Letter | Published:

Effects of a Lightning Flash in Ben Nevis Observatory

Nature volume 52, page 244 | Download Citation



WHENEVER a thunder-storm passes the summit of the Ben, there occurs almost invariably a discharge from, metallic bodies in the Observatory, as the cloud is passing away. A flash of greater or less extent is given off the stoves, accompanied by a sharp crack. In January 1890 there was an exceptionally severe flash; “one of the observers was almost knocked down when sitting writing, and the telegraph wire was fused, and all communication stopped for five days.” But more destructive than any previous flash was that which occurred this year on June 19, when the Observatory narrowly escaped being destroyed by fire. Between two and three o'clock on that afternoon, repeated clicks on the telegraph instrument were heard by one of the assistants who was sitting in the office; he had been carefully noting the times at which the clicks occurred, when suddenly the whole office was filled with a brilliant flash and deafening roar. A pillar of smoke was discharged from the telegraph instrument and from the stove-pipe, filling the room. So severe was the flash that the assistant, who was quite deafened by the report, thought that his hair had been singed. A second slighter discharge took place immediately after, when the writer had entered the office to commence the fifteen hours observations. The discharge hurled two boxes and a small picture, that were in the vicinity of the lightning protector, across the kitchen, and blew off the button and outer casement of the electric bell in the visitors' room. The solder on the kitchen chimney outside, a copper fastening of the lightning conductor, and many portions of the telegraphic wire and apparatus were fused, and the woodwork of the Observatory was scorched in several places. The great flash occurred at 14 hours 57½ minutes, and the hourly barometric reading was taken at 15 hours, as usual. There was a very heavy fall of snow at the time, equivalent to 0˙470 inches of rainfall for the hour, but in the confusion the writer omitted to take the rain-gauge with him, and had to return for it. This was a fortunate incident; for it was only on leaving the office for a second time, that he observed smoke and flame issuing from behind the panelling between the kitchen and the office. Assistance was secured, and the fire—which was in a very awkward and dangerous place—was overcome in good time, and the damage done was very slight.

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