The Unmistakable Smell of Impending Death

Picture: Cumulonimbus Thunderstorm cloud building near the summit of the Sierra Buttes, California

Image: Cumulonimbus Thunderstorm cloud building near the summit of the Sierra Buttes, California

This is going to be another post that my family isn’t going to like reading; but it makes for excellent blog fodder.

As a promised follow-up (read: preamble) to my previous two lightning related posts:

My Buddy Michael had already bolted off the huge metallic abandoned fire lookout a few moments before. We arrived only a short while earlier as this cloud had started to build well to the southeast of us. Within 20 minutes, the size and proximity was growing quickly as an afternoon thunderstorm started to take shape. I was a little less nervous than my friend, but due caution was called for. It’s a well known fact that lightning can strike out of a blue sky arcing from a cloud 10 miles away. I stayed an additional 5 minutes at the top, racing to finish a few shots since we’d not yet heard any distant thunder or seen any lightning. As I was bent over packing my camera bag, packing my gear for the decent, my brain suddenly raised a bright warning flag. In the space of a few seconds, the air around me was immediately filled with the unmistakable smell of ozone. It’s the smell of burnt electricity. Needless to say, my pace doubled as I slung my pack over my shoulder and high-tailed it out of there.

Within 40 minutes after our decent, there was no more blue sky. The lightning and thunder began, and I’d soon be watching from relative safety, one of the wildest electrical storms I’ve ever had a chance to witness.

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3 Comments on “The Unmistakable Smell of Impending Death”

  1. Russ Bishop Says:

    I know that smell all too well and it packs quite a punch! Glad you got the shots and got down safely Gary.

  2. Richard Wong Says:

    Geez Gary. It’s a nice image but safety comes first. Did you ever see or hear evidence of where the lightning struck?

  3. Greg Russell Says:

    When I was in college, I spent my summers building trail in the mountains of northern New Mexico. One day, another crew member and I were on an exposed ridge when a storm came in fast. Its the only time in my life that I would swear I heard the thunder before I saw the lighting. It was that close, and I remember every hair on my body standing upright as I ran down the hill towards cover as fast as I could go.

    Later that evening, I walked back to the ridge and found a still smoking tree that had been struck, not 25 yards from where we were working.

    Beautiful image! I am glad you erred on the side of caution…

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