Lightning! Hail! Waterspouts!

At around 7 p.m. last night, after a relatively pleasant day, the heavens around Humboldt Bay opened up and unleashed an astounding amount of chaos. As you can see from our CHP Incidents page, the roadways were immediately impacted with traffic collisions up and down 101. Your reporter happened to be pass by what looked to be a very bad two-vehicle collision on a hail-covered 101 through Arcata; thankfully, it appears that no one was seriously injured.

But the hail was the least of it. As seen in the video above, the air also crackled and popped with a freak lightning storm. Instagram user @dariusone seems to have captured the moment a bolt struck a tree outside his McKinleyville home:

But even weirder than the lightning, which was weird enough, were the dual waterspouts that formed over the ocean and were visible from Fields Landing and King Salmon, pictures of which many readers were kind enough to share with us. Here’s a video sent be a reader:

And then, almost as quickly as it came, the weather went away. Or moved on elsewhere. Or whatever weather does.

So what happened? Ryan Aylward, meteorologist with the National Weather Service on Woodley Island, confirmed to the Outpost this afternoon that the freak storm was, in fact, a freak. Though we’ve had lightning along the coast this year, we haven’t had it in quite the quantity and intensity that struck us last night.

Basically, what happened is a particular combination of factors that caused all the phenomenon observed. There was a low-pressure trough parked offshore. There was a pocket of cold air trapped up high, at altitude. There were conditions of “lift” — winds pointed upward — which can happen for various reasons. And then that little storm passed by and tripped all those switches.

As far as human impacts go, it was the hail shower that Aylward was the most concerned about. That much hail falling over a short period of time can mess up the roadways really quickly, and he wished to remind people that it’s best to take preemptive measures if you see weird weather forming ahead of you.

“I’m happy that it sounds like the accidents, there weren’t any really bad injuries,” Aylward said. “Just remember to take it slow if there are really dark clouds ahead.”