Maximum Respect for Abe Lincoln

So when I got home last night, I was fresh from a lengthy and emotionally-exhausting telephone call with a particularly difficult client. I was looking forward to the predicted rains breaking the two-week long heat wave, although I anticipated only barely noticing because I would be in the basement, studying up for my deposition the next morning and drafting an opposition to a summary judgment motion due on Friday.

The good news: the deadline for the opposition got kicked back a week thanks to the defense producing a new piece of evidence at the last minute.

The bad news: very little got done. Why? The predicted rains took the form of a violent electrical storm. For about fifteen minutes, we were in the middle of a ferocious storm. Very strong winds blew, knocking over the gas grill outside on the deck and blowing debris all over our yard. We were also treated to a spectacular display of thunder and lightning. Lightning strikes were happening within our field of view out the basement window on pretty much a continual basis. The strikes were near, and bright. The thunder did not stop for fifteen minutes.

It was an awesome, frightening, and humbling display of nature’s raw power.

Within about sixty seconds of the lightning strikes — too short a time for us to turn off our computers, thanks to the excessively long shut-down time built in to Windows XP — power cut out everywhere. We were without electricity for seven hours.

About five minutes into the storm, The Wife and I were in the basement, when we heard a very loud crack, which sounded a lot like a gunshot. Then another, just a few seconds later. During the second gunshot sound, The Wife reported seeing white sparks flying around in the fireplace. From this I infer that we took a lightning strike on the chimney; the sparks were the tail end of the electricity overflowing from the grounding cable.

If I’m right about that, I’m extremely glad that Dad and I took down the old aerial television antenna this winter. That thing would have been an ungrounded metal pillar resting directly on the wood frame of The Estate at Louisville — and a sure attractant to the lightning. The stone, mortor, and wire ground in the chimney were able to more or less absorb the lightning strike and divert it harmlessly into the ground. But the old aerial antenna would have diverted the energy of the lightning strike into the wall of the house itself, at minimum blowing a hole in the side of the house and starting a fire.

None of this, I knew, was going to change the fact that the next morning, I had to depose a critical witness in a large race discrimination case. So I tried getting ready for the deposition by reading exhibits and other evidence using candles, and later, an hand-sized oil lantern. The lantern was considerably safer and brighter than the candles, but for about an hour after the lights went out, The Wife and I forgot that we even had them. It was very tiring on my eyes to read by this light, and I am amazed at the stories of the young Abraham Lincoln studying law by candelight.

Note that I said that the grounding cable “more or less” absorbed the power of the lightning strike. A wall of the basement, and the entire garage, is still without power and none of the outlets work there. No amount of fiddling around with the circuit breakers has restored power, which I think got blown out during the lightning strike. We had to manually open and shut the garage door to go to work this morning, and presently I have to get electricity to my computer through a heavy-duty extension cord set up through a working outlet. We’ll need to get an electrician out to look at the basement and garage. (Maybe while he’s fixing the busted outlets, the electrician can also re-wire our switches so they activate lights more intuitively than the present setup.) Who knows how long it will take to actually get someone out to the house to make this happen, I wonder — look how long it took to get the air conditioning fixed.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.


  1. I did not report seeing white sparks “flying around in the fireplace” – I saw sparks, quick flashes of crackling light near the base of the fireplace. Sort of like the sparks one would be rewarded with when smashing a rock into a pop-cap. A quick, bright spark, that is all.

  2. I stand corrected. I still think that we took a lightning strike, though, or at least were near enough to a strike site that it has caused damage to our wiring.

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