Storms play havoc on residents |

Storms play havoc on residents

William Ferchland, Jeff Munson, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Gosia Szmigiel was preparing tomatoes and hot dogs for herself and two roommates when the loudest noise they ever heard cracked the air around them.

Confused and scared, the three bolted outside.

What they saw was a 40-foot pine tree cut in half by lightning. Splinters littered the ground like shattered glass.

“Artur said it was a danger to stay in here and he was right,” said Weronika Lip. “We didn’t know what was happening.”

Lip, Szmigiel and Artur Goworek, all from Poland, were enjoying time off from Harveys Casino and Resort when lightning punched a tree above their roof Thursday around 1:15 p.m. at the 3000 block of Larcy Avenue in South Lake Tahoe.

Two log-sized splinters skewered the ceiling near the two bedrooms. No one was injured.

They weren’t the only ones who felt the effects of Thursday’s freak thunderstorms.

Two hours earlier Brett Cassidy, a Tam O-Shanter Drive resident in South Lake, wandered to his back patio door to watch the storm at about 11 a.m. when a flash of white lightning struck a 110- foot Douglas Fir in front of him, imploding the tree and sending spears of wood at least 100 feet from the house.

“The percussion of it was the loudest thing I’ve ever heard,” said Cassidy, whose wife Debby was inside. “All of a sudden this tree just buckles and I see spears bigger than men flying sideways. They found one of them three houses away. It was incredible.”

The tree fell away from the Cassidy home, landing in a neighbor’s yard, destroying part of a fence.

Brett said a crew will cut the tree up tomorrow. He plans to give the wood, at least two cords of it, to his neighbor.

“I don’t want to burn that wood,” Cassidy said.

Firefighters were busy responding to smoke investigation calls Friday, when more than three areas reported possible smoke caused by lightning.

A flash flood warning was issued for more than an hour Friday at South Lake Tahoe by the National Weather Service.

No damage reports were reported from the smoke investigations and the possible flash floods.

About one-third of an inch of rain fell at the South Lake Tahoe Airport, said weather forecaster Steve Goldstein.

“A lot of these storms had some decent hail,” he said. “We had reports of more than an inch of hail at Highway 80.”

Snow plows had to be used to scrape the hail from the highway, Goldstein added.

A 20 percent chance of thunderstorms remains for Friday and Saturday with a 30 percent chance Sunday, Goldstein said.

Back on Larch Avenue, the three roommates didn’t see the ceiling laceration until they walked back inside the single-floor, two-story dwelling to grab their passports.

But neighbor Cindy Armitage viewed the incident. While looking out her living room window, with an “Alabama” compact disc playing in the background, Armitage saw the explosion. She thought the house was on fire.

“All of a sudden I heard this big crash and you could see the tree going everywhere,” she said. “When the lightning struck it, a whole puff of smoke came up.”

After the fire engine left and nerves settled, the three renters packed up clothes in traveling backpacks. They were homeless for the moment and didn’t know where to go. But all three said the event would burn bright in their memories.

“My ears, it was so noisy,” Szmigiel said. “I couldn’t hear anything. I never heard something like this before.”

— Contact William Ferchland at or city editor Jeff Munson at

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