Luck, Lightning, and Power Flashes Snag Tornado on Video

Posted at 6:22 PM, Jul 12, 2014
and last updated 2014-07-12 21:27:18-04

KENTWOOD, Mich. — When strong to severe storms roared through Kent County on Sunday, there was enough rotation to spawn an EF1 tornado that developed around the M6 and U.S. 131 interchange. The 300 to 400 yard wide tornado cut a 6.25 mile long path of damage, especially through Kentwood. Clean up efforts are still ongoing.

While the National Weather Service officially concluded a tornado touchdown (also a second EF0 in Ionia County), what is even more rare with this night-time storm was getting a photo of it. Video was submitted by a FOX 17 viewer that was taken near/around the intersection of 44th and Division Street. We grabbed a “still image” from that video that clearly shows the condensation funnel (tornado) backlit.

Weekend Meteorologist Kelly Smith outlined these power flashes in a posting on Saturday morning. See her article here with the slow motion video. The entire (brief) video shows both lightning and power flashes illuminating the tornado. It was all about timing and luck to get both in the video to help define the funnel (at night) so we could archive it photographically.

If you’ve never heard of a power flash, they can often be very similar in appearance to a lightning flash. When damage to power lines occur, intense arcing and power outages usually result. The highly visible, bright arcing from a damaged power line is often referred to as a “power flash”.

There are a couple of ways a power line can come in contact with the ground or each other and create the bright electrical arc we see from a distance. Winds…straight line or tornadic can take power lines down. These same winds can also take down the poles that support these lines, causing them to touch or hit the ground and arc. Branches, or animals for that matter, can also create power arcing and outages.

Many people mistake these power flashes for exploding transformers. While that can certainly happen, the typical cause is simply a shorted power line. There are ways to tell the difference between power flashes and typical lightning. Pay close attention to the color. Lightning is never green or turquoise in color, so any flash in the sky of that color will indicate a power arc. A flash that changes color is a telltale signature of a power arc.

Check out the length of the flash. Power flashes usually glow and linger while a lightning strike will flicker rapidly. There is no thunder with a power flash. A loud buzz or gunshot can/does accompany a power flash, but usually cannot be heard very far away. Also, pay close attention to the location of the flash. Lightning tends to illuminate the sky while power flashes originate from a specific or single location or source.

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