A selection from 130 ball lightning reports

First published in: Keul, A. G. (ed.) (1993): Progress in Ball Lightning Research. Salzburg: 32-36.
Note: The number of eye witness reports I have been able to collect has since then increased to 238.

1     Empirical Base

The following paper will give a survey on 130 eye witness reports which have been collected since 1986. There are 86 cases of out-door ball lightnings; 40 cases occurred indoors. The occurrence of such phenomena inside buildings is not compatible with the hypothesis that ball lightning is only a visual after-effect of ordinary lightning. Furthermore, outdoor ball lightning frequently occurred prior to a thunderstorm, which contradicts the hypothesis that a burning bird could be the cause of the phenomenon. There are of course reports on ball lightning as a seemingly direct result of "ordinary" lightning, including my personal experience.

The very short duration of ball lightning reflects its instability. In 34 % of the reported cases, the objects were only visible 1-3 seconds; 24% of the reports speak of a permanence of 3-5 seconds, and 19,5 % of 5-10 seconds. The object itself is partly described as smooth (positive corona?), but then also as sparkling with a corona. Several times, the corona is compared to a sparkler. This phenomenon might be explained by electrons "streaming" out of the object and, colliding with oxygen, by ionization causing visible light, the corona. In most cases, the color of the corona and the sparkling are described as white, glaring or dazzling. According to some reports, the ball lightning can change its shape during the collision. Sometimes its energy will lead to fire and to physical damage. While it often passes by without a sound, sometimes it will vanish with a mild or strong bang or in some cases an explosion.

Volume of objects:


number of cases


1-3 cm Ø


30,9 %

3-5 cm Ø


15,5 %

tennis-ball size


8,2 %

football size


18,2 %

medicine ball size


3,6 %

50- 100 cm Ø



more than 100 cm Ø



Distance to witness:

distance to witness
    number of cases  
0-1 m
9, 7 %
1-3 m
30,1 %
3-10 m
21,5 %
10-50 m 
22,6 %
over 50 m  
16,1 %

Season of the year:
not mentioned
5,8 % 
69,5 %  
 21,3 %


white, dazzling
58 %  
15 %  
 13 % 
 6 %  
2,7 %

5,3% (red/yellow, red/orange, red/blue, yellow/green, blue/white)

2     lndividual cases

2.1  Fire

- Sinsheim / Rhein-Neckarkreis, summer 1950. The witness is in a summer camp on the Steinsberg hill. At about 10 p.m., approximately 20 minutes after the beginning of a heavy thunderstorm, an oval, approximately 1 m large, bright phenomenon occurs and moves quickly downhill to a barn. A bang like an explosion follows. At the same moment, the barn goes up in flames and burns to the ground.

- Hornisgrinde / Black Forest, August 1952. During a heavy thunderstorm the witness is helping his father. They are working in the basement at the boiler of the central heating. Suddenly a yellowish ball, approximately as large as a ping-pong ball, comes out of the boiler. It glides over the elder man's hand and body until it reaches his foot; then it vanishes through the drain in the floor of the basement. All this takes about 3 seconds. The father gives the impression of being paralyzed and does not react when spoken to. His son carries him out of the basement and puts him on a couch. It takes two hours before he can speak or move again; during this time, he is aware of everything happening around him, but cannot communicate. There are small traces of burning on his fingertips.

- Oberkirch / Black Forest, summer 1955. A 13 year old girl is on her way from school back home when a thunderstorm occurs. She is standing on top of a slope when she and some other pupils suddenly see a dazzling ball as large as a football rolling downhill and into the- open door of a barn. The children hurry home. While the girl is having supper, a fire alarm is given in the village. The barn and the farm next to it burn down.

- Rio de Janeiro, summer 1957. A former assistent of.a Max-Planck-Institut wakes up at night during a thunderstorm. She sees a bright phenomenon "dancing around" on the branches of a tree at a distance of about 8 meters. The phenomenon is round, with a diameter of about 30 cm, reddish-yellow, dazzling and sparkling with a corona. Having changed its direction between the branches about six to ten times, it vanishes. When exploring the tree at daylight, the witness sees black spots in the bright bark of the tree at a height of about 220 cm. One black spot, about 50 cm long and 3-10 cm broad, strikes her as looking charred. There are no similar spots on the bark of the other trees of the same species, which grow along the street.

- Lake Como, August 1984. At about 6 p.m., the witness is sitting at the southern window of his house, watching a thunderstorm. Suddenly a fire phenomenon hovers towards him. It looks like two water melons of pure gold. The two balls seem to be bound together by a thick golden wire. They drift down at walking speed at approximately 2 meters distance from the window. There is a bang. A short time later, smoke passes by, emerging from one of the rooms downstairs. The witness goes downstairs and finds fire in a corner of the room, where some bathing attire, a seat and a shelf stand in flames. The fire is put out.

2.2  Ball lightning during wintertime

- Nördlingen, January 1948. On a cold winter day, the witness opens the window to let air into the room. The sky is overcast, and there is no snow. Suddenly a faintly shining ball, 1-2 cm large, drops inside the window, hops out again and vanishes.

- Eiterfeld, February 1952. During a sleeting winter thunderstorm with a total snow accumulation of 3-5 cm, the witness sees an approximately handball-sized, shining ball emerging slowly out of the sleet. At a distance of about 5-7 meters, it hovers for a moment about 3-5 m above the ground. Then it moves in a straight line along the village street, accelerates and vanishes without a sound.

2.3  Occurrences without precipitation or thunderstorm

- Oedeisheim / Oberweser, June 1952. Thundering can be heard from a distance while the witness is standing near a low annex to a building. When he happens to look up to the gutter which is at a height of about 3 m, he sees a dazzling, glowing, yellowish-white "silver ball" pass along the gutter at a moderate speed for about 4-6 m. An ear-deafening sound follows. Next to a tree, about 1 5 m from the gutter, there are freshly torn-off leaves with small, 2-3 mm sieve-like holes. At the end of the gutter, near a dry branch, countless small wooden splinters are lying on the ground.

- Nußdorf am Attersee (Austria), August 1952. The sun is shining, and a family is working on their new building. The windows and doors are all open. While the wife is in the yard, the husband is standing on the staircase. Suddenly a glowing ball of about 25-30 cm diameter and with an almost smooth surface passes by the wife and "shoots" through the husband's legs. The air pressure throws him against the wall, and the cleaning woman who is standing on the stairs is also pressed against the wall. The windows and doors are slammed shut. The ball leaves the house through one of the doors and hops towards the lake. A loud bang follows. 10 minutes later, heavy rain begins to fall.

- Between Gotha and Erfurt, October 1956. At midday, the witness is driving along on highway 7. There is neither rain nor a thunderstorm. Suddenly there is a bang, and a dazzling, fiery, nontransparent ball, approximately as large as a child's toy ball, hops over the street. Through the open window a sulphur-like smell enters the car.

2.4  Occurrences inside buildings

- Gotha, summer 1924. During a thunderstorm, the witness sees a transparent, faintly shining and slightly sparkling ball, about 15 cm large, that hovers through the open window and drifts onto the kitchen table, which is set for mealtime. After a few dancing movements, the ball vanishes through the window without a sound.

- Straubenhardt-Feldrennach, summer 1943. There is a thunderstorm approaching, but it is not yet raining, and therefore the attic window is open. The witness is sitting by the chimney, looking towards the window. Suddenly a shining, dazzling red ball as large as a football comes through the window, spinning fast. The witness watches the ball bounce against the chimney at about one meter above her head; then it hops down to the floor and vanishes again through the window. When bouncing against the chimney, the ball is compressed like a rubber ball.

- Markersbach, Erzgebirge, July 1944. During a thunderstorm, a woman is sitting by the open window. Next to her there is a telephone on the wall which suddenly starts to ring. She looks towards the telephone and sees a dazzling white ball of about 12 cm in diameter rolling along the telephone wire and across the room. It vanishes through the open door leading to the yard.

- Bonn, June 1948. There is neither a thunderstorm nor rain outside when a woman is sitting in her room. Through the open door she sees a dazzling, 10-12 cm large ball in the room next door. The ball moves from the radio set along the ground wire towards the water-pipe at the sink. A detonation follows. It can be assumed that the lightning ball reached the water closet next door through the drain, as there is a large whole in the ventilation-pipe.

- Karlsruhe, summer 1949. At the beginning of a thunderstorm, the witness and her mother enter the bedroom in order to close the shutter. A clap of thunder occurs, followed by a shining, bright ball as large as a football which is hopping through the room. It bounces on the ground 3 to 4 times at about 60 cm per bounce; then it bursts.

- Titisee-Neustadt , late summer of 1952. It is 5 p.m. The witness is sitting on his bed, one dormer window stands partly open. An orange-coloured, dimly shining ball, about 20-25 cm large and with a velvet-like surface, enters the room. It skips to the wall socket underneath the window and further along the extension cord to a table lamp. Having passed along about 6 m, it vanishes with a feeble bang near the lamp. The bang is not quite as strong as that of a bursting air-balloon.

- Aalen, June 1958. It is exactly 1.05 a.m. The witness is awakened by a bang and sees a small, bright, approximately 10 cm large ball on the extension cord of the floor-lamp. The ball runs along the extension cord up to the wall socket, banging, hesitating, and becoming smaller, glassy, greenish. The distance travelled is 3,5 m. A strong smell of ozon spreads through the bedroom.

2.5 Several objects

- Adliswil, Switzerland, in the summer of 1935. Father and son are sitting near the window watching thunder-clouds. Suddenly a yellow-orange, bright ball as large as a football drops onto the top of the church lower which is about 70 m high. Like a balloon, the ball rises up again, and once more it strikes the tip of the tower with a "tremendous din". Now the ball falls apart into small balls as large as tennisballs. Each 2-3 m apart and in slow motion, these small balls glide along the lightning-rod and church roof and slide down the wall to the ground, where they burst with a "terrible din".

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