We’ve had a couple of pretty good thunderstorms over the past few weeks here on the Outer Banks. For the most part at night—very thoughtful of the storms—so they didn’t disrupt daytime events much at all.
Every once in a while, the lightning in those storms will come to earth on the beach or maybe Jockey’s Ridge State Park, and when that happens, something marvelous often occurs.
Fulgurite is a remarkable, delicate piece of sand that has been fused into the shape of the lightning that struck earth where it lay. The lightening can be so hot that for the one incredibly brief moment it strikes the sand it can actually be hotter than the sun—8000-30,000 degrees Celsius.
When that happens, the silica, which is what Outer Banks sand is, immediately melts and forms around a hollow core. Silica is the main ingredient of glass, and the inside of the fulgurite will often looks as though miniature pieces of glass have been imbedded in it.
It is very difficult to find. It looks just like the sand, and can easily be overlooked. It is also extremely fragile, and it will often break into smaller pieces as it is being extracted.
There are two very good collections of fulgurite on the Outer Banks.
The Jockey’s Ridge State Park Visitor’s Center has a nice if small collection that has been found at the park.
One of the largest collections anywhere is at the Beachcomber Museum on the Beach Road in Nags Head. The museum is open somewhat sporadically, but if the chance comes up to see the collection, check it out.The size of some of the pieces is astonishing.