Over the centuries, violent types of weather have gone from being mysteries of the gods to predictable (for the most part) data that can be found on the radio, television, and Internet. It is easier to decide what to wear today than it was 100 years ago.
But there are still some mysteries kept by the elements. While things like hurricanes can be seen long before they hit land, the exact path of a tornado cannot be predicted.
One of the most bizarre forms of strange weather events are the numerous recorded incidents of what is collectively termed “ball lightning,” strange orbs of light and fire that seem to float through occupied spaces.
There are enough chronicles from reliable sources to prove the phenomena are not figments of the imagination or mass hysteria.
Here are some of the prominent episodes in history:
One of the earliest reports of ball lightning occurred in Widecombe-in-the-Moor, England, in October of 1638. During a violent storm, while villagers were at services in their local church, a ball of light approximately eight feet across entered the church and went wild. Windows and pews were smashed and entire stones from the church walls fell and shattered on the floor. The ball then split into two, one escaping the church via a window and the other apparently burning itself out inside the church. Parishioners tried to flee the church, only to be hindered by thick smoke and a noxious sulfur odor. Four people were killed and more than 50 were injured. Looking for an explanation, it was concluded that the ball lightning had been sent by God to punish two of the fellowship who had been playing cards during the sermon.
About one hundred years later, in 1726, the ship The Catherine and Mary encountered a mysterious incident of ball lightning. One of the crew recorded the event: “As we were coming thro’ the Gulf of Florida on the 29th of August, a large ball of fire fell from the Element and split our mast in Ten Thousand Pieces…split our Main Beam, three Planks of the Side, and Three of the Deck; killed one man…and had it not been for the violent rains, our Sails would have been of a Blast of Fire.”
In 1809, another ship was visited by ball lightning, which once again left havoc in its wake. In this instance three separate burning orbs descended upon the ship. The mast was set on fire and two of the crew were killed. Once again, the smell of sulfur filled the air.
More recent incidents aren’t any more explainable. Episodes in the 20th century seem randomly positioned throughout the globe. Ball lightning has been chronicled in Uppsala, Sweden; Cape Naturaliste, Australia; and even a July 2011 incident in Liberec of the Czech Republic.
Overall, there are more differences than similarities between incidents. Eyewitness reports claim the orbs hovered in the air, others state the ball was in constant motion. Many reports state that the balls entered via a window or door and then left through a different entryway. Others burst through walls. Ships seem to frequently be visited by the fiery orbs. The balls seem to strike during storms, but sometimes appear during fine weather. Some claim the balls just grow dim and vanish, others have noted explosions when the orb disappeared.
Some have even attempted to use ball lightning to explain the equally mysterious phenomenon of spontaneous human combustion.
Scientists have tried to explain and/or replicate the phenomenon for many years – never successfully. Proposed solutions have included such diverse theories as microwave radiation, sub-micrometer particles, and very small black holes.
But nothing has been shown to completely explain these balls of fire that occasionally and unexpectedly visit our world.