Remember the one about Cleveland Indians pitcher Ray Caldwell getting struck by lightning?
He was standing on the mound, needing one more out to finish the game when…
Caldwell and the Indians were leading the visiting Philadelphia Athletics 2-1 on a warm August day when a storm rolled off Lake Erie and approached League Park. As rain fell, Caldwell quickly recorded two outs on the A’s and was facing Joe Dugan when lightning flashed down on the ballpark.
It sent spectators scurrying for safety. It put Caldwell on his keister.
“It felt just like somebody came up with a board and hit me on the head and knocked me down,” Caldwell told the Cleveland Press after the game.
Some accounts say the lightning bolt knocked Caldwell out for five minutes. Other reports say the pitcher got up, brushed himself off and recorded the last out. It seems the latter is the more prevalent story.
Players rushed to Caldwell’s aid. Some, such as teammate Ray Chapman, said they felt the “juice” run through their bodies.
When I first began delving into the details of this game back in the spring – I’m writing a story about the contest for the SABR Games Project – I emailed lightning researcher Joseph Dwyer, asking for his thoughts about the players’ claim of felling lightning in their bodies and the subsequent numbness.
“When lightning strikes the ground, the current flows across the surface creating a step voltage. Someone standing with their feet apart can have current go up one leg and down the other,” wrote Dwyer, a professor of physics at the University of New Hampshire. “I would think such a large current through the legs could explain the numbness afterwards.”
One of the players who complained of numbness was Chapman, who nearly a year later was killed after being hit by a pitch thrown from Yankees hurler Carl Mays.
Newspaper reports say lighting danced along the rails of the ballpark.
“Lightning certainly can travel along metal railing,” Dwyer said, a phenomenon he called side flashes.
“When lightning strikes, there is often tens of thousands of amps of current and very large voltages,” the professor said. “If some of this current goes into a metal conductor such as fences or railings, the current can travel long distances, causing sparks to other objects along the way.”
One interesting side note from newspaper accounts says that Indians’ catcher Steve O’Neill tossed his metal mask as far away as possible to avoid being struck by subsequent bolts.
I asked Dwyer if O’Neill’s mask toss was a necessary move.
“It is a very good idea to take lightning seriously, but the approach was wrong,” Dwyer wrote. “The only way to be relatively safe from lightening is to go inside an enclosed structure like a house or a building.”
But “not a dugout,” Dwyer stressed.
Speaking of the SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) Games Project, I recently had story published there about Joe DiMaggio tying the Yankees’ consecutive game hitting streak at 29. It happened on June 16, 1941 when DiMaggio lined a double to left field shortly after rain had delayed the contest for more than an hour at Yankee Stadium. (Of course rain was involved, right?)
But, wait. What do I write? I’m no cloud scientist.
But you know who is? Dr. Robert Houze, professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington.
I asked Houze Wednesday, via email, to describe mammatus clouds and tell us what non-experts, like you and me, can interpret from those clouds.
I lofted a few softball questions at Houze, such as: Do mammatus clouds mean sever weather is imminent? Or, perhaps, can we determine from their presence that the threat of bad weather has passed?
“It could be either, but more commonly they precede the severe weather,” said Houze, recipient of the 2014 Symons Gold Medal of the Royal Meteorological Society. “They occur on the underside of upper level clouds extending out from the thicker raining cloud. The upper level clouds on the leading side of the storm are more extensive, so it is more likely that the storm is approaching.”
Severe storms had swept through Chicago earlier in the day, which caused flooding in some parts. According to reports, those mammatus clouds – which often are “emanating from a strong nearby thunderstorm,” Houze said – appeared in the Windy City between 8 and 10 p.m.
As Houze suggested, fans watching the Cubs and Dodgers at Wrigley could have determined from the clouds that more storms were approaching.
They could have used that sign in the sky to grab their umbrellas and practice draping themselves with ponchos because, sure enough, another round of storms swept over the city and rain doused the ballpark.
Chicago was under a tornado watch much of Monday as strong storms swept through the Midwest. Nine tornados were confirmed by the National Weather Service to have touched down in Illinois that evening.
The sight of mammatus clouds lead many to believe there is a strong chance of a tornado.
“The clouds that produce strong tornadoes are called supercell thunderstorms, and supercells often feature very pronounced mammatus,” Houze explained. “Of the supercell storms that occur, only a few actually generate a tornado whereas many produce mammatus. Therefore it is possible that a tornado may be in the vicinity but not certain.”
The professor, who is a sports fan of “sadly the Mariners, but more happily the Seahawks,” said mammatus clouds are not always associated with supercell thunderstorms. However, “such storms provide the best examples of this type of cloud.”
Houze said mammatus can occur in many of places, “but supercell thunderstorms are most common over the central U.S.”
As Tom Brady’s appeal hearing dragged on for more than 10 hours at the NFL offices in Manhattan Tuesday, this was the scene at Gillette Stadium.
Could these dark storm clouds be a sign of impending doom for the Patriots’ quarterback? Or, is this a caught-on-camera moment of the Evil Empire summoning all of its power to wreak havoc on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell if Brady’s four-game suspension is upheld for his supposed role in the uber-important issue of deflating footballs?
I think the latter is more probable than not.