What would you think if you saw an intense, glowing blue light making a strange humming noise moving behind some trees across the street from your house? Your answer may depend on whether you believe in space aliens, conspiracy theories like Project Blue Beam, inter- dimensional portals, ball lightning or physics. Whatever you thought it was, what it turns out to be can’t be good. That was the case this week in Dayton, Ohio, when a man who was quick with his cell phone took a video of an eerie blue light passing behind some trees in his neighborhood during a severe storm. What did HE think it was?
The incident occurred on June 5th in Dayton, Ohio – home of Wright Patterson Air Force Base and another potential answer to the question – and the witness was Chip Beale. The intensity of the storm and winds is obvious in the video, which appears to have been taken outside but under a covering. Beale passed the video on to his brother Scott Beale who posted it on the Laughing Squid website – the company he founded – giving it a tremendous amount of Internet exposure. Most would agree that the intense blue color, the strange humming sound and the slow movement make the light pretty eerie.
Should Chris Beale have turned and run for the hills … or at least an alien-safe bunker at Wright Patterson? Yes and no. The bright flash prior to the light and hum give a hint at what the probable cause was – an electrical ‘arc flash’ triggered by something in the storm, though not necessarily a lightning strike. According to General Electric, it may have been a branch touching a wire that sparked the flash which then traveled along the wire until it reached a transformer or a pole that stopped it.
The spark caused the wet and electrically charged air to ionize into the arc. That blue light was intense for a reason – the temperature of the arc flash could have been as high as 35,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat is hot enough to vaporize steel while the light is intense enough to cause blindness.
Fortunately, Chris Beale was not injured, burned or blinded and got 15 minutes of fame with his video of something that wasn’t alien or part of a secret government program. However, it was still a bad sign and a warning of potential worse things happening. Arc flashes are not rare -- only catching them on video is. Electrical grids are built with protections to prevent arc flashes, but the deteriorating infrastructure of the nation’s electrical system means those protections are rusting, corroding, losing insulation, breaking down and short-circuiting to the point where they’re just one small incident away (think squirrel) from creating eerie blue lights all over the place.
Sometimes, explainable phenomena are more frightening that the unexplained.