Alberta mountain climber gets a buzz from St. Elmo's fire
'All the hair on my hand was standing up and there was this crazy noise'
Tomasz Szauksztel was moments from reaching the summit of Alberta's Caldron Peak mountain when the air around him began to hiss.
There had been a thunderstorm about half an hour earlier, he said, and the air was charged with electricity.
"All the hair on my hand was standing up and there was this crazy noise," he said. "I don't even know how to describe it."
Szauksztel was experiencing St. Elmo's fire, a strange weather phenomenon.
Like lightning, St. Elmo's fire is ionized plasma that can emit a glow, sometimes making tall structures like buildings or spires light up blue or violet.
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The air will often hiss or buzz with static electricity.
The phenomenon happens when there is a significant imbalance in electrical charge, causing molecules to tear apart in a process called ionization.
It can be triggered during thunderstorms, even volcanic eruptions.
Sailors have long considered St. Elmo's fire a good omen. In ancient Greece, skywatchers thought it was a sign from the gods.
"It was in the air'
Szauksztel, 35, didn't know what to think when he experienced the rare phenomenon during his Aug. 24 climb in Banff National Park.
He manages a commercial cleaning business in Edmonton and often escapes to the Rockies on the weekends. But he had never experienced anything like this.
Unperturbed, he carried on to the top of 2,911-metre peak but not before capturing a video of himself dancing in the strange electric current.
He didn't find out it was St. Elmo's fire until days later, when a meteorologist stumbled across his video on YouTube and gave him a call.
"I didn't know what the sound was," Szauksztel said. "I thought maybe the hot steam was coming out from our bodies and making that sound. But no, it was in the air."