HANALEI — Photographer Patrick Barton has snapped his share of storms, but lightning got up close and personal the last time it landed in his lens.
It was the morning of Nov. 1, and the Hanalei resident was chased from his home by flooding that overtook the whole valley during an islandwide storm.
He took refuge at one of his favorite surf spots — Pine Trees — parking under the ironwood trees for shelter from the downpour, and pulled his camera out.
“Rain was coming down like you couldn’t believe, and at about 7 a.m. everything stopped,” Barton said. “Then all of the sudden, boom.”
Lightning slammed into the ironwood tree next to his car, arcing and enclosing the vehicle.
“All I remember is the loudest boom I’ve ever heard, and it was bright, so bright,” Barton said. “It was so loud and it hit so hard that it knocked me out and I got a concussion.”
He was already wearing sunglasses to minimize the light from the storm’s flashes and had in earplugs to help muffle the thunder as he watched the storm.
“Even with the sunglasses on it burned my eyes and it blew the earplugs out,” he said.
He says friends heard the accompanying thunder five miles away, in Princeville, and friends in Hanalei said their houses shook when that thunder clap hit.
Barton wasn’t alone in the parking lot that night, and he woke up 15 minutes later with a man whose name he cannot recall.
The man was in a truck across the parking lot and saw the whole thing, Barton said, and dragged him safely away from the toasted tree while he was unconscious.
“I came out of it and was like, ‘what happened?’ And the guy was like, ‘you got blown up, man!’” Barton said.
He continued: “I remember the car was lifted off the ground, and the guy said my car was totally engulfed in light.”
The hospital wasn’t an option. The only highway in or out of Hanalei Town was flooded and the bridge over the river was closed. So, Barton just hung out at the beach, in his car and in his home until the next day, when the road re-opened.
Family from the mainland checked on him over that time and he finally got to his doctor at Princeville the next day.
“The doc said it’s like a microwave when you get hit (by lightning) in a car,” Barton said. “You literally get cooked. He said I have some internal burning, but it could have been a lot worse.”
Barton has years of storms under his belt and has experienced them both on land and at sea. He grew up bouncing between Kauai and the West Coast, and is an avid surfer and sailor.
“I’ve been through Iniki and I’ve seen some pretty bad storms, but that was crazy,” Barton said. “The storm just stalled out here and it was just going off. I’ve never seen lightning like that.”
Almost a week later, the ringing in Barton’s ears hasn’t subsided and his eyes are still sore from the flash of light.
“After it happened, my head hurt, my eyes felt burned — and my tongue — and there was this electrical smell,” he said. “I’m still getting that smell out of my car. There’s a lot to fix. It blew up my stereo.”
A single photograph is another souvenir left over from the lightning strike; one that Barton took at the same second the bolt zapped the tree next to his car.
“I was taking a picture of the rain to send to my daughter when it happened,” Barton said. “I remember debris was flying everywhere and somehow, I got the click.”