STRUCK BY LIGHTNING
Trip Start Nov 19, 2007
217Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
DODGE TOWN parking lot
BOOOOOOOMMMMM! The deafening explosion came from the roof. It was the loudest noise I've ever heard. Jodie was working at her computer, sitting on the couch and I was driving down I-90 at 55 MPH. Sparks and flaming insulation were flying down from the ceiling and smoke was filling the air. It was like sitting under exploding fireworks. What just happened? Are you okay? My right ear was painfully throbbing and ringing. Did your computer explode? What happened?
I quickly pulled off the road and onto the shoulder. We opened the windows and doors to let fresh air in and clear the black and gray noxious smoke out. Both of us were coughing and looking to see if anything was on fire. A large plastic panel had been blown off the ceiling, breaking free of all 12 screws before it struck Jodie
We reached for each other and held on tightly, relieved that we were okay. We were in shock, slightly shaking and very confused. What had just happened? My ear was pounding and Jodie was rubbing her forehead. What could have exploded on the roof? Could we have been hit by lightning? We had both always been told that lightning doesn't strike vehicles because the rubber tires insulate them.
Our ceiling was burned and exploded outward (toward us) which reminded me of the movie Alien, when the alien creature broke its way out of its victim's chest. Electrical wire was hanging down, smoke was still hanging in the air and our sunroof was broken and stained with black smoke residue. The 12 screws that held the now burned plastic panel laying on the floor, were all still in the ceiling with rings of plastic still hanging there. What powerful force to blast that panel free! I climbed up on the backs of the cab seats and stuck my head out of the sunroof hole
20 minutes before it all happened, we had driven into a violent thunder and lightning storm on our way out of South Dakota. The wind and rain had been so intense that we pulled off I-90 to wait it out. Lightning was striking in the distance in a way we had never seen. The bolts seemed to be repeating themselves 5 or 6 times in rapid succession wherever they hit. The storm was biblical. There were 15 or more cars, trucks and motorcycles on the shoulder with us...nobody could see the road ahead. It was clearing up when we took off and the sky was no longer black It was just a dark gray with an average amount of rain, with no visible lightning when we were struck.
I tried to start the engine, but nothing doing. I jumped on the computer and sent a message to the on line motorhome groups we belong to asking for advice. While waiting for replies I checked the fuses, but they were all fine. Answers starting coming in from the group wizards. Byron, one of the most knowledgeable of the contributors, made some suggestions, but no luck there either. We were dead on the road for the first time in almost 3 years of full-timing.
I called the Good Sam tow service and GMAC Insurance. After being on the phone 4 or 5 times with Good Sam, they said we weren't covered for acts of God (lightning strikes) and declined to get us towed. A long discussion finally made them come around regardless of their exclusion in the policy
While waiting for the tow truck I sent out an email to our RV friends to tell them what happened. Linda and Jerry from Flagler Beach, FL were 2 of the people to get the email. The last time we saw them was in May and Jerry was all excited about winning a big Harley Davidson contest. The prize was an all expenses paid trip to the 70th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota. But I am getting ahead of myself and that story will follow later.
About 1/2 an hour passed before anyone stopped. The man who pulled up asked if we needed help and then asked to come in and take pictures of the "hit". He had never heard of a moving RV being hit by lightning. A little while longer, a tow truck pulled up and Clint from C.C. Towing - www.cctows.com - came over to see if we needed help. He was not an authorized Good Sam contractor, but wanted to help anyway. He too had never heard of such a thing and also wanted to take pictures. After putting out orange cones and flashers, Clint called a friend that is responsible for all of the FedEx Sprinter vans in S.D. to see if he could help. His suggestion of disconnecting the battery to reboot the computer didn't work, but he did tell us that the only qualified mechanic within 600 miles was at the Dodge dealership in Rapid City
45 minutes later, Drew, from Olson Towing - www.olsontowinginc.com - , showed up with a big flatbed. He too had never heard of such a thing, but he did know about the insane hail that this area gets. His cab window was all cracked from a softball sized piece of hail hitting it the week before. Drew was terrific. It took every piece of wood he had to block up the wheels in order to load Crazy Fish. He drove us back to Rapid City and skillfully avoided the low wires and street lights we would have hit otherwise. He was concerned about unloading us and bottoming out our kayak and bike rack, so he called ahead to have Danny, another Olson tow truck driver, meet us with more blocks.
Between Drew and Danny, they unloaded Crazy Fish without any problem. They told us where not to stay in town and which places were the best for car rentals. We all said goodbye and Drew told us to call him if we needed anything.
We walked to a Chinese restaurant for dinner and kept repeating...."I can't believe we were hit by lightning". After dinner we went back to Crazyfish and watched a movie. Luckily, most of our coach electrical systems were still working. We tried to pop out the slide extension, but our battery was too drained from 6 hours of flashers to fully extend. I'd have to deal with manually retracting it in the morning.
And so our saga of the lightning strike had begun.