Myths and Truths About Lightning

Tips and tricks to protect yourself when a storm thunders your way.

ByABC News
April 16, 2008, 6:04 PM

April 18, 2008 — -- That stunning flash and loud bang. Temperatures hotter than the surface of the sun. For thousands of years, lightning has sparked our imagination.

The ancient Greeks dreamed of lightning bolts hurled by the mighty Zeus. Lightning gave life to Dr. Frankenstein's creation. And lightning fueled Marty McFly's time-traveling car in the movie "Back to the Future."

But myths about lightning aren't confined to science fiction or ancient mythology. As the modern day saying goes, "lightning never strikes twice."

"It can. It does," said Paul Williams. "And it happened to me."

Williams was 12 when he was first struck by lightning. He was camping with his Boy Scout troop when a thunderstorm blew through their campsite. He was in a tent with another camper when, "before we knew it we were kind of thrown onto the ground." Williams was lucky; the strike wasn't fatal.

"It didn't burn us," he said, "but it gave us kind of rubber legs. You couldn't stand up. It just kind of collapsed your legs."

He and his friends recovered quickly, but years later, lightning, it seemed, came looking for him again. He'd been sailing on the Potomac and had docked in calm weather at a friend's house.

"All of a sudden a wind picked up. We were on the porch. And we saw the boat starting to rock. So we knew we had to come down and tie it down," Williams said. "We did not see any lightning or thunder, or we wouldn't have run out there. And it was literally the first bolt that came out of the sky happened to land right between us."

For the second time in his life, Williams was struck by lightning. He blacked out and fell on his back.

"I woke up and all I could see was a gray sky," Williams said, "and it had knocked out my hearing. So everything was completely silent. And I didn't have any feeling in my body. I didn't know what to think. I really didn't know if I was alive or dead."