5 Bizarre Electrical Phenomena

Because we are so used to witnessing electricity at work in our daily lives in machines and electronics, we often forget that electricity actually exists in nature. In fact, electricity manifests itself in the natural world in a number of peculiar ways, some of which modern science still has yet to fully explain.


Here are some of the strangest electrical phenomena that people have witnessed throughout our planet’s history…

1. The Everlasting Storm

catatumbo lightning over ocean

While this may sound like something out of a fantasy or science fiction novel, “The Everlasting Storm,” also known as Catatumbo lightning, lives fairly well up to its name. Located in Venezuela at the mouth of the Catatumbo River, this lightning storm returns each night for around 10 hours, triggered by high winds from the Andes Mountains and the methane gas from the swampland around the river. On any given night, there are up to 20,000 lightning strikes, some of which can be seen clear across the Caribbean Sea.

2. Ball Lightning

We’re all familiar with lightning bolts, but far fewer people have witnessed a much stranger electrical phenomenon: ball lightning. These glowing, electrical spheres have been said to materialize during thunderstorms before disappearing seconds or moments later–and according to early reports, they are quite dangerous.

The first recorded sighting in human history dates back to England in 1638. According to the eyewitnesses, in the midst of a dark, booming thunderstorm, an 8-foot-wide “great ball of fire” blasted through a window of the Church of St. Pancras and ricocheted off pews and windows, leaving 4 dead and 60 wounded.

Other early reports are also ominous in nature–but what do we actually know about ball lightning today?

According to a study from 1972, ball lightning does exist and generally has these following characteristics:

  • Spherical in shape with “soft” or “fuzzy” edges
  • Varies in color but commonly burns in shades of yellow, orange, and red
  • Travels in a rotational motion
  • Lasts from 1 second to about 1 minute
  • Often leaves behind a sulfurous odor

Despite this knowledge (and multiple studies and lab recreations), scientists are still divided as to what actually causes this phenomenon in nature.

3. St. Elmo’s Fire

Contrary to its name, this electrical phenomenon is not actually composed of fire, but plasma. Even predating the days of Christopher Columbus and for quite some time afterward, sailors would talk of a flickering, bluish glow that would surround their ships during storms, glowing brightest up on the masts. Because this ethereal glow always seemed to herald the end of a storm, sailors saw it as a good omen and called it St. Elmo’s Fire, after an Italian saint.

St. Elmo’s Fire occurs due to a difference in voltage between the ocean and the atmosphere. This difference in voltage causes gases that surround nearby objects (such as boats and airplanes) to ionize, which makes them glow.

4. Dirty Thunderstorms

dirty thunderstorm volcano lightning

This is another electrical phenomenon that confounds and divides scientists to this very day. What we do know is this: when volcanoes violently erupt, an electrical storm is sometimes created in the plume that bursts out during the eruption, resulting in lightning bolts. What we don’t know is what generates the electrical charges necessary to create such massive electrical storms. Despite multiple attempts by many people to get to the bottom of this strange occurrence, the exact cause behind dirty thunderstorms remains a mystery.

5. Sprites

red sprites at night

The next time you’re in an airplane, keep an eye out for this elusive phenomenon. Sprites are a type of plasma that occurs above thunderstorms, and they’ve been described as looking similar to red jellyfish with blue tentacles. While they may look small from a distance, they can actually be enormous, measuring up to 30 miles across!

Is your home or business giving you an electrical mystery you can’t explain? Hutton offers a full range of electrical services for both residential and commercial customers.

Call Hutton at 757-302-8770 or contact us online to schedule an electrical service in Chesapeake!


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