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January 1935Volume 9, Number 10

Static Electricity

Ranger Naturalist Harold H. Hawkins

An article1 has been written and many observations have been made of lightning striking at numerous places along the rims of Grand Canyon, but no mention has been made of human beings acting as lightning rods and "pulling" electricity out of the air. About four o'clock in the afternoon of August 3rd, the writer was standing at Precipice View Point, on the North Rim, with about thirty-five visitors, and pointing to certain features on the Painted Desert. His right hand was grasping an iron railing and his left arm was extended in the direction of interest over the Canyon. Without warning there was heard at the ends of his fingers a sound resembling that of a swarm of bees. Quite surprised he pulled his hand in and examined the end of his fingers to ascertain the cause. Of course, seeing nothing wrong he again extended his arm and resumed speaking. Again the same sound was heard and once more he lowered his arm. At the same time he called attention of the visitors to the phenomenon. Naturally they all thrust their arms out over the railing and the writer noticed a marked decrease in the amount of buzzing at the end of his own hand. A peculiar thing was that at no time was there a tingling sensation on the tips of the fingers accompanying the buzzing. When the railing was released there was a severe shock received in the right hand. Finally a flash of lightning over Grandview Point stopped all further excitement.

1. Count, Earl W. "Yavapai Catches A Bolt", Grand Canyon Nature Notes, Vol. 3, No. 11, July 31, 1929.

Shocked Tourists Enjoying an Electrical Storm at Grand Canyon

The secret of this interesting experiment was that the extended arms were conducting electricity to the ground, through the bodies of the individuals from a cloud either overhead or nearby which was heavily charged with static electricity. The seriousness of this experiment, unbeknown to anyone in the group at the time, was that had this cloud been sufficiently charged so that the potential had been great enough, it could have easily attracted a bolt of lightning from any one of the several rainstorms nearby. It was raining over Cedar Mountain, Grandview Point, the Canyon in front of Grand Canyon Village, and the North Rim west of Grand Canyon Lodge.

There have been observations made, particularly in mountainous regions, where such a charge could have attracted a very large bolt of lightning. Therefore, even though this particular experience proved to be a very interesting and harmless experiment, much to the enjoyment of all present, sane advice to the reader is that should he ever encounter the same situation, move away from the vicinity as quickly as possible in order to keep from being struck by lightning.

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