Surviving a lightning strike: metal umbrella, tree save ceramics teacher from literally electrifying experience

Painting by Sophie Naylor

Ceramics teacher Julie Didion was only feet away from a lightning strike on Aug. 6 while at the beach with her family. 


Q: Where were you when the lightning struck?

A: My husband, daughter and I were at Lester Beach in the D. L. Bliss State Park in Tahoe. It was getting cloudier, but Tahoe weather always changes, so we stayed at the beach. We were out by the water’s edge, with our beach blankets and our umbrella. 


Q: Was there anyone else there?

A: There were a few other families scattered around the beach and this one very large Middle Eastern family (eating) at picnic tables under this large tree. 


Q: What was the weather like before the lightning strike?

A: The sky was really dark, so I told my husband we should get going. All of a sudden, this really strong wind came up out of nowhere. The wind ripped through, so I went to grab our umbrella. It was one of those old-school (beach) umbrellas, so it was made out of metal. 


Q: What was the lightning strike like?

A: We heard the loudest blast – the loudest crack of sound I had ever heard. It was a huge crack of thunder. It was so loud that my husband was knocked down, either because of the sound or the lightning bolt itself. 


Q: Where did the lightning strike?

A: We found out from other people that lightning had struck the tree where the Middle Eastern family was sitting, and one bolt had branched out to our umbrella. Those were the only two tall things on the beach. It split the tree about halfway down. It was cut down a really thin line as if someone had cut through it with an X-Acto knife. 


Q: Did you and your family see the lightning strike? 

A: We personally didn’t see it because it was right above our heads. We were so disoriented because it was so loud. (I’m surprised no one burst an eardrum.) At that moment every car alarm in the parking lot went off, and every baby started crying. It was so loud I almost wanted to cry too. It was like a bomb had hit.


Q: What did you do after the lightning struck?

A: We went to leave, and it was then that I realized my arm was numb. My arm only stayed numb for an hour. We didn’t even know at this point that a part of the lightning had hit our umbrella. 

Thank God no one eating under the tree was hurt. Everyone just started to run in different directions. The entire event was just really bizarre. 


Q: How did you find out that lightning had hit your umbrella?

A: Some guy who was about half a block away came and told us. He couldn’t believe that lightning had actually hit (it). He kept asking if we were okay and saying how unbelievable it was. 


Q: How do you feel about witnessing such a rare event?

A: It was a once-in-a-lifetime event. We really wanted to know what the chances of that happening to us were, so the second we got cell service we looked it up. It’s actually way more common than you would think, like 1 in 3,000. I just wish I had been able to actually see it. I really love lightning, and I always try to run towards it when I see it. 

Since it was right above us, and there was no other lightning, I didn’t see it at all. We had no warning that this massive amount of energy was collecting in the sky ready to come down. 

—By Mehdi Lacombe

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