Woman, 31, struck by lightning in South Berkeley

Emily Davis

Emily Davis, who was struck by lightning in Berkeley on March 31, 2014. Photo: courtesy Emily Davis

Emily Davis was struck by lightning in Berkeley on Monday while crossing the road during a dramatic storm. Although she was shaken and suffered some after-effects, Davis was not seriously injured. However the experience, she said, has left her feeling lucky to be alive.

Davis, 31, was standing on the median at the intersection of Adeline and Stuart streets at around 1 p.m. when she was struck. She was heading to Berkeley Bowl to buy lunch for her boyfriend who works at the nearby Berkeley Honda.

She heard a first clap of thunder which, she said, sounded like a bomb exploding.

The first she knew of being struck was when she felt a “terrible” metallic taste in her mouth.

“Then I saw an orb of light travel down the umbrella handle I was holding in my right hand,” Davis said.

“Thankfully I was holding the plastic end of the umbrella, or else I would’ve been in big trouble,” she told Berkeleyside.

Davis’ heart began beating very fast. “I think out of both the literal and physical shock,” she said. And her left arm — not the one she was using to hold the umbrella — started shaking uncontrollably.

The coffee she was holding in her left hand was thrown to the ground.

The median on Adeline Street at Stuart near Berkeley Bowl where Davis was struck by lightning. Photo: Google Maps

“It was absolutely terrifying,” she said Monday evening. “My heart was racing. I am just thankful that my shoes had no metal in them.”

The metallic taste in her mouth persisted. Later in the evening, after Davis’ boyfriend had driven her home, he kissed her goodbye and said she tasted strongly of metal.

Davis, who moved to the Bay Area from Missouri seven years ago and works in San Francisco, said the experience became even more significant after she called her father.

“He told me that my great great great grandfather was struck and killed by lightning while sitting on a horse,” she said.

According to the National Weather Service, the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are 1 in 500,000. About 60 people each year are killed by lightning in the United States, and several hundred are injured.

Remarkably cheerful, and grateful that she escaped a worse fate, Davis laughed while pointing out the irony of growing up in a state that sees a lot of thunderstorms, and then being struck by lightning in Berkeley where bolts of lightning are fairly rare.

Davis was curious to know if her experience might have been caught on film and, once safely home, called Walgreens, which has a store adjacent to the spot where she was struck, and the city of Berkeley, to inquire about the location of security cameras. Both said they did not have cameras trained on that location.

“I want proof,” Davis said.

Shortly after being struck, Davis heard a second loud thunderclap and saw the Berkeley Fire Department at Station 5 on Shattuck Avenue respond to what she later realized was the “exploding” redwood tree on Holly and Buena that saw large chunks of wood flying as far as two blocks away after being shredded by a lightning bolt. It reenforced for her the significance of what had happened.

Meanwhile Davis’ father, who, like her grandfather, is an electrician, told her it could have been much more serious.

“I could have been burned, or my heart could have stopped,” she said. “I’m feeling so lucky.”

Lightning strikes Berkeley tree, sends wood chunks flying (03.31.14)
Lightning strikes Bay Bridge in midst of dramatic storm (04.13.12)

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  • Terry

    Other Berkeleyans didn’t see and hear a very close spaceship precisely around 1 PM yesterday. The thunder set off car alarms near me and I don’t think they’re particularly sensitive—never heard them go off before.

  • midwesterner to californian

    glad no one was injured. decades ago in the midwest, we weren’t so lucky. 2 games were occurring and halted mid-game due to a thunderstorm. 45 minutes later, and 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder was heard, referees determined it was safe to resume. while warming back up, a solo bolt of lighting — none in the previous half hour and none again that day — hit a tree under which 4 players were standing. all 4 were knocked down and out, 2 were not seriously injured but 2 needed cpr, were in a coma and spent days to weeks in the hospital, 1 recovered a few days later, but the other one didn’t make it.
    be careful during thunderstorms and avoid high ground and standing near tall structures.

  • Emily emailed me today to say she has made an appointment to see a doctor this evening. She is grateful for everyone’s concern.

  • couplewords

    I hope her BF expresses his gratitude and take her to dinner — the works — and by candlelight!

  • Nicholas Littlejohn

    Our touchpad went crazy with the static in the air on Fourth Street around that time.

  • Nigel

    I was nearby at the time. I recall one massive lightning flash and one huge thunderclap. Although Ms. Davis mentioned a 2nd thunderclap, which I didn’t hear, she apparently didn’t see a second lightning flash, which I didn’t either. Also, if she had been hit by lightning, she would have been pretty dazed, and her memory might not have been perfect. The assumption is, therefore, that she is saying that she heard the thunder before the lightning, which is impossible. Any high school kid (I hope!) will tell you that lightning comes first, because the speed of light is orders of magnitude faster than the speed of sound. Also, she didn’t see a doctor, as confirmed by the author’s post, below.

    Everything considered, I find the story dubious.

  • Ari Litton

    She was most likely hit by a side splash, where the lightning strikes the ground or near object and jumps to the person who is struck by a less powerful bolt that the full strike. Lightning also consists of multiple strokes in what appears to us as a single bolt, so it’s quite possible the first stroke hit and a later one jumped to her umbrella, causing a lag in the big boom and being shocked.

  • Paradigm

    I didn’t hear it in South San Francisco, but everyone in SF heard it.

  • Nate

    Excellent comment. If she was directly hit by a bolt, the plastic handle of the umbrella would offer no insulation. The voltage is much too high to be blocked by a tiny sliver of plastic. Lightning has many “branches”, and the nearby trees or poles could have been the primary strike location.

  • BillStewart2012

    Getting hit by lightning is pretty weird. I’ve had it happen to me; it bounced off a building first, so I didn’t get hit very hard, but it’s not something you forget, even if you might not get the details quite right. (It felt like a slap on top of my head. And then my wife told me to get in out of the rain, which had just blown over to where we were.)

    And human perception’s not something that really happens linearly; different parts of your brain are processing different things, and sometimes you don’t perceive the order correctly. Your ears can tell the audio processing parts of your brain which can tell your consciousness that you heard a loud noise; meanwhile the parts of your perception system that are integrating all the different signals from getting hit by lightning are going “Huh? What was THAT?”

  • JoeSchmoo

    Doubt if she was hit. Current would have left severe burns at minimum.

  • Julia Greenwood

    She is so so so lucky!!! Celebrate, Emily! Amazing story. I remember once in the early 90s watching a huge lightning bolt hit the center of our street just one house down. I was actually semi-blinded for a few minutes because I’d been looking almost right at it. Kept seeing flashes…and the sound. Unbelievable. The house shook so hard my poor cat about had a meltdown. I treasure the memory because for some reason being reminded of the immense power of nature is comforting to me.

  • BassFreak

    Where is the metal taste from? I guess electricity?

  • gt

    this is the most discussion I have seen on b’side in a long time!!

  • Cat Monkeywoman

    Dang! That’s *twice* I got April Fooled today. lol

  • carl martineau


  • carl martineau


  • Berkeleygal

    Even though our blinds were closed, I saw the flash of light in our room! And I thought, “What the heck was that?!” Thunder never scares me, but this one certainly did.

  • Mike

    Maybe “struck by lightning” is a stretch. As a barefoot 9 yr old I was shocked and burned when lightning struck a nearby tree. I don’t think it counts as being “struck” yet clearly the electrical shocks continued as I ran home. I don’t remember anything about a metal taste but my family complained about the way I smelled – which was pretty obnoxious of them.

  • Niketana

    Maybe the corresponding thunder bolt was the one that followed a second or two (?) later.

  • Emily is friend of my son and is an honest and straight-forward person. Plus I talked with her later and she looked EXACTLY like someone who was feeling truly lucky to be alive.

  • jpjr

    wow – sure is lucky nothing untoward happened – nice story.

  • Safety_Barbie

    The increased risk of a heart attack lasts for up to two weeks because the electrical shock can cause some muscle damage and throw off the heart’s normal rhythm. She should definitely seek medical attention.

  • emraguso

    This one actually is not a joke.

  • Nate

    If it’s true, it was not a direct hit. Lightning has so much charge it would have burned holes in her umbrella, etc. Likely that she got some throw-off current from a nearby discharge.

  • shroomduke

    If I was her BF I would be careful about holding hands with her in a thunder storm.

    Kissing her could be a shocking experience, ba-dum-bum-CHING

    I wonder if she has a magnetic personality now, she should check to see if a compass acts funny around her.

  • shroomduke

    No kidding, look what happen to that freakin tree, it would be a shame for a nice young lady to explode like that! …Not to mention messy.

  • shroomduke

    Google Lichtenberg figures and lightening scars, freaky stuff man!


  • ingridcc

    The ‘ball of light’ sounds more like St. Elmos Fire than like a lightning bolt. This is even more interesting than being struck by lightning! Known to sailors for hundreds of years and only fairly recently recognized by science I think.

  • ingridcc

    I was wrong, it’s called “ball lightning” and is very rare and cool! Check out the wickipedia definition – I bet you anything that’s what this woman experienced!

  • ingridcc

    I’ve read about that metallic taste, it’s common to getting struck or even to being “about to be struck” — the electrical pathway that a lightning bolt follows is “set up” ahead of the strike, in multiple leaders I think they are called. Lightning doesn’t necessarily follow each leader…

  • Deacon_Sam1

    Glad she’s okay.

  • Beavis

    That’s not Berkeley Bowl in the photo, that’s Walgreen’s, which is located just to the north.

  • Bingo

    Sounds like BS. I think she THINKS she was struck by lightning.

  • ingridcc

    The metallic taste is common to lightning strikes, and there are a lot of different types of lightning events. Including some that scientists havent totally figured out yet, like ball lightning.

  • Chris J

    No disagreement. There remains the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any corroboration of the event. Its a great story. It may be true, but the coverage doesn’t seem to reflect good journalistic practices as I understand them.

    If I’m incorrect about journalism sourcing, allow berkeleyside to correct me. I’m ok with that.

  • David Tryon

    Well – confirmation. I live a half block east of Berkeley Bowl and was in the house when the bolt under discussion occurred. There was a white flash followed by a deafening thunderclap about a one half second later. As sound at sea level travels 1150 ft/sec, that means the bolt was about 550+ feet away from my location – which is the corner of Oregon and Adeline – right where she says she was hit… At least, my experience is consistent with what she says as to location.

  • David Tryon

    The photo is of Adeline and Stuart, right?

  • Logan

    I’m a student in atmospheric science field and I have to say that Monday thunderstorm was a killer. It struck trees, homes, and now a person. I cannot recall anyone in the Bay Area being hit by lightning before. I have access to the National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN) which is located in Tucson, Arizona and lot of negative strikes were detected which suggest lightning making contact to ground.

  • Glad you are ok and holding the right part of the umbrella. We don’t think of danger connected to it but it must have been really scary,. We all do want more rain.

  • Dear Ohm … perhaps you can tell me if resistance really is futile.


  • rfkolbe

    touche! I will give it a try one lightning-less day.