The incident occurred around 7:30 a.m. Monday morning on eastbound Interstate 10 in the Panhandle, midway between Pensacola and Tallahassee. The two were west of the Choctawhatchee River as downpours and thunderstorms rolled through the area.
“Both of [the occupants] are going to be okay,” confirmed Lindsey Darby, public affairs specialist with Walton County Fire Rescue. “The husband who was driving the vehicle… suffered very minor lacerations. He was transported but released shortly after.”
The wife, who was in the passenger seat, was transported to a different hospital where she underwent surgery, but is expected to fully recover.
“The wife suffered a little larger and deeper lacerations,” said Darby. “[They] actually had to... get glass out of her head.”
Temperatures hit 70 degrees around 6 a.m., but cooled slightly as a thunderstorm moved through. At Bob Sikes Airport in Crestview, 0.45 inches of rain fell between 6 and 8 a.m., with winds gusting to 30 mph and visibility falling to 1.25 miles.
The line of storms, which accompanied a weak front, was not overly strong; storm tops only made it to 39,000 feet. But the storms were plenty electric, producing the lightning bolt that caused the mayhem.
Walton County Fire Rescue, which responded to the call, posted photos to social media showing a 4-foot hole punctured in the windshield where the piece of pavement struck the truck. The back windshield was shattered as well, and pieces of the pavement came to rest atop the covered pickup bed.
The rear middle seat also appears damaged, the headrest bent back more than six inches. No passengers were seated there at the time.
“I was talking to our battalion chief with fire rescue who responded to the scene... he said he’s never seen anything like it," said Darby.
Chris Vagasky, a meteorologist and lightning applications manager at Vaisala, tweeted that the lightning strike in question occurred at 7:29 a.m., and was a positive stroke with a peak current of 35 kiloamperes, or 35,000 amps.
Vagasky said it is impossible to say for sure what caused pieces of pavement to fly, but his bet is that the lightning instantaneously vaporized water trapped within or beneath the surface of the roadway.
“It could have flashed into steam,” he wrote. “That rapid expansion of liquid water into steam can be why trees debark if they are struck by lightning, and it caused damage to other inanimate objects in the past.”
Seeing pavement blasted by lightning is not terribly unusual. In fact, it happens quite regularly. As recently as Friday, lightning struck a tree in Berkley, Mich., a northern suburb of Detroit, and the electricity then jumped to the car and exited through the rear driver’s side tire. That resulted in a hole in the roadway, but no injuries were reported.
A lightning bolt blew a three-foot-by-three-foot hole in the runway at Pittsburgh International Airport last July, burrowing three inches deep.
If you are really looking for a memorable lightning oddity, however, your best bet is heading back to the Sunshine State. A Florida woman suffered a freak toilet explosion when lightning ignited methane gas trapped in her septic tank during a thunderstorm in 2019.
“No more pooping while it’s storming outside,” concluded the plumber who responded to the incident.
In the United States, there have been no lightning fatalities in 2021 to date, according to the National Weather Service.