Boonton, NJ Storm, Jul 1898

A heavy thunderstorm and a disastrous stroke of lightning by which 5 men were killed and 3 were seriously injured occurred on Tuesday afternoon, July 19, near Boonton. It seems that the party took refuge under a tree on the banks of the Rockaway River. The Boonton Bulletin remarks:

Notwithstanding the many warnings about seeking shelter under trees during thunderstorms, many persons when caught out in a storm run to the trees. We regret to say that this fearful catastrophe is another illustration of the thoughtlessness of people under such circumstances.

Is not this too severe an arraignment? Doubtless the unfortunate men had heard that trees were dangerous but where else could they flee from the storm? If they had sat upright in their boat anchored on the river, they would, like the poor horse in Dakota, have been as it were a projection above the plane of the water surface and, therefore, especially liable to be struck. Had they walked farther up the river banks beyond the trees, with umbrellas over their heads and fishing poles in their hands, they would also have acted as lightning rods to attract the flash. Had they hastily erected a genuine lightning rod and then retreated a few feet from it, they might possibly have been safe. But except for this, we know of no way by which they could have insured their safety. We can no attribute their deaths to their own thoughtlessness; they ran from one danger only to run into another, and it is not for us to say that the very slight chance of being killed by lightning-which hangs over all of us at all times-need enter into consideration when we are trying to escape the greater peril of high wind, heavy rains, and hail.

Monthly Weather Review, Volume 26, Issue 7 (July 1898), page 318