Lightning struck this St. John's family's campsite — while they were caught in the middle

·3 min read
Mark Gruchy and his family were a few dozen feet away from this tree when it was struck by lightning on Thursday. (Submitted by Mark Gruchy - image credit)
Mark Gruchy and his family were a few dozen feet away from this tree when it was struck by lightning on Thursday. (Submitted by Mark Gruchy - image credit)
Submitted by Mark Gruchy
Submitted by Mark Gruchy

Mark Gruchy of St. John's says he's never been one to play the lottery.

But after the experience he and his family went through on a camping trip in Nova Scotia this week, he might want to think about it.

Gruchy was camping in the backcountry of Kejimkujik National Park with his wife, Leah, and their daughter, Charlotte. They set up about three kilometres from the end of Kejimkujik Lake.

A special weather statement issued by Environment Canada called for passing thunderstorms on the first day of their trip, he said, but it was nothing they weren't prepared for.

That was until about 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, when the rain picked up dramatically and lightning started flashing in line with their tent just a few kilometres away.

"The whole event unfolded over the space of less than 10 minutes, and it went from no rain to … a torrential downpour," Gruchy said Friday. "That caused me a fair bit of worry. But nonetheless, you don't ever really think anything will happen."

The family retreated to their tent and did their best to keep their limbs off the forest floor. He said the lightning passed right over them — so close that the thunder and lightning caused a physical reaction.

"The thunder was actually painful. It was that loud. It was actually hurting our ears. And I felt a very sharp pain in my right foot, specifically my right foot.… All I remember saying is that I felt that, I said it out loud," Gruchy said.

"Leah, she had her hand up to her chest and she looked like she was in discomfort. The next thing that I recall, and we both have different interpretations of this, but to me it was like the rain had stopped. There was no sound any more coming from the rain. I thought I could hear other things, including my own voice when I spoke out."

Submitted by Mark Gruchy
Submitted by Mark Gruchy

Once things settled down, the couple concluded lightning had struck so close to their tent that they had felt it — but not enough to cause serious injuries.

Gruchy said he was left with a strange feeling in his foot for a couple of hours, which he says might have been on the ground when the lightning struck.

Their suspicions about the lightning were confirmed when they left their tent and spotted the largest tree in the area, about 30 feet from them.

"This tree, which had been perfectly fine before the storm blew over, had been split in a corkscrew pattern from the top. There was like a spiral coming around it. When I first looked at it, it just looked like an almost classic zigzag, jagged slash about halfway down the tree," Gruchy said.

"I don't know what would have happened if we'd been outside the tent or if we'd been closer to the tree, or if we'd been sitting at the picnic table, which had metal legs.… It's a wild, strange, unique, surreal thing to contemplate."

He says the family is doing well after the incident, and now have quite the story to share — and now know to be more conscious of where the largest tree on their campsite is on their next trip.

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