Storm jolts Cowley Saturday night

“It was raining like crazy.”

That’s the description of the sudden thunderstorm that struck Cowley on Saturday evening by Stuart Morthole, who witnessed the storm while at a family reunion.

A tree near the Cowley Log Gym was stripped of its bark and limbs were felled by a lightning bolt that struck the tree Saturday evening. People attending a family reunion in the gym heard the thunderclap, and a few were outside to see it.
Annette Moss photo

“I ran out to my car to shut the windows because it was raining so hard,” Morthole said.

Morthole described how his grandkids ran outside to see what he was doing when it happened – a lightning strike that tore into a tree.

“As soon as they ran up to the car, there was this massive explosion, and then thunder,” he said. He and his kids ran inside the Log Gym where the rest of the family was enjoying the reunion, running quickly due to both the explosion and how loud the thunder was.

Another witness at the reunion, Karen Spragg, said the rain was pouring down so hard on windows at the Log Gym that the water looked “like cobwebs.”

“We’d never heard a sound like it before,” said Spragg. “The children weren’t scared, though. They clamored up to the windows to see what made the sound.”

After the rain eventually stopped, Morthole and others went outside to investigate what happened, and that was when they discovered that a tree near the gym had been split open by what appeared to be lightning.

“There were pieces of wood everywhere,” he said, “and one huge piece – maybe like a foot long – was lodged into the ground.”

Spragg also agreed that the wood chunks were huge. However, that wasn’t even the strangest part.

“We also noticed there were bubbles and some weird liquid coming out of the grass and concrete,” Morthole said. “We wondered if it was a gas line, so we called 911.”

When the fire department came to investigate, they did indeed find a gas line, and of course suspected that the strange liquid was gas affected by the lightning. It turns out, though, that it wasn’t gas. Their next guess was that the gas was struck by lightning then got oxidized somewhere along the way, and therefore the bubbles were caused by oxygen mixing with other chemicals.

Eventually, the Cowley police and Lovell fire departments came to the conclusion that it was actually just rainwater supercharged by lightning that came back up to the surface, and the gas lines weren’t affected, according to Bob Mangus, Assistant Fire Chief. 

Later, Morthole said, someone in his family discovered a spot in the ground where the mud was unusually soft and almost bubbly, like the mud got inflated with air. It was later determined that a tree used to be in that exact spot, and the stump was most likely sitting underground.

According to police and fire, what most likely happened was that the lightning struck the first tree and traveled through it, traveled through the ground and water which had built up from the rain, causing it to bubble to the surface, and continued traveling until it reached the stump of another tree that was buried and destroyed the stump in a way that created a giant bubble in the ground where the stump used to be, almost like a tiny explosion.

Beyond just the lightning-struck tree and intense rains, the storm had other effects on the general area near Cowley. In Lovell, the Red Apple Supermarket experienced a brief power surge.

“All it did was short out the sound and music system,” said store manager Mike Allred. “I wasn’t there, but according to those who were, that’s the only thing that happened.” He also mentioned how he heard about the wood splitting off from the tree the lightning it. “I heard it was spread out across, like, a 50-yard diameter,” he added. 

Overall, Cowley was hit the worst, with some effects in Lovell, too. Cody residents have remarked they never knew there was a terrible storm, as it did not hit that far west.

By Cody Morris