Split Rock Lighthouse historic site back open after lightning strike knocked out utilities

One of the North Shore’s most prominent tourist attractions proved a little too attractive this week, when a lightning bolt struck the grounds, raced through the historic site’s electrical system and knocked out water, power and a variety of other functions.

A tree that was struck and splintered by a lightning strike
This tree was struck and splintered by a lightning strike on Monday at Split Rock Lighthouse historic site on Minnesota's North Shore. The strike sent an electrical surge around the lighthouse grounds.
Courtesy Split Rock Lighthouse

The Split Rock Lighthouse sits historic site is between Two Harbors and Silver Bay and is one of the state’s most beloved landmarks, jutting above the Lake Superior shoreline. It hosts about 160,000 visitors a year — nearly 3,000 a day at the peak of the tourist season.

Site manager Hayes Scriven said that during a storm Monday, lightning hit a tree in the parking lot, jumped to a light standard nearby, then followed wiring and conduit underground to the visitor center, the historic buildings — and even his home at the site.

Scorch marks on the ground after a lightning strike
Scorch marks on the ground so where a surge of electricity traveled across the grounds after the lightning strike.
Courtesy Split Rock Lighthouse

“And then a fireball came out of an ethernet cord,” he said.

Photos posted to Facebook show the ground scorched at the base of a parking lot light where the lightning coursed its way through to the rest of the site.

“It got in one of our old phone system lines,” he said. “It was quite a strike. It had surged so much in the house that I lived in that it surged a light in our kitchen and popped the light.”

Fortunately, no one was hurt.

An ethernet cable damaged by a surge of electricity
An ethernet cable damaged by a surge of electricity after the lightning strike.
Courtesy Split Rock Lighthouse

The biggest problem: the strike knocked out the water well at the site — which meant the restrooms were out of order. A backup generator may be damaged, the parking lot lights are fried, the movie theater in the visitor center is not functioning, and the front door opener is burned out. Scriven says they’re working their way through a list of damage and trying to get things back up and running.

The Minnesota Historical Society said initially that the site would be closed until Thursday, but Scriven said that repairs to the well went quickly. That allowed the historic site to welcome visitors back on Wednesday — allowing the lighthouse to once again get the better of Minnesota’s weather, as it has since it was completed in 1910.

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