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Lightning rips through tree in Unity family's back yard

Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
Luke Hamaty, 10, Nick Rauko, 11, and Ben Hamaty, 10, all of Unity, check out a tree that was struck by lightning in their backyard during a storm Wednesday evening. Nick, a neighbor, was sleeping over the night of the storm. The boys had just come in from playing basketball when the lightning struck.

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Lightning facts

• A strike of lightning can reach more than 5 miles in length.

• A strike can produce temperatures greater than 50,000 degrees and an electrical charge of 100 million volts.

• Lightning detection systems in the United States sense an average of 25 million lightning strikes per year.

Source: Department of Ecosystem Science and Management at Texas A&M

Friday, June 20, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
 

A lightning strike Wednesday night that ripped through a tree behind a Hemingway Drive home in Unity looked and sounded like an explosion, said the family who witnessed it.

Twin brothers Ben and Luke Hamaty, 10, were playing basketball outside the home with their friend Nick Rauco, 11, a few minutes before the strike.

They had gone inside and were playing video games when a loud explosion and a flash of red light erupted just outside the window.

“It was like fire that came down,” Ben said.

Debbi Hamaty, the boys' mother, said she had never heard anything like it.

“The force that the lightning bolt hits, it's incredible. We heard this explosion, we thought lightning had struck a car with a full tank of gas or something,” she said.

It wasn't until the next morning the family discovered what had been hit.

“I got up this morning and looked outside and there it was,” Debbi Hamaty said.

The lightning bolt left a thin scar spiraling through the bark of the tall tree. Strips of bark, blasted dozens of feet by the force of the strike, lay scattered across the Hamatys' yard, garden, patio and roof.

The spiral pattern etched in the tree is not unusual, but it's not predictable, either, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Fred McMullen.

“When the bolt of electricity comes down it usually takes the path of least resistance. So when it came down, that was the easiest way to pass through the tree,” he said.

Sometimes the lightning splits the tree entirely in half, McMullen said. It's all about the path of least resistance.

The red, fiery flash the boys saw is a result of the way the light scattered, McMullen said. A lightning strike can take on many different appearances, based on the type and location of the strike and how it is being viewed.

Tall trees are particularly vulnerable to lightning strikes, according to the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management at Texas A&M.

Along the path of the strike, sap boils, steam is generated and cells in the wood explode, causing strips of wood and bark to peel or blow off the tree. Trees usually die when the strike completely passes through the trunk.

Debbi Hamaty said an expert will inspect the tree to determine whether it can be saved.

Jacob Tierney is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6646 or jtierney@tribweb.com.

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