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Posted on Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 10:34 a.m.

Authorities explain flashes of light in Washtenaw County skies Tuesday night

By Amy Biolchini


A power line was down Wednesday morning near the intersection of Huron Street and Dexter Avenue in Ann Arbor. Limbs falling on power lines caused multiple bright flashes of light across Washtenaw County Tuesday night and early Wednesday.

Hassan Hodges |

Washtenaw County residents reported seeing bright flashes of light were seen across the sky Tuesday night during a snowstorm that left thousands without power Wednesday morning.

The cause: Tree limbs falling on live power lines.

The freezing rain and heavy snow the storm brought coated power lines as well as tree limbs. When falling wet tree limbs come into contact with live power lines, there's a resulting clear flash and a loud noise, said Pittsfield Township Fire Chief Sean Gleason.

"It's a pretty common thing, "Gleason said. "This weather is the worst for power lines."

Typically, the flashes of light are a clear flash, but sometimes they can be green or yellow, Gleason said.

"To some people, it looks like lightning," Gleason said.

The assault on the system created by the contact between the tree branch and power line creates the flash, said Len Singer, spokesman for DTE Energy.

"There's a lot of voltage going on those lines," Singer said. "The fault in the system that would cause that line to go out would create a flash in the dark sky."

The storm left 14,000 DTE Energy customers without power in Washtenaw County and 30,000 powerless in southeast Michigan. Crews were assessing the extent of the damage Wednesday morning, Singer said, and would have an estimated time of restoration by mid-Wednesday.

Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for Reach her at (734) 623-2552, or on Twitter.


Jon Wax

Thu, Feb 28, 2013 : 4:11 a.m.

dang... hopin' for ET and all i got was DTE. Peace Wax


Thu, Feb 28, 2013 : 1:13 a.m.

Totally looked like a poltergeist was going crazy in one of my neighbors homes, but it turned out to be a transformer blowing out. Looked like fireworks, really close. Scary but EPIC.

Tyrone Shoelaces

Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 10:10 p.m.

OK, come on, who didn't already know this?


Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 11:02 p.m.

I don't know why , but I have not felt the need to belittle anyone that did not know this.

Area Man

Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 10:31 p.m.

I'm with you, Tyrone. Did people inquire as to what the white substance falling from the sky was as well?

Kyle Mattson

Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 10:22 p.m.

We actually received a significant number of inquiries regarding the flashes of light Tyrone. Sometimes the answer may be simple but anytime we can help readers know what is going on around them we do our best to inform.


Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 8:18 p.m.

Thanks for the explanation. It was just after 10 PM, and there was one that lit up the sky, in our backyard. I thought it was a transformer that blew out. It was very cool to see! I too, was waiting for little, short, green men to come up on the deck, knock, and ask for some hot chocolate! :D

Area Man

Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 8:17 p.m.

In other news, authorities confirm loud pops heard during storm to be thunder...


Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 6:32 p.m.

At 4 AM this morning there was a bright flash, a crackling sound, and the power went out. It was pretty easy to figure out what happened. Now DTE says no power until 11 PM tonight. What will I do without the internet and vapid tv shows to entertain me?


Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 6:29 p.m.

Good job Amy! I knew what it was, but I would not expect everyone to know.


Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 6:25 p.m.

Lost power around 3:30 AM, the time when I saw the green flashes. I thought there were two of them. Sounds like there were quite a few of these around town.

John of Saline

Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 6:23 p.m.

Saw some between 1 and 2 am. The streetlights were off afterwards, but gradually came back on.


Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 6:14 p.m.

Around 3:30 last night, two loud noises that sounded like explosions woke me up. I got up, looked out the window, and heard another one and saw a flash of light. A big thanks for the explanation!

John Counts

Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 5:12 p.m.

I still believe it was snow aliens, Amy. The truth is out there.


Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 5:39 p.m.

I'm with John. Definitely Aliens.


Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 5:08 p.m.

I saw blue-green flashes but no sound. No limbs were falling either. Maybe globs of snow falling on the lines. It was very odd and memorable though.

George K

Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 4:35 p.m.

I saw those flashes. Also this morning I heard what I thought were gunshots, but it was just tree limbs popping and falling down. Dangerous!

Ricardo Queso

Thu, Feb 28, 2013 : 3:48 p.m.

Time for a Federal ban on tree limbs.

Atlas Shrugged

Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 4:11 p.m.

"To some people, it looks like lightening," Well, to some people it may look like "lightening," but to more people, especially those who know how to spell, it looks like LIGHTNING.

Amy Biolchini

Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 4:19 p.m.

Haste makes waste. Thanks for pointing that out. The story was edited by someone other than myself, but we're human. It's been fixed.

Kellie Woodhouse

Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 4:18 p.m.

Thanks for enlightening us about the spelling error... ;)

Susan Ursus

Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 4:13 p.m.

Good grief, doesn't anyone proofread these articles?

Amy Biolchini

Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 3:53 p.m.

We were jokingly referring to these flashes of light as "snow aliens" in the office. Unfortunately, there's a logical answer for this instead of an extraterrestrial one.


Thu, Feb 28, 2013 : 11:20 a.m.

You two remind me of a Twilight Episode I saw recently. Venus vs Mars. Interesting.

Kyle Mattson

Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 4:07 p.m.

Or so we think....


Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 3:53 p.m.

Seems like something people should know. Electricity arcs. Arcs make bright light - and especially when transformers explode.


Thu, Feb 28, 2013 : 12:33 a.m.

I have seen transformers do this. But last night my power had already been off for awhile. I figured it wasn't my transformer.


Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 7:39 p.m.

zig Nobody knows everything.


Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 4:49 p.m.

@zig has it - the correct answer is "arc"

Atlas Shrugged

Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 4:15 p.m.

Yeah, duh. Ya'd think people should know. Especially those writing for

Kyle Mattson

Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 3:52 p.m.

Just wondering, did anyone happen to snag a video or photo of these flashes? Shoot it over to Amy if you did!


Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 5:13 p.m.

Kyle - That would be a difficult shot. Last night I was walking my dog in a subdivision about 3/4 mile south of where power lines regularly have issues. I noticed greenish/bluish flashing all around me which sort of freaked me and the dog out. Came home and sure enough the digital clocks were blinking. What makes this phenomenon visible to so many yet difficult to capture is the low clouds and snow diffuse and spread the light around. You mostly just see and notice a general flash that is hard to locate and define.

Katrease Stafford

Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 3:46 p.m.

Ah, makes sense. Thanks for following up on this, Amy! Saw them when I was leaving Ypsi City Council and didn't know what to make of it.


Thu, Feb 28, 2013 : 12:31 a.m.

what are the negative votes for??

Amy Biolchini

Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 3:54 p.m.

I've never heard of this before, either!

Homeland Conspiracy

Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 3:45 p.m.

I wondered what was going on...thought it might be a meteor or ET


Thu, Feb 28, 2013 : 11:19 a.m.

Good one. But I am thinking ET is too smart to put a meter on it.

Homeland Conspiracy

Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 3:49 p.m.

or a smartmeter...