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Weather Airman Overcomes Lightning Strike


By Air Force Senior Master Sgt. George Thompson
386th Air Expeditionary Wing


A weather airman who issues warnings when lightning strikes take place within five miles of an air base here knows the danger. He’s a lightning-strike survivor.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Air Force Senior Airman Erik White poses next to a newly installed portable Doppler radar at an air base in Southwest Asia, May 4, 2013. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Austin Knox

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Air Force Senior Airman Erik White, a 386th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron weather journeyman, was taking pictures when he was struck by lightning as a thunderstorm rolled in while he was stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base, La.

He suffered second- and third-degree burns from his knee to his foot, but he was lucky. According to the National Weather Service, lightning has killed 9,235 people in the United States since the agency started tracking fatalities in 1940.

“It gave me a strong understanding of how powerful and how dangerous weather can be,” White said. “I always tell people, of all of our ‘big boy warnings’ like tornadoes, damaging winds and hail, I think ‘Lightning within five [miles]’ is the most important, because lightening kills more people every year.”

White’s recovery included more than two months of convalescent leave and an early end to his amateur weather photography career. He still feels the effects of that electrifying day, he said.

“I have some nerve damage in my leg, and it feels like that tingling feeling when your foot falls asleep,” he explained. “It was about a year and a half before I fully got back to normal, but I can tell you, it was a shocking experience.”

Understandably, thunderstorms trigger stress for the Bloomfield, Ky., native. “When the thunder roars, I go indoors,” he said.

“As a weather guy, you’re not 100 percent and the guys that say they are, are wrong,” White said.

White joined the Air Force fresh out of high school looking for a better life and to make something of himself.

“I had gotten to the point where nothing was working out,” he said. “I had done the whole construction bit and odds-and-ends jobs, and realized the Air Force was a good option.”

After graduating from basic training, White spent the next eight months at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., learning about weather.

“Weather is interesting — it’s 90 percent boring and 10 percent all craziness,” he said. “There are two aspects of our job: the flying world and the personnel and resource protection aspect.”

The flying aspect of White’s job provides pilots and crews the information necessary to complete their mission. “We provide flight weather briefs and tell them about any hazards they may encounter en route,” he explained.

The other aspect of White’s job aims to protect personnel and the resources on the base.

“We provide the ‘Lightning within five’ warnings that you hear across the loudspeaker to keep people safe,” he said. “We also issue certain warnings to help the base commanders make preventive actions like tying down aircraft or to move aircraft.”

White is deployed here from Robins Air Force Base, Ga.

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About Edited by Susan Bainbridge

At age 6, Susan was destined to be a journalist and photographer.  In 1980, Susan founded Bainbridge News and The Bainbridge Chronicle Newspaper. Bainbridge News specializes in Military and National Politics, including Military Funerals and Burials and Political Funerals and Burials.  Susan has covered the White House, the Pentagon and Capitol Hill. She has covered every president from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama. Recognized for her versatility, Susan has also covered finance, crime, civil rights events, marches, sports, musical events and more. In 1990, she established Bainbridge Photography, an On-Location photography company. In addition to military and political events, including Military and Political funerals and burials, Bainbridge Photography expanded into covering ALL funerals and burials, receptions, weddings, real estate, inventory, insurance, portrait, head shot, pets, fire and Hazmat.  Miss Bainbridge believes in going the extra mile. "My Clients always come first." In 1980, Susan began her career in Washington, D.C., working for WMZQ Radio as a reporter and guest hostess from 1980 to 1985. Intrigued by radio, Susan wanted to write, freelancing for radio, television and print newspapers, including AP, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, The Northern Virginia Sun, The Press-Republican and The Bainbridge Chronicle (established by Susan Bainbridge). In 1986, Susan worked at WDCA-TV Channel 20 as a guest hostess for "Eye On Washington." From 1990 to 1994, Susan reported and anchored for "The Arlington Weekly News." Additionally, she produced a segment for the G. Gordon Liddy Radio Show. A prolific writer, while in high school in 1977, Bainbridge wrote an episode for NBC's "Little House on The Prairie" entitled "Laura's Best Friend." Though the show's producers did not use the script then, NBC producers encouraged Susan to pursue a writing and journalism career. Susan is a member of the National Press Club, the National Press Photographer's Association and the Society of Professional Journalists. Susan Bainbridge's recognitions include from former Presidents Ronald Reagan, George Herbert Walker Bush and Bill Clinton, former First Lady Nancy Reagan, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the late actor Lorne Greene, among many others. BAINBRIDGE NEWS was founded in 1980 by Susan Bainbridge (a sixth generation writer), a third generation journalist, a first generation photographer and a fourth generation entrepreneur. She is the first generation to establish a news business. Bainbridge News is dedicated in honor of Miss Bainbridge's late grandfather and idol, Mark S. Watson (The Baltimore Sun editor and war correspondent from 1920 to his death in 1966).

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