAA cleared all the traffic out of our way and gave us a bee line to the initial approach point. Flying the airplane still wasn't much fun but the thought of getting it on the ground settled my stomach a bit. Shot a GCA approach to near minimums at NAS. As they say, alls well that ends well. Still will never forget my one and only experience with the Saint's handywork.

Aloha
Peter O.
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Old 09-12-2006, 22:11   #15
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Hey swagman, that was a treat. I've never seen any orange in the lightshow. I also didn't know that you could get them so close to the tropics. I thought they were only found in higher lats.

Peter, I knew that you had to be tough to be a Navy pilot but that was...tough! I would think that a refueling probe would be the VERY last place I would like to see St. Elmo's Fire! Nice job bringing it down though. Amazing what you can do when you have to huh.
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