Ern Mainka - Photography - Ball Lightning
Abstract from 'GREEN MOUNTAINS' - by Bernard O'Reilly - pub. 1940
...November (1922) following the eclipse brought another phenomenon which did not have such happy associations: it was an electric storm. It loomed in the west about two oclock one afternoon. I was on my way to Kerry with the cream packhorses and Tom, who was off to Cainbable to look over dry cattle, rode with me as far as the turn-off. The storm came up black and nasty-looking, but no worse in appearance than dozens of others into which we had ridden; there was, however, something uncanny about the thunder; instead of the usual desultory boom of a coming storm there was a continuous sound like an endless procession of great steel balls rolling down a long stone corridor. At the cliff top I had a close view of the coming horror and that was enough to send me racing back to Lukes empty humpy for shelter; the clouds were higher than the usual storm and tinged with reddish brown, and as they advanced a constant rain of violet chain lightning fell on the undulating country below.
Swiftly the horses were unpacked and put in the yard, but before I could get into the humpy a dead tallowwood fifty yards away was struck. I was scarcely inside when there was a sharp crack, my knees doubled up and I went in a heap; the roof had been struck. Very shaky and sick and frightened I got up, pushed out the shutter and looked out; the horses had been knocked down but showed signs of getting up-horses are more sensitive to lightning than men. It was while looking out that I saw something else; two balls of fire were drifting slowly past the humpy about fifteen feet from the ground; they were about the size and shape of a soccer football and were a deep glowing red like the coals of a burning ironbark log; they drifted idIy this way and that and it was the very uncertainty of their purpose which made them so terrifying. A flash of chain lightning occupies but the merest fraction of a second and if you see it you know that it has missed you, but there is something indescribably horrible about ball lightning; it can hover about you for a minute, drifting lightly as thistledown yet being potent as a ton of dynamite.
This was but the beginning of a bombardment; for nearly an hour incessant waves of red and violet lightning danced through the cracks of the old humpy to the accompaniment of high-pitched, whining crashes which often overlapped each other like machine-gun fire; sometimes my spine would contract and a numbness go through me from induction of some close flash. At times I looked out; the horses were weathering it all right; always there were fireballs drifting; at times they exploded and the red light which flooded the humpy brought with it a wave of heat. Like all good things or bad, the storm passed. Tom had been caught on the high Cainbable ridge; he secured his mare and ran down the eastern side of the spur, where he found dubious shelter under the side of a box log. He received a bad shaking from shock and at times had felt the suffocating heat of bursting fireballs.
That storm occurred when the planet Mars was closer to the earth than any other time during my memory, and I have often wondered whether there was any connection. Electric and magnetic storms were common in the eastem States that day, and at night a brilliant display of Aurora Australis was seen from Tasmania.
Perched as we are on the roof of Queensland, we have a unique opportunity of studying the weather. We may see, a hundred miles out to sea, a scud of cirrus cloud which marks the western edge of a coming cyclone. We can note during a drought an isolated thundercloud over Gympie to the north, or Armidale in New South Wales, or perhaps at night remote flickers of lightning which tell of a storm north-west of the Darling Downs, two hundred miles away; the radio report next morning will verify these for us. We can watch the progress of storms across southeast Queensland and know which district is getting rain and which is not.
There are weather signs too which have long been familiar. The wailing of fantail and squaretail cuckoos on a fine morning means a storm. Between New Year and May a flight of screaming yellowtail cockatoos infallibly heralds the coming of rough, wet weather from the southeast. A large, white circle round the moon, usually associated with a mackerel sky, means steady rain within two days. An abnormal number of snakes and lizards sunbaking means rough weather to come. There are two unfailing thunder signs in spring and summer. If we wake to find low, dry cloud right up to the door, cloud almost thick enough to cut with a knife, and with it a fresh breeze from the north, it is safe to bet on a storm. The same applies if in the morning we look to the west and find the valleys and mountains obscured by grey haze up to three thousand feet, while above a bold, horizontal line the tops of the peaks appear as clear and blue as on a frosty rnorning. This latter phenomenon, which is known in our vernacular as a pressure line, sometimes has a spectacular sequel. As the morning heat grows, the haze rises and becomes stratified with transparent layers of atmosphere; thcse transparent strata are prismatic and cause mirage which distorts the whole of the skyline; the peaks appear to shoot up another thousand feet with flat tops and narrow waists like an hour-glass.
When a storm is still a long way off, it is frequently possible to forecast what kind it will be. Our beneficial rainstorms rise slowly and show a high fan of cirrus cloud with an unbroken wall of black nimbus below, occupying the whole western skyline. Should the approaching clouds