Time Machine Umbrella

Friday, January 31 2003


I’ve gotten over how much it rains in Oregon. Rain is a constant in Oregon like afternoon sunshine is a constant in Southern California. So walking the ten minutes to work in the morning isn’t such a big deal, even when the rain is going sideways and your umbrella is doing more to lift you off the ground than it is to keep you dry.


The past couple of times walking to and from work, I’ve discovered a phenomenon that I’m not sure if I should be terrified about or enthralled with.


I call this scientific event “Umbrella Lightning”, or depending on severity “Time Machine Umbrella”.


When I have my umbrella above my head, and walk under the high tension power lines that express their dislike for rain by hissing, buzzing and popping, lightning plays in my umbrella. It starts by worming around a spring in the center of the top of the umbrella, then starts crackling and getting more intense until it darts a tendril out to one or two of the spars of the umbrella.


Normally I’m not staring up into my umbrella; the discovery was an accident. I heard crackling louder than normal, swung the umbrella down to look up at the powerlines and the noise stopped. I put it back up, heard the noise, and looked up into the umbrella and saw the peculiar show. It scared me enough that I put the umbrella down until I was done walking underneath the lines.


Yesterday afternoon I let it happen. I kept the umbrella up to see the lightning. It performed as expected, dancing blue electricity, but this time, it made my face tingle, like pins and needles. This freaked me out, so I swung the umbrella down and stopped the expirement.


I tried it again this morning, and there was lightning, but no tingle. As I relay the story, I’m scared to try it again, but when I get underneath those lines, it’s hard not to watch the lightning.


So, am I at risk of having my brains fried? Can you explain what’s happening?