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An interesting description of electrical "waves"

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  • kirk
    From Wild Life on the Rockies --Starts page 84 as I remember http://djvued.libs.uga.edu/wlotr/ WHILE on the sky-line as State Snow Observer, I had one
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 17, 2002
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      From "Wild Life on the Rockies" --Starts page 84 as I remember

      WHILE on the sky-line as State Snow Observer, I had one adventure with the
      elements that called for the longest special report that I have ever
      written. Perhaps I cannot do better than quote this report transmitted to
      Professor Carpenter, at Denver, on May 26, 1904.

      The day before the Poudre flood, I traveled for eight hours northwesterly
      along the top of the Continental Divide, all the time being above
      timber-line and from eleven thousand to twelve thousand feet above
      The morning was cloudless and hot. The western sky was marvelously clear.
      Eastward, a thin, dark haze overspread everything below ten thousand feet.
      By 9.30 A. M. this haze had ascended higher than where I was. At nine
      o'clock the snow on which I walked, though it had been frozen hard during
      the night, was soggy and wet.
      About 9.30 a calm that had prevailed all the morning gave way before an easy
      intermittent warm breeze from the southeast.
      At 10.10 the first cloud appeared in the north, just above Hague's Peak. It
      was a heavy cumulus cloud, but I do not know from what direction it came. It
      rose high in the air, drifted slowly toward the west, and then seemed to
      dissolve. At any rate, it vanished. About 10.30 several heavy clouds rose
      from behind Long's Peak, moving toward the northwest, rising higher into the
      sky as they advanced.
      The wind, at first in fitful dashes from the southeast, began to come more
      steadily and swiftly after eleven o'clock, and was so warm that the snow
      softened to a sloppy state. The air carried a tinge of haze, and conditions
      were oppressive. It was labor to breathe. Never, except one deadly hot July
      day in New York City, have I felt so overcome with heat and choking air.
      Perspiration simply streamed from me. These oppressive conditions continued
      for two hours,-
      until about one o'clock. While they lasted, my eyes pained, ached, and
      twitched. There was no glare, but only by keeping my eyes closed could I
      stand the half-burning pain. Finally I came to some crags and lay down for a
      time in the shade. I was up eleven thousand five hundred feet and the time
      was 12.20. As I lay on the snow gazing upward, I became aware that there
      were several flotillas of clouds of from seven to twenty each, and these
      were moving toward every point of the compass. Each seemed on a different
      stratum of air, and each moved through space a considerable distance above
      or below the others. The clouds moving eastward were the highest. Most of
      the lower clouds were those moving westward. The haze and sunlight gave
      color to every cloud, and this color varied from smoky red to orange.
      At two o'clock the haze came in from the east almost as dense as a fog-bank,
      crossed the ridge before me, and spread out as dark and foreboding as the
      smoke of Vesuvius. Behind me the haze rolled upward when it struck the
      ridge, and I had clear glimpses whenever I looked to the southwest. This
      heavy, muddy haze prevailed for a little more than half an hour, and as it
      cleared, the clouds began to disappear, but a gauzy haze still continued in
      the air. The feeling in the air was not agreeable, and for the first time in
      my life I felt alarmed by the shifting, rioting clouds and the weird haze.
      I arrived at timber-line south of Poudre Lakes about 4.30 P. M., and for
      more than half an hour the sky, except in the east over the foothills, was
      clear, and the sunlight struck a glare from the snow. With the cleared air
      there came to me an easier feeling. The oppressiveness ceased. I descended a
      short distance into the woods and relaxed on a fallen tree that lay above
      the snow.
      I had been there but a little while, when - snap! buzz! buzz ! buzz! ziz!
      ziz! and electricity began to pull my hair and hum around my ears. The
      electricity passed off shortly, but in a little while it caught me again by
      the hair for a brief time, and this time my right arm momentarily cramped
      and my heart seemed to give several lurches. I arose and tramped on and
      downward, but every little while I was in for shocking treatment. The
      electrical waves came from the southwest and moved northeast. They were
      separated by periods of from one to several minutes in length, and were
      about two seconds in passing. During their presence they made it lively for
      me, with hair-pulling, heart-palpitation, and muscular cramps. I tried
      moving speedily with the wave, also standing still and lying down, hoping
      that the wave would pass me by; but in each and every case it gave me the
      same stirring treatment. Once I stood erect and rigid as the wave came on,
      but it intensified suddenly the rigidity of every muscle to a seemingly
      rupturing extent, and I did not try that plan again. The effect of each wave
      on me seemed to be slightly weakened whenever I lay down and fully relaxed
      my muscles.
      I was on a northerly slope, in spruce timber, tramping over five feet of
      snow. During these electrical waves, the points of dry twigs were tipped
      with a smoky blue flame, and sometimes bands of this bluish flame encircled
      green trees just below their lower limbs. I looked at the compass a few
      times, and though the needle occasionally swayed a little, it was not
      affected in any marked manner.
      The effect of the electrical waves on me became less as I descended, but
      whether from my getting below the electrical stratum, or from a cessation of
      the current, I cannot say.
      But I did not descend much below eleven thousand feet, and at the lowest
      point I crossed the South Poudre, at the outlet of Poudre Lakes. In crossing
      I broke through the ice and received a wetting, with the exception of my
      right side above the hip. Once across, I walked about two hundred yards
      through an opening, then again entered the woods, on the southeasterly slope
      of Specimen Mountain. I had climbed only a short distance up this slope when
      another electrical wave struck me. The effect of this was similar to that of
      the preceding ones. There was, however, a marked difference in the intensity
      with which the electricity affected the wet and the dry portions of my body.
      The effect on my right side and shoulder, which had escaped wetting when I
      broke through the ice, was noticeably stronger than on the rest of my body.
      Climbing soon dried my clothes sufficiently to make this difference no
      longer noticeable. The waves became more frequent than at first, but not so
      strong. I made a clumsy climb of about five hundred feet, my muscles being
      "muscle-bound" all the time with rigidity from electricity. But this climb
      brought me almost to timber-line on Specimen Mountain, and also under the
      shadow of the south peak of it. At this place the electrical effects almost
      ceased. Nor did I again seriously feel the current until I found myself out
      in the sunlight which came between the two peaks of Specimen. While I
      continued in the sunlight I felt the electrical wave, but, strange to say,
      when I again entered the shadow I almost wholly escaped it.
      When I started on the last slope toward the top of North Specimen, I came
      out into the sunlight again, and I also passed into an electrical sea. The
      slope was free from snow, and as the electrical waves swept in close
      succession, about thirty seconds apart, they snapped, hummed, and buzzed in
      such a manner that their advance and retreat could be plainly heard. In
      passing by me, the noise was more of a crackling and humming nature, while a
      million faint sparks flashed from the stones (porphyry and rhyolite) as the
      wave passed over. But the effect on me became constant. Every muscle was
      almost immovable. I could climb only a few steps without weakening to the
      stopping-point. I breathed only by gasps, and my heart became violent and
      feeble by turns. I felt as if cinched in a steel corset. After I had spent
      ten long minutes and was only half-way up a slope, the entire length of
      which I had more than once climbed in a few minutes and in fine shape, I
      turned to retreat, but as there was no cessation of the electrical colic, I
      faced about and started up again. I reached the top a few minutes before
      6.30 p. M., and shortly afterward the sun disappeared behind clouds and
      I regret that I failed to notice whether the electrical effects ceased with
      the setting of the sun, but it was not long after the disappearance of the
      sun before I was at ease, enjoying the magnificent mountain-range of clouds
      that had formed above the foothills and stood up glorious in the sunlight.
      Shortly before five o'clock the clouds had begun to pile up in the east,
      and their gigantic forms, flowing outlines, and glorious lighting were the
      only things that caused the electrical effects to be forgotten even
      momentarily. The clouds formed into a long, solid, rounded range that rose
      to great height and was miles in length. The southern end of this range was
      in the haze, and I could not make out its outline further south than a
      point about opposite Loveland, Colorado, nor could I see the northern end
      beyond a few miles north of Cheyenne, where it was cut off by a dozen strata
      of low clouds that moved steadily at a right angle to the east. Sixty miles
      of length was visible. Its height, like that of the real mountains which it
      paralleled, diminished toward the north. The place of greatest altitude was
      about twenty-five miles distant from me. From my location, the clouds
      presented a long and smoothly terraced slope, the top of which was at least
      five thousand feet and may have been fifteen thousand feet above me. The
      clouds seemed compact; at times they surged upwards; then they would settle
      with a long, undulating swell, as if some unseen power were trying to force
      them further, up the mountains, while they were afraid to try it. Finally a
      series of low, conical peaks rose on the summit of the cloud-range, and the
      peaks and the upper cloud-slope resembled the upper portion of a
      circus-tent. There were no rough places or angles.
      When darkness came on, the surface of this cloud-range was at times
      splendidly illuminated by electricity beneath; and, when the darkness,
      deepened, the electrical play beneath often caused the surface to shine
      momentarily like incandescent glass, and occasionally sinuous rivers of gold
      ran over the slopes. Several times I thought that the course of these
      golden rivers of electrical fire was from the bottom upward, but so
      brilliant and dazzling were they that I could not positively decide on the
      direction of their movement. Never have I seen such enormous cloud-forms or
      such brilliant electrical effects.
      The summit of Specimen Mountain, from which I watched the clouds and
      electrical flashes, is about twelve thousand five hundred feet above
      sea-level. A calm prevailed while I remained on top. It was about 8.30 P. M.
      when I left the summit, on snowshoes, and swept down the steep northern
      slope into the woods. This hurry caused no unusual heart or muscle action.
      The next morning was cloudy as low down as ten thousand five hundred feet,
      and, for all I know, lower still. The night had been warm, and the morning
      had the oppressive feeling that dominated the morning before. The clouds
      broke up before nine o'clock, and the air, with haze in it, seemed yellow.
      About 10.30, haze and, soon after, clouds came in from the southeast (at
      this time I was high up on the southerly slope of Mt. Richthofen), and by
      eleven o'clock the sky was cloudy. Up to this time the air, when my
      snow-glasses were off, burned and twitched my eyes in the same manner as on
      the previous morning.
      Early in the afternoon I left Grand Ditch Camp and started down to Chambers
      Lake. I had not gone far when drops of rain began to fall from time to time,
      and shortly after this my muscles began to twitch occasionally under
      electrical ticklings. At times slight muscular rigidity was noticeable. Just
      before two o'clock the clouds began to burst through between the trees. I
      was at an altitude of about eleven thousand feet and a short distance from
      the head of Trap Creek. Rain, hail, and snow fell in turn, and the lightning
      began frequently to strike the rocks. With the beginning of the lightning my
      muscles ceased to be troubled with either twitching or rigidity. For the two
      hours between 2 and 4 P. M. the crash and roll of thunder was incessant. I
      counted twenty-three times that the lightning struck the rocks, but I did
      not see it strike a tree. The clouds were low, and the wind came from the
      east and the northeast, then from the west.
      About four o'clock, I broke through the snow, tumbled into Trap Creek, and
      had to swim a little. This stream was really very swift, and ran in a narrow
      gulch, but it was blocked by snow and by tree-limbs swept down by the flood,
      and a pond had been formed. It was crowded with a deep deposit of snow which
      rested on a shelf of ice. This covering was shattered and uplifted by the
      swollen stream, and I had slipped on the top of the gulch and tumbled in.
      Once in, the swift water tugged at me to pull me under; the cakes of snow
      and ice hampered me, and my snow-shoes were entangled with brush and limbs.
      The combination seemed determined to drown me. For a few seconds I put forth
      all my efforts to get at my pocket-knife. This accomplished, the fastenings
      of my snowshoes were cut, and unhampered by these, I escaped the waters.
      Since I have felt no ill results, the effect of the entire experience may
      have been beneficial. The clouds, glorious as they had been in formation and
      coloring, resulted in a terrible cloudburst. Enormous quantities of water
      were poured out, and this, falling upon the treeless foothills, rushed away
      to do more than a million dollars' damage in the rich and beautiful Poudre
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