Canadian Campers Survive Lightning Strike
A Montreal couple struck by lightning while camping on a remote Quebec island during the week of July 14 are lucky to be alive, a leading climatologist says.
Kim McNairn and Les Perreaux were on day four of a six-day kayaking trip on the Cabonga Reservoir in Quebec, 300 miles northwest of Montreal, when a thunderstorm rolled through the area and lightning struck the tiny island where they'd pitched a tent for the night, according to CBC News.
Perreaux – a newspaper reporter who has worked as a war correspondent – said his experience in Afghanistan pales in comparison to the adrenaline shot he got that night.
"I've had bombs fall not too far away, and I've had bullets whistle over my head, and this was scarier," he said.
The evening started calmly with a beautiful sunset, but the couple was awoken around 2 a.m. by thunder in the distance.
"Kim was counting, and I ducked outside, and I could smell electricity," said Perreaux, 37.
"Then it was like we were in the middle of a bomb, like a bomb went off right near our tent," said McNairn, 32, a CBC journalist in Montreal.
"Like there was a crack in my head, and the light, white blue orange, it was everywhere."
"It didn't matter if your eyes were open or closed; the light was in your head. It was that intense," Perreaux said.
McNairn said the light was followed by tingling that coursed through her body for several minutes before fading.
"I was feeling a tingling sensation through my arms and legs. I felt I'd been shocked and it wasn't painful, but it was a sensation that I have felt something," she said.
"Then it started to get scary," McNairn said. "I'm screaming and you can smell burned hair. You think, I'm so close, I'm smelling this, this is it, this is it."
The two lay in their tent, worrying about another strike, the condition of their hearts, and whether the campsite was going to burn. They got up to check outside the tent and huddled inside until the sun came up.
That's when they found evidence of the lighting's path – the base of a nearby tree blown out by the impact, disturbed soil at the base of one of their tent poles, a burned-out furrow running from the tent pole to the forest and scorch marks on the tent's frame.
The couple's tent was hit directly, or indirectly by a ground current, and they're lucky to have emerged unscathed because a lightning bolt can carry a charge of 100 million volts, said Dave Phillips, a senior climatologist with Environment Canada.
"My sense is that it could very well have hit the tree and came down," he told McNairn after she asked about her experience.
"The tent peg is so low, that's the other thing; I think it took the ground current. It can travel dozens, 50, 100 meters across that route."
"It was luck" more than anything else that they weren't injured, Phillips said. Every year about a dozen people are killed by lightning in Canada, and more than 70 are seriously injured.
McNairn and Perreaux's thin mattress probably provided some insulation, he said.