If you were to look outside your home during a thunderstorm and see a tall streetlamp glowing with blue flames, you might be tempted to call the fire department. Then you might notice that the streetlamp is on fire but isn’t actually burning — and the water from the fire hose isn’t putting out the flames. At this point, you might be about ready to call a priest, but that, like the call to the fire department, would be unnecessary. The phenomenon you’re witnessing is actually St. Elmo’s Fire. (Which has nothing to do with a 1980s coming-of-age film starring a young Emilio Estevez.)
St. Elmo’s Fire is a weather phenomenon involving a gap in electrical charge. It’s like lightning, but not quite. And while it has been mistaken for ball lightning, it’s not that, either — and it’s definitely not fire.
Early observers of the phenomenon, mostly sailors on high seas during thunderstorms, seem to have understood they weren’t looking at actual fire, because instead of abandoning ship …
Keep Reading: HowStuffWorks “What is St.Elmo’s Fire?”.
- “I Flamed Amazement”: The Physics of St. Elmo’s Fire (science.kqed.org)
- Terms of St. Elmo’s of Fire (childhoodrelived.com)