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Farmers Almanac
The 2014 Farmers Almanac
Farmers' Almanac

What is Saint Elmo’s Fire?

What is Saint Elmo’s Fire?

Saint Elmo’s fire is an atmospheric phenomenon that occurs both on land and at sea. The technical description of St. Elmo’s fire is “brush discharge” or “corona discharge.” It is a harmless discharge of electricity extending into the atmosphere from a grounded projecting or elevated object.

When the atmosphere that surrounds that object is loaded with a positive charge, the object will collect the charge faster than it can dissipate it. When the object is bursting with its electrical overload, the overload spills into the surrounding atmosphere as a visible glow. St. Elmo’s Fire happens around tall metal objects, such as lightning rods, chimney tops, aircraft wings, and ships’ masts.

The name is derived from St. Erasmus, the patron saint of sailors. The phenomenon was considered a good omen, but contrary to this belief, if you see St. Elmo’s fire, the only luck you’ll likely have is bad, as it usually forewarns a lighting strike.

If you notice a hole in the upper left-hand corner of your Farmers' Almanac, don't return it to the store! That hole isn't a defect; it's a part of history. Starting with the first edition of the Farmers' Almanac in 1818, readers used to nail holes into the corners to hang it up in their homes, barns, and outhouses (to provide both reading material and toilet paper). In 1910, the Almanac's publishers began pre-drilling holes in the corners to make it even easier for readers to keep all of that invaluable information (and paper) handy.