Sunday afternoon, September 30, 2012, The Crosby Arboretum received some damage from a lightning strike just before 3:00 p.m. Arboretum Staff Members Terry Johnson, Robin Veerkamp and Kimberly Johnson were inside the temporary Visitor Center at the time of the strike. Sunday afternoon the area including Hancock and Pearl River Counties were under tornado warnings, flood warnings and severe thunderstorms.
Always at risk during severe weather in the old trailer house, Arboretum Staff were nonetheless shocked when lightning struck just outside the structure. “I was sitting at my desk writing an email, when all of a sudden BOOM! and the lights went out”, said Terry Johnson, Maintenance Supervisor. “My hair was standing on end and I got up and went next door to check on Robin and she seemed sort of stunned, hands on her ears”, recalls Johnson. In the moment of shock they were each stunned and didn’t know what to do first. Robin Veerkamp said she heard thunder in the distance and normally shuts her computer down, but she was in the middle of calculations and printing. It was then the she heard the sudden BOOM. “It was like my skin was crawling, my heart was racing and I went deaf for a few moments, which was when Terry came in”, says Veerkamp. Out in the Gift Shop Kimberly Johnson was at her desk when she heard the boom. “I was sitting at my desk, it was raining, and we were all just working as usual when the lightning struck”, she added “the lights went off immediately, the whole trailer shook, and my upper lip felt tingly”. At this point Mrs. Johnson got up and rain to the doorway of the program room calling out with shock. She could hear Terry asking Robin repeatedly if she was okay. Robin replied to them that she was okay, but that her ears were ringing and popping. Next they all went outside to see what had happened. Upon returning they noted the trailer was filled with a burning smoke smell of electrical components. Robin recalled “It was very scary and I never want to go through it again.” With no power and no phone service the staff returned outside to survey the damage. All staff members said the sound was “like a bomb going off”.
Four pine trees took hits from the lightning which led to other trees and a portion of the visitor ramp receiving damage. The top of one pine tree blew entire limbs up to 30′ away, while splintered pine tree and bark could be found up to 80′ away in all directions. Many pieces hit the ground so hard they were partially buried in the soil. At the base of one pine tree the dirt was blown out exposing the roots of the tree and nearby plants. A similar hole was discovered under the visitor ramp where lightning had traveled down a pine, blew out part of the ramp post, finally blowing out soil from under the ramp.
Coastal Electric came out Tuesday morning and replaced the transformer. I took photos before and after the crew arrived. They were very professional and did a great job. Once the transformer was replaced, the Director and I flipped the switches inside the visitor center. Power! We then went to check each office. Electrical boxes and wiring, located in Ms. Veerkamp’s office, were smoking after the power was restored, so power was again shut off to that area by Director Pat Drackett. The smell of burnt electrical filled the entire trailer/mobile. As of today (Wednesday) there is still no telephone or internet service at the Arboretum. Mr. Johnson will begin cleanup of debris.
Overall the Arboretum was very lucky and it appears that all of the computers and equipment (copiers and printers) survived. Terry Johnson noted several light bulbs were blown out in the Pinecote Pavilion but no damage otherwise. A lightning strike is a scary thing to go through and hopefully the staff will never have to go through one there again. One thing is for sure, they will never forget what happened on Sunday afternoon September 30, 2012.
The International Society of Arboriculture links to a page about what to do if your tree is struck by lightning.
The end result is that in most cases you should contact a ISA Certified Arborist as soon as possible.
See image slideshow below for more details.
Stay safe my friends!
Sr. Curator, R. Stafne
All images and text copyright Mississippi State University, 2012