August 9, 1999
WOODINVILLE--Was it some great philosopher who once said talk about the weather was boring? That tome was blown to smithereens last Tuesday, Aug. 3.
With over 1,000 lightning bolts striking random targets all over the basin, some locals thought it meant the long-awaited polar shift, bringing midwest weather to Puget Sound. Others thought it might be a prelude to Nostradamus' predicted "three days of darkness," calculated by some to start Aug. 11.
The less secular among us (including many of man's best friends) hid under the bed, fearing the absolute end. Reckless youths who, typically, don't care about ultimate ends to current actions, simply enjoyed the prolonged natural fireworks display.
Systems managers were pulling plugs on computers and phones. Others, perhaps mindful of the two phone related, lightning-struck, near-death experiences of national lecturer Dannion Brinkley, screamed, "Don't answer that phone!"
Suburban hayseeds stared gape-mouthed out their windows for hours on end, uttering such profundities as "Golleeee! Did you see that one?" and "What in the heck's goin' on around here?!"
You just know Orson Welles could have played wondrously mad havoc with this one. In reality (which seemed a long way from here that day), weather analysts explained away all the hubbub with typically detached aplomb.
"The cause of the prolonged thunder and lightning of last Tuesday is actually pretty common, but it usually happens in Eastern Washington and doesn't come this far west," said KING-TV weatherman Rich Marriott (obviously under government pressure to reduce panic among the masses). "A 'monsoon' air flow moved up from the desert southwest, across the Rockies. That was guided into western Washington by a low-pressure area off the coast.
"Thunderstorms are created when the 'bubbly' monsoon air mass from the southwest moves over the ground heated by the summer sun. The ground warms the air and it starts to rise. Usually, in western Washington, this warmed air will rise for a bit, then just sink back to the ground. But when this 'bubbly' monsoonal air starts to rise, it just keeps going up! That unusual rising causes the unstable atmosphere that produces thunder. Lightning comes from a combination of strong updraft and downdraft motions that result in a separation of electrical charges. That also can produce the hail and heavy rain we experienced. Thunder is produced by lightning, which heats the atmosphere to more than a million degrees and creates an explosion."
Records showed some 1,100 lightning strikes in the four hours of heaviest activity, from 1-5 p.m. The storm started just south of Lake Tapps at about 11:30 a.m., then gradually moved north and settled in south Snohomish County, said Marriott. The National Weather Service reported some 36,000 lightning strikes in the western U.S. during that 24-hour period, he said.
Many watched the light show from parked cars on NE 116th, and other north-facing vantage points, well past 11 p.m. Several traffic lights on Bothell Way in Kenmore were knocked out for a couple of hours late Tuesday afternoon. A witness said it took her over an hour to drive from the intersection of I-405 and SR-522 to 68th Ave. NE in Kenmore.